[hist-analytic] Mele on Effective Intentions Pt. 1

Baynesr at comcast.net Baynesr at comcast.net
Thu Feb 3 15:20:49 EST 2011

I'm going to begin my discussion of Mele with a couple of general remarks, remarks I will clarify and expand upon later. I have serious constraints on my time. If anyone replies don't feel snubbed if I give brief replies etc. Thanks! 

Supposing that mental events are physical events, can we extrapolate to the conclusion that persons are events or states of the brain? The idea that a sensation of red may be a brain state is one thing, that what events have in common making them all events of the same person may be a brain state is an entirely different matter. If the brain states associated with the experience of red are continuous then the experience of red may be as well; but that the the continuity of a person having such brain states may be similarly associated with the continuity of a brain state is dubious to say the least. Persons are not "caused by" brain states, nor is there reason to believe that they are identifiable with brain states. Moreover, two individuals may possess exactly the same brain states and be different persons, since one individual may be guilty of a crime while the other is not (both being persons), just to take one sort of case. Thus, not only are persons not identifiable with brain states, neither do they supervene - in kim's sense - on brain states. Are persons mental? 

Yes. Are they nonphysical? No. The development of this insight we owe largely to Strawson. Our having forgotten it we owe to Davidson, Kim et al. Like meanings persons are not "in the head." Note that persons are agents; volitions and intentions are not. The subjects of intention and volition are, then, not in the head; and, so, the relation of a person to his intention is not the relation of a brain state to a proposition. An intention is a relation between an idea and a person; an idea may supervene on a brain state but intentionality does not, since one of the relata of the intentional relation is not "in the head." 

For our persons, the most important fact about persons is that a person is the locus of passive and active properties; the passive are cognitive; the active are agentive. The relation between these two is fundamental to my concept of a person. Now we ask in respect to intentions: "What is it for a person to be conscious and what is it for a state of mind to be conscious; and when is an intention conscious. For us, a state of mind is conscious because a person is conscious of it; it is not the case that a state of mind is conscious because it has a special property like the brightness of a light, say. Let's begin to examine Mele on "effective intentions." 

In the Introduction to his book, Mele gives an overview of his position. I will defer the particulars until such time as we encounter each, but a couple of points he makes we'll examine briefly. First, he distinguishes, as did Anscombe, forming an intention and intentions, as we said; but he also distinguishes "occurrent" and "standing" intentions. An occurrent intention is episodic and is concerned with the present; a standing intention is an intention we that is not presently executed but held in abeyance until the propitious occasion. This is rough, but compare here the occurrent belief that pit bulls are mean with the occurrent belief that this dog (which is a pitt bull) is mean. Mele remarks: 

"I reported that occurrent intentions, in my view, are *executive* attitudes towards plans...ON my view, the executive dimension of occurrent intentions is intrinsic to the attitudinal orientation, *intending*." (Effective Intentions, Oxford, 2010, p. 6) 

The notion of an "executive" intention is not new. It goes back a while and, as I recall, Ryle makes fun of the idea. It is, however, useful. For example, an occurrent intention's being executive can be set beside a "legislative" act of mind. Here, although I knkow of no one who uses "legislative" in the sense in which I am using it, we can think of "forming an intention" as legislative and resulting in a standing intention, whereas an occurrent intention is occurrent and executive. This is distinction is fundamental, and as we shall discover, essential to understanding such things as certain moral concepts such as Akrasia or weakness of the will. There is another important distinction, one that also goes way back: the distinction between "content" and "orientation." New words for very old ideas, ideas going back as far as Moore (1902) and even earlier to the Viennese philosophers "of the act." Mele says, 

"...one can distinguish between an attitude's representational *content* and its psychological "orientation" (Searle 1983) Orientations include...believing, desiring, and intending." (ibid) 

This is very similar to the object/act distinction. I see a blue flower. The blue flower is content; the seeing is the act (orientation). Now this isn't exactly the same because for Mele content is representational; intentional content is representational. The basic idea goes back at least as far as Twardowski, but that need not concern us. This will become a prominent issue when we investigate the interface of the cogntive and agentive in describing persons. More important is the question of how orientation and content are related. This cuts to the core of the meaning of 'intend'; the point being that 'intend' in the sense of action depends on 'intend' in the sense that 'intention' and 'intension' are related. A final point before moving beyond Mele's Introduction. 

According to Mele, "all decisions about what to do are prompted partly by uncertainty about what to do." The suggestion here seems to be that decision arises from the need to select from alternatives. But does this need arise from uncertainty in any other sense than that there are alternatives? Mele's earlier work is relevant and we would have to look at this in order to arrive at a fair appraisal. For now, let's consider that we may run risk here of oversimplification. We are in danger of conflating two disparate types of cases. Consider the situation where I operate equally well with meter sticks and rulers. I am asked to measure the length of a door. I look down and see a ruler and a meter stick. There is no uncertainty involved in a number of senses of 'uncertain'. That is, I am faced with making a choice, a decision, as to which to use, but there is nothing about which I am uncertain except, maybe, the length of the door. Still, I am faced with an alternative that must be resolved. This is very different from uncertainty I face when I am told that behind one door is a pot of gold and behind the other is a hungry lion and that I must open one. In the first case, I am faced with what I will call an "indeterminacy," one that is resolved by deciding which stick to use to measure; in the second case, I am facing "uncertainty." There is an alternative at issue, but the uncertainty concerns a lack of knoweledge whereas this is not involved in the case of indeterminacy. So uncertainty enters the decision making process as a matter of ignorance, but indeterminacy does not involve ignorance relevant to which decision is made. So when a decision involves ignorance relevant to the decision to be made then and only then would I call it a matter of "uncertainty," whereas when a decision is made I can go either way, say, where knowledge is not an issue related to the actual matter being decided, then I have indeterminacy. In both cases decision is involved but uncertainty is involved in only one case. Only in the case of uncertainty is "deliberation" of the essence. Not all decisions are deliberate and only then do conditions of "uncertainty" become manifest in the relevant sense. 


Steve Bayne 

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