[hist-analytic] Mele 4: The ambiguity of 'about to open my door'

Baynesr at comcast.net Baynesr at comcast.net
Tue Feb 22 15:32:40 EST 2011

Mele's discussion of one's awareness of being about to open one's door is incomplete and, therefore, a bit misleading. Let's distinguish the relevant cases and, then, see where his approach is incomplete. Take, then, the case where I am about to unlock the door with my key but it gets jammed in the door. This is a case where what is meant is not "I am about to open my door," but rather "I am about to try to open my door." Mele is aware that in some sense being about to unlock my door doesn't entail my proceeding to unlock my door. (E.T. p. 26). So far, so good. There is a case where I do not, as yet, have my key in the door and I am distracted and,so, do not open my door even though I am about to open my door. In these two cases I am aware of different things when I am aware that I am about to open my door. Mele appears to see only one sort of case. Let me try to clarify matters, somewhat. 

When I am approaching the door without entering the key I may be aware of my intention to open the door, but this need not be the case where there is just any belief that the door is about to open because of my action, such as in the case where I have the key in the door and it, suddenly, fails - much to my surprise - to work. Here I was aware of my belief in the door's being about to open, not of my being about to open the door. Suppose I want to get to a store across the street. I may be aware that I am about to cross the street, even though I have not entered the street; but I may in another case be aware that now that I am well into the street that I am about to cross the street. This later case is a predictive; just as it was predictive that when the door was about to open I believed it would open even though to my surprise it did not open. In the case where I was about to enter the street in this case I was aware of my intention. But when I almost got across, but was distracted, what was "disappointed" was not my conscious intention to complete crossing the street but, rather, my expectation that I would cross the street. When trying is not in play, consciousness of the intention is not part of the action or anything that needs to go into the action to make it complete. What is at issue is an expectation, or what Anscombe called "estimate." So I may say that I am conscious of my intention when I am addressing an attempt at satisfying an intention, not, necessarily, when my intention is thwarted. 

Mele fails, or so it appears to me, to distinguish cases. He gets it right as far as distinguishing predictive and non-predictive awareness, as far as he goes, but he doesn't get quite right the proper inference to be drawn from the impossibility of inferring 'S proceeds to open his door' from 'S is about to open his door'. From this inability, he infers that I cannot have nonobservational knowledge (he illicitly in my opinion identifies this with inference) of my being about to open my door. He misses the difference in meaning that one can attach to 'about to open my door'. There is the sense, as we have noted, in which I am about to cross the street, without entering the street; and, also, the case where I am about to try to open my door without at this time actually entering the key. But there is the very different case of my being about to cross the street after going along way, perhaps, towards getting to the other side; or, where I've entered the key and, suddenly, it becomes stuck. He has done nothing to argue against the case where I am "about to cross the street" in the sense of being "about to try to cross the street" and have nonobservational knowledge of this. Look at it this way: if I have the key in the lock and it jams, and I push even harder but fail to open the latch, then what is thwarted is not, necessarily, my intention to open the door but rather to unjam it. In short, I may be nonobservationally aware, contrary to what Mele at least appears to be suggesting, of my intention to try and open the door, or cross the street, even though my being about to open the door may be entirely observational in cases where I succeed in getting the key in the door and observe that the door is about to open, even should the key get stuck. Moreover, Mele doesn't address how it is I know my action(s) are intentional. 


Steve Bayne 
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