Six fantastic ethics articles in December 2011 issue of Ratio
I may suck, but not as much as you

How does lack of desire compare to its satisfaction?

Mark D. White

A fascinating article in the latest issue of Utilitas (23/4, December 2011) by Toby Handfield (Monash University) titled "Absent Desires" takes up the issue of absent desire in relation to satisfied and frustrated desire, arguing that having absent desires is incommensurable with having satisfied desires:

What difference does it make to matters of value, for a desire-satisfactionist, if a given desire is absent, rather than present? I argue that it is most plausible to hold that the state in which a given desire is satisfied is, other things being equal, incommensurate with the state in which that desire does not exist at all. In addition to illustrating the internal attractions of the view, I demonstrate that this idea has attractive implications for population ethics. Finally, I show that the view is not subject to John Broome’s ‘greedy neutrality’ worry.

This has obvious relevance for Stoic ethics and normative population studies (as Handfield notes), but also Buddhist thought as well as standard welfare economics (for example, the measurement of well-being when demand is affected by advertising, creating a desire that was previously "absent").


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For an elaboration of this view, see the chapter on "Buddhist Economics" in E.F. Schumacher's Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered. I assign this chapter to my development students.

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