Decision theory doesn’t tell us what to desire or value. It just tells us what to do when we have our preferences in order.
So what to make of my desire to cycle from coast to coast? Ken thought this was a patently irrational desire. His reasoning was twofold. First, he thought I was mistaken in my assessment of risk; and second, he thought I was unable to map my desire onto some specified goal.
As for my assessment of risk, I’m just going to throw my hands up and say I have no idea where to start in assessing risk.
First, there are different types of risks involved. There’s the risk that I won’t be able to withstand the physical demands and injure myself. There’s a risk that I will be killed in an accident (Story). There’s a risk that all my stuff will get stolen (Story). And then there’s the risk of running into wildlife…like bears, cougars, and moose (Story). Ugh. Why am I googling this stuff?!
Second, I have no idea how to quantify these different types of risk. I have no idea how many cyclists attempt a coast to coast ride in any given summer. I don’t know how many succeed. And I don’t know how many give up, are killed or injured, or are maimed by wildlife. So I’ll grant Ken that I’m probably irrational in my I’ll be fine assessment.
But what about my inability to map my desire onto some specified goal? To which I ask, Why do I need to do such a thing? Why do I need some larger goal in mind in order for my desire to be rational?
(Note what I’m not saying. I’m not saying that if I have a goal and one of my desires is inconsistent with that goal, that I’m not being irrational if I act on that desire. In other words, if I do have a desire that is inconsistent with a specified goal, and I act on that desire, then I am being irrational. In that instance I am doing something that will impede my achievement of my specified goal. What I am saying, is that it is not necessary to have a specified goal in order for a desire to be rational.)
I’ve been reading Flourish by Martin Seligman. In it he outlines what is needed for living the good life. One aspect is Accomplishment. Consider what he writes:
“So well-being theory requires a fourth element: accomplishment in its momentary form, and the ‘achieving life,’ a life dedicated to accomplishment for the sake of accomplishment, in its extended form.” (Seligman, 2011, p. 19)
The phrase accomplishment for the sake of accomplishment struck me as very relevant in my case. Why am I cycling coast to coast? What is my end goal? I am doing it for the lived experience. And I will take thousands of awesome pictures. And I will meet amazing people along the way. But these things are just incidental. Deep down I’m doing it for the sake of doing it. I just want to do it.
Accomplishment for the sake of accomplishment.
Am I irrational?