Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





David Papineau

Committee Members

Linda Martín Alcoff

Peter Godfrey-Smith

Miranda Fricker

Subject Categories

Cognition and Perception | Other Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | Other Neuroscience and Neurobiology | Philosophy of Mind | Substance Abuse and Addiction


Desire, Intention, Addiction, Sexual Desire, Cultural Norms, Action Control


What is the nature of desire? In this dissertation I develop a theory of desire according to which desires are essentially enculturated states that play the role of presenting favorable outcomes that act as inputs to intention formation, and thereby intentional action. This analysis of desire debunks a common assumption shared by prominent accounts of desire in philosophy of mind, what can be called the dualist assumption: that bodily desires such as urges and appetites differ in kind from conceptual desires that are typically described as higher cognitive attitudes. I argue that the desires traditionally understood as bodily or appetitive are in fact conceptual, fundamentally social, and play the same role in cognition as do the desires traditionally characterized as more high-level. The dissertation develops this theory of desire through an analysis of two paradigmatically bodily desires: desires for drugs (specifically, addictive desires) and desires for sex. The theory is distinct from imperatival motivational views that claim desires motivate action directly, associationist theories that describe desires as reward events in the dopaminergic system, and “divided-mind” theories that argue there are two distinct kinds of desires that function within different innate motivational systems.

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