[hist-analytic] Mele

Baynesr at comcast.net Baynesr at comcast.net
Thu Jun 2 15:56:26 EDT 2011

I gave Mele short shrift. I had finished all but the last few pages. The middle part is a drag. The first part is good, but the last third is interesting and provocative. I am returning to my discussion of Mele, beginning all over and, hopefully, pursuing it to the end. It is the best thing I've seen on this topic. Mele is a darn good philosopher. My only general criticism is his lack of familiarity with the early literature which, I think, is better than most of the contemporary stuff. Anyway, here we go. These are going to be notes for future editing. 

Intention is that which when added to bodily movement yields action. An "occurrent intention" for Mele is either an intention "suitably at work at the time in producing relevant intentional actions or in producing items appropriate for the production of relevant intentional actions," or an intention which is conscious at the time of the action. (Effective Intentions: The Power of Conscious Will, Oxford, 2009, p. 4). Mele's book is directed against certain ideas and conclusions reached by neurologists who have made certain philosophical speculations on the role of conscious intention in action from the perspective of brain science. 

The notion of the present has no special place in the theory of action and intention discussed. The notion of time is discussed in detail and the idea of an "occurrent" intention plays a prominent role, but the idea of intentional action as tied to the present from the agent's perspective is difficult if not impossible to identify. This is problematic. One might approximate the notion of an volition as it occurs in earlier works as being something that is just like any other intention caused action except that the action and the intention coincide temporally in the present. Thus a "pure intention" in Davidson's sense is not a volition, but upon initiation of the action guided by the intention the intention is no longer pure; it is sullied by a real world presence taking place in the present. As Bradley once suggested: intentions may concern the future but volitions only occur in the agent's present. Perhaps one way of looking at it is to say that in a "pure intention" (an intention lacking any realization) there is a temporal "projection," a "text" that makes reference to some future time, whereas a volition lacks any temporal reference or "projection" because it is being realized presently and is, therefore, not part of the intention. The concept now may enter into the "text" of an intention to act but not in the text of an intentional act occuring now So if I intend to check my email "now" I am not now checking my email. 

I may have the pure intention of leaving the house at noon; or seeing my friend tomorrow, or keeping a promise to be somewhere at some future time; but if I am presently acting, and my body is moving in fulfillment of the intention, then what is at issue is a volition, an "impure" but unfulfilled intention, viz. a volition. This, at least, is one way of describing "occurrent intentions." On Mele's definition two people may have the same occurrent intention, but they are incapable of sharing a volition. There are other unexplored complications having to do with Mele's discussion of "occurrent intentions." 

His position is that occurrent intentions are "executive attitudes towards plans" (Mele [2009] p. 6], but once we are engaged in actual behavior, that is where volition is present, there is the intention as goal and the intention as to what the best way to proceed is from here and now in fulfilling the objective codified in the "text" of the original intention, assuming it has not been abandoned. So the "attitude(s) towards a plan" may remain the same, but insofar as the action is in progress the plan evolves as its objectives become realized in the world external to the agent, and by "external" we are not making an epistemological point about the privacy of the mental. That will come later. It's worth noting that the distinction I have drawn in the "nowness" of a volition, cum intention, is not captured by the distinction between 'Now I intend to X' and 'I intend to X, now'. In neither case am I committed to the statement 'I am now Xing'. 

Steve Bayne 
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