Much recent work on addiction has stressed the importance of cues for the triggering of desire. These cues are frequently social. We have a plausible theory of this triggering at the neurophysiological level. But what are the ethical implications? One concerns the authority of desire: maximizing the satisfaction of desires no longer looks like a obvious goal of social policy once we understand the dependence of desires on cues. A second concerns an addict’s responsibility in the face of cues. I suggest that the provision of cues can be thought of as akin to pollution, for which the polluter may bear the primary responsibility. I spell out some of the political implications and ask whether there are good grounds for extending the argument to the cues involved in obesity.
Richard Holton is professor of philosophy at the University of Cambridge, and a fellow of Peterhouse. Before that he taught at MIT, Monash, the ANU, Sheffield and Edinburgh. I obtained a BA in PPE at University College, Oxford,before completing a PhD at Princeton. His areas of research are moral psychology and related areas, but also in ethics, philosophy of law and philosophy of language.