THEORIES OF WELFARE need to address two central questions. First, they need to supply an account of what has value for you--i.e., what things are good for you or bad for you. More precisely, they need to answer the
Items-of-Value Question: What states of affairs are of basic intrinsic value for you? For example, as usually understood, Desire Satisfactionism answers that the relevant state of affairs consists of two parts: the subject having a certain prepositional attitude--a desire--and the obtaining of the object of that attitude. But even if Desire Satisfactionism answered this question correctly, we would still need an account of the amount a given satisfied desire contributes to your welfare. Put generally, theories of welfare need to say how much value a given episode of welfare has for you--i.e., the extent to which something is good for you or bad for you. More precisely, they need to answer a second question, namely, the
Magnitude-of-Value Question: To what extent is a given state of affairs of basic intrinsic value for you? Desire Satisfactionism, as it is usually understood, answers that the amount to which a given satisfied desire benefits the subject is proportional to the strength of the desire.
These are the two central questions theories of welfare need to answer. Desire Satisfactionism gives, at least initially, plausible-sounding answers to both. This explains its prominence. Still, questions remain. One that is particularly vexing for Desire Satisfactionism is the
Timing Question: At what time do you benefit from the obtaining of a given state of affairs? (1) To this question, Desire Satisfactionism lacks a stock answer.
In this essay, I criticize an intriguing answer to the Timing Question--asymmetrism--proposed recently by Eden Lin. (2) I proceed in four sections. The first motivates asymmetrism. The second explains how Lin arrives at the final formulation of the view. The third argues that asymmetrism forces us to give implausible answers to the Magnitude-of-Value Question. The fourth section concludes.
The best way to motivate asymmetrism is through cases where the time of desire and the time at which the object of the desire obtains do not overlap. So first consider
Speech Yesterday: Last night you gave an important speech. This morning you woke up and could not remember whether you thanked the host. As you lay in bed, you desire that you thanked the host. In fact, though you were so nervous you had no desire to do so, out of habit you did thank the host. We can visualize this desire satisfaction as follows. Assume that you do benefit from the satisfied desire in Speech Yesterday. When do you benefit--at the time of the desire (today) or the time of the object (yesterday)? The answer seems to be that, if you indeed benefit, the time at which you benefit is today. You did not benefit last night because you did not, at that time, have the desire to thank the host. You cannot be made better off by a satisfied desire prior to your having the desire. (3)
Publication Tomorrow: Today you are thinking about the paper you have under review. You desire now that the paper is accepted tomorrow. Tomorrow your paper will be accepted. Sadly, tomorrow you will be hit with a bout of depression that saps you of this desire. We can visualize this desire satisfaction as follows.
Assume that you do benefit from the satisfied desire in Publication Tomorrow. When do you benefit? At the time of the desire (today) or the time of the object (tomorrow)? The answer seems to be that, if you indeed benefit, the time at which you benefit is tomorrow. You did not benefit today because, at that time, your paper was not yet accepted. You cannot be made better off by a satisfied desire prior to the object of your desire obtaining. (4)
The upshot from Speech Yesterday is that, intuitively, when past-directed desires are satisfied, the time interval during which you benefit is the time of the desire. The upshot from Publication Tomorrow is that, intuitively, when future-directed desires are satisfied, the time interval during which you benefit is the time when the object obtains. Lin argues that a pair of powerful theoretical claims undergird these intuitions. His first claim we can call the
All-Necessary-Conditions Principle: You do not receive a particular benefit at t unless, at t, all of the necessary conditions on your receiving that benefit have been met. (5) This principle is a narrower version of the general idea that a state of affairs does not obtain at a given time unless, at that time, all of the necessary conditions on that state of affairs' obtaining have been met. (6) For example, suppose your baby will eventually have a child. Obviously enough, your baby is not now a parent. Why? Because, now, one of the necessary conditions--your baby's having a child--has yet to be met. If we accept the All-Necessary-Conditions Principle, we can similarly explain our intuitions in Speech Yesterday and Publication Tomorrow. For past-directed desires, the benefit interval cannot start until the subject has the desire. For future-directed desires, the benefit interval cannot start until the object of the desire obtains.
On to Lin's second theoretical claim. We can call this the
Certainty-for-Benefit Principle: You do not receive a particular benefit at t unless, for each of the necessary conditions on your receiving that benefit, the chance at t that this condition will have been met by some time is 1. (7) In support of this principle, Lin argues that, ifyou are receiving some benefit now, then the chance at present that you are...