Monday, January 09, 2006

Orlando Bloom, objects, and states of affairs

This passage contains the funniest stuff in the first chapter of my dissertation. That isn't saying much, but I thought I'd post it anyway. It's about how we should regard desires as being for states of affairs and not for ordinary physical objects.

We say of Jenny that she wants chocolate, wants a diamond necklace, wants a goldfish, and wants Orlando Bloom. These are concrete objects and not states of affairs. Why should we translate our talk of desiring these objects to talk of desiring particular states of affairs? These cases may even seem more basic than the cases in which we desire states of affairs – after all, desires for food, sex, and simple possessions, often thought of as particularly basic cases, often are described as desires for objects. But there are good reasons to translate this object-talk into states-of-affairs talk. If we stay with object-talk, we will fail to understand exactly what Jenny will try to obtain and be pleased by. Jenny will try to eat chocolate, wear a diamond necklace, keep a goldfish in her aquarium, and make love to Orlando Bloom. She will not try to wear chocolate, eat a diamond necklace, make love to a goldfish, or keep Orlando Bloom in her aquarium. Object-talk is merely a convenient shorthand for states-of-affairs talk. It leaves out the essential differences between the ways we wish to interact with the objects, while states-of-affairs talk specifies this clearly. (Part of why it seems so natural to us may have to do with the way desire directs attention. If Orlando Bloom enters Jenny’s environment, her desire will cause her to focus her attention on him and not other objects in the area, since he is the thing that is most powerfully associated with her desires. However, when she plans future courses of action, her mind will be directed more towards possible states of affairs where she makes love to Orlando Bloom than possibilities where she keeps him in her aquarium.)

So, not an especially funny chapter, but I do what I can. I'm hoping that Orlando Bloom is a reasonable choice for the lusted-after-man role -- feedback, ladies?

On a more philosophical note, I don't know anybody who has actually defended the objects view in print, though it's a response I occasionally get from people. So I thought it was worth responding to.


Anonymous said...

I'm hoping that Orlando Bloom is a reasonable choice for the lusted-after-man role -- feedback, ladies?

While I don't qualify to answer the question, my wife has a couple of dozen friends who would vigorously assent.

(Here via Ezra Klein)

Anonymous said...

Oh, and your passage reminded me of a Larry Niven short story which points out that linking the same possessive pronoun to different objects similarly glosses over very different states of affairs: E.g. the phrases "my foot", "my chair", and "my wife".

I think the story was "Grammar Lesson", and was published in a collection called Convergent Series.

Neil Sinhababu said...

jack, my brother and sister often do this thing where they have a mock argument about whether something is his favorite thing or hers. They're pretending not to understand that the 'my' of possession is different from the relational 'my' involved in something's being 'my favorite'.

Anonymous said...

I'd rather have George Clooney in my aquarium, but that's just me.

And then there's the speech act, and I guess you don't get much if you simply say "Orlando Bloom," right?

Good luck on your chapter!

David Watkins said...

This seems utterly commonsensical to me. No one has defended this view before? You philosophers are an odd bunch.

You should be optimistic and assume this will be read throughout the ages. As such, choose someone whose status as a sex symbol will persist over time. I'm not sure who that is (Brad Pitt's had a good run so far) but I don't expect it will be Orlando Bloom.

Blar said...

Larry Niven, that clever bastard. He stole my idea (which I came up with when trying to square my use of the phrase "my readers" with my firm anti-slavery stance), traveled back in time to before I was born, and published it as a short story. Chris Barker stole it too, and put it in his dissertation a few years back. They're called "relational possessives", apparently.

Neil Sinhababu said...

I do think about that, djw. And being a Tolkien fan, I chose Legolas.

Anonymous said...

Brad Pitt is currently residing in my aquarium, but I'd make room for George Clooney, if he'd just lose that silly name.

Mary said...

I don't know. If Orlando Bloom and chocolate were in the room, I'd go for the chocolate first. I think Brad Pitt is the better choice, but most of the women I know are mad at him right now. George Clooney would be my choice, but he might skew a little old for some. I think you should ask a lot of women for their "list of 5" and see who shows up most consistently.

Neil Sinhababu said...

Just reread your comment, djw. Actually, what I'm defending here is the orthodox view.

Kimmitt, when we say that a girl "wants Orlando Bloom," we're saying that she wants something a little more than his attention.

Anonymous said...

Niven was just borrowing the linguistic observation from Plato, who wrote in the Euthydemus:

Ctesippus: And your father is a dog?

Dionysodorus: And so is yours. If you will answer my questions, I will soon extract the same admissions from you, Ctesippus. You say that you have a dog.

Ctesippus: Yes, a villain of a one.

Dionysodorus: And he has puppies?

Ctesippus: Yes, and they are very like himself.

Dionysodorus: And the dog is the father of them?

Ctesippus: Yes, I certainly saw him and the mother of the puppies come together.

Dionysodorus: And is he not yours?

Ctesippus: To be sure he is.

Dionysodorus: Then he is a father, and he is yours; ergo, he is your father, and the puppies are your brothers.