Philosophical Studies

, Volume 176, Issue 1, pp 161–174 | Cite as

Naturalizing the content of desire

  • Peter SchulteEmail author


Desires, or directive representations, are central components of human and animal minds. Nevertheless, desires are largely neglected in current debates about the naturalization of representational content. Most naturalists seem to assume that some version of the standard teleological approach, which identifies the content of a desire with a specific kind of effect that the desire has the function of producing, will turn out to be correct. In this paper I argue, first, that this common assumption is unjustified, since the standard approach is in fact deeply problematic. Secondly, I propose an alternative account of the content of (basic) desires which, while generating plausible and determinate content ascriptions, avoids the main problem that plagues the standard approach, and is also preferable on other grounds.


Desire Mental content Naturalism Teleosemantics 



I would like to thank Fabian Hundertmark, Steven Kindley, Nikola Kompa, Charles Lowe, Jan Michel, Christian Nimtz, Martin Pleitz, Sebastian Schmoranzer, Niko Strobach, other participants of the MüBiOs group, and an anonymous referee for this journal for many helpful comments and suggestions. I would also like to thank the Centre of Philosophical Psychology at the University of Antwerp for naming me the joint winner of the Fifth Annual Essay Prize for a previous (unpublished) version of this paper. This research was supported by the project ‘Advancing Teleosemantics’ (SCHU 2860/2-1, NI 1320/2-1), funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG).


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyBielefeld UniversityBielefeldGermany

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