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Desire satisfaction theory


The desire satisfaction theory of welfare states that what is good for an individual, that which benefits him/her fundamentally, is the satisfaction of their desires. The theory explains that when an individual satisfies their welfare-relevant desires, then this is what is basically good for them. However, what if a person desires an object that is not relevant to their welfare? Perhaps, wanting to know how many stars in total cover the night sky? According to desire satisfactionism, if an individual cannot explain how the desire is relevant to them, then it is not imperative/relevant as an object of desire. For example, some desires that can be described would be a walk on the beach, which someone would say is “soothing” or a ride through the country roads, which would be “relaxing.” Thus, if you cannot describe the object of your desires in tangent words that make sense, then it is not fundamentally good for you.


Desire satisfaction theories suggest that if all the desires that a person has are satisfied (fully), then their lives are good. According to Brandt’s theory of “rational desires,” a good life is that which any person would rationally desire to live. Brandt’s rationality is that if an individual’s desires, for instance, throughout their lifetime are considered, then they would live good lives by maximizing the satisfaction of these desires. However, critics of desire satisfactionism have argued that what if the desires change? Would the change in desires mean different outcomes in realizing the “good life?” A weakness of desire satisfaction theories is that they suggest that people should always be “force-fed” their desires since these are the elements that make their lives “good.” For example, if one desired to skate until they are 60 years old as a form of exercise, when they are 30 years old, this is a rational desire that they can fulfill to live their best lives. However, what happens when they become 60 years old? Will the desire to skate be retained despite the reduced bone density and other challenges of aging?


Richard Brandt, who was a significant supporter of the fundamental desire satisfaction theories would also later come to revise his arguments, as he realized that the theories fail to consider the emergence of unstable desires. Brandt explained that desire satisfactionism was inadequate since it suggests that if someone desired something at some time in their life, this remains true even as time passes by. Using the example of a skater, desiring to skate at 30 is a rational desire but when new information is added, such as the introduction of new hobbies or health complications, the desire changes. The “problem of changing desires” is a significant weakness of desire satisfactionism since a fully informed individual can change their preferences considering new changes.


Desire satisfactionism as a concept in moral philosophy closely relates to hedonism despite some apparent differences between the two. Hedonism, which is an ethical theory that claims that pleasure and the satisfaction of one’s desires is the highest form of good, called for enjoyment at every moment in life. Epicureanism, a philosophical stance under hedonism, explains that pleasure is the supreme good, a notion that matches Aristotle’s ideas about the best life. Some misconceptions about hedonism are that pleasure is only physical but in its real sense, pleasure can be found in many other events in life. For instance, in expounding hedonism as a foundation of moral theory, Jeremy Bentham used utilitarianism. He stated that everyone’s goal in life is to pursue the greatest pleasure they can attain by doing what they ought to do. Thus, the actions which one ought to do are those that provide the most pleasure and will give the most pleasure to others who are affected by it.


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