Wednesday, December 30, 2009

"Unexpected" and "unplanned" pregnancies

The process of conception is very chancy, with a randomly timed act of intercourse having a significantly less than one in ten probability of conception and with the conception probability peaking at around 1/2 for an act occurring at around ovulation. Any couple who knows these facts, absent some further information (such as a private revelation from God) cannot rationally expect a pregnancy to result from a sexual act, nor can the couple rationally be said to plan the pregnancy in a sexual act, for it is presumptuous to have something so chancy be one's plan. Thus, if a couple is rational and knows the probabilities, a pregnancy's resulting from a particular sexual act will always be an unexpected and non-planned consequence, though perhaps a hoped for and intended one.

However, the probability of conception for regular sexual activity over a longer period of time, say a year, is higher, and better than even. If something has a better than even probability, then it can be expected. Nonetheless, unless that probability is pretty high, say 9/10, which over the period of a year it is not, then it still is presumptuous to talk of the outcome as planned.

Thus, pregnancy is too chancy an event for it to be rationally planned, though of course it always can be planned for—even very low probability events can be rationally planned for. The standard loose distinction between planned/unplanned pregnancies, and to a lesser degree that between expected/unexpected pregnancies, can be replaced by a distinction between pregnancies hoped for and not hoped for, intended and not intended. (Note that "unhoped for" is not the same as "not hoped for". We use "unhoped for" in the case of events that are evaluated by the subject in a positive way, but a pregnancy need not so be. Likewise, Ryan Wasserman has argued that "not intended" is not the same as "unintended".) Of course, it may be that this is what people have all along meant by the words "planned", "unplanned", "expected" and "unexpected", but in a conceptually confused way. But in a matter as important as this, conceptual clarity is needed.

17 comments:

Mike Almeida said...

for it is presumptuous to have something so chancy be one's plan. Thus, if a couple is rational and knows the probabilities, a pregnancy's resulting from a particular sexual act will always be an unexpected and non-planned consequence

Suppose I plant explosives, and succeed in detonating a bomb that blows up a local bridge. I'd say I planned that; I'm assuming we agree. Suppose I know that, half the time, the local police catch people before they succeed in blowing up local objects. They didn't catch me, however. It's still pretty clear that I planned to blow up the bridge, despite the fact that my chances of succeeding were about even. So raising the chances of failing to X does not itself preclude planning to X.

Heath White said...

According to my calculations, a couple having intercourse every month at ovulation time has an excellent chance (1 - 0.5^12, much better than 99%) of conceiving at some point in the year. I'd call that planned.

But even if we say "intended" instead--what's the big deal?

Mike Almeida said...

I'd call that planned.

Heath,
That's an interesting distinction. They did plan on conceiving during the year, though (perhaps) there is no occasion on which they planned to concieve. It seems to yield the interesting paradox that over a large enough amount of time span--certainly over an non-finite time span--every possible event is planned. Take, for instance, the event of conceiving a child or the event of building a barn. I think I have absolutely no plans to build a barn, but the probability n of my doing so at t (for future t's) is not zero. Over a sufficiently long period of time, the chance that I do not build a barn sometime during that period is (1 - n)^m for a very large m. So you can bet that I'm going to build a barn. Since I know that now, it's hard to see how it could be false now that I plan to build a barn. I mean, unless it makes sense to say, "I know I will build a barn, but I have no plan to build a barn".
Interesting what you can know you'll do over a non-finite amount of time. Indeed, if there really is some sin sufficiently bad that no one who commits it can be saved, and if you have a non-finite amount to determine your future, then you can be sure that you'll not be saved.

James said...

Not sure I'm adding anything new to this (interesting) discussion. But here are a couple of comments/questions anyway.

1. Can't one know (or at least be reasonably sure) that one will do something at some point in the future and yet still not 'plan' to do it as such? Suppose I know that a roulette wheel in a casino is loaded (it comes up red twice every three spins). Now suppose I decide to bet on red all night. Is it right to say that I planned to lose some money at some point during the night?

2. Are probabilities really relevant when it comes to planning? Suppose I'm being forced to play a game of Russian roulette. I decide, in order to save someone else's life, to take the gun and pull the trigger six times. Do my actions only exhibit some kind of 'plan' when I pull the trigger for the fourth time?

Mike Almeida said...

Is it right to say that I planned to lose some money at some point during the night?

I think the answer is yes. Just as someone who loses in pool in order to win overall. Your bet is one made in the assurance that you'll win overall. It would be even more strange to say "I know I will lose, but I'm not planning on it".

James said...

You're probably right. Though couldn't one say that I was planning for the eventuality of losing rather than planning to lose?

Heath White said...

My thought was that Alex was willing to say that conception was "intended" but not "planned", and it was not "planned" because the probabilities of it happening were too low on any given occasion. But since the probabilities are quite high over a period of time, it seems to me that we ought to say that one "plans" to conceive sometime in a period, rather than with any given act of intercourse. And that's how most people who "plan" their children think of it, I believe.

So I am willing to say that "planning" equals "intending" plus a significant probability of success. Since the intending is a necessary condition, the barn-building explosion principle doesn't follow, it seems to me. (For the same reason, no one plans _to_ lose money at the tables, though they can plan _for_ it.)

Mike Almeida said...

Since the intending is a necessary condition, the barn-building explosion principle doesn't follow...

I guess the assumption you're making is that you can know that you're going to X and not intend to X. Something like the foreseen but unintended v. intended distnction, I'm guessing. In the gambling case it was assumed (as in the barn building case) that I know going in, before I begin gambling, that if I play, I will lose. If I know that, it's see how I can claim that my losing is foreseen but not intended. Consider the modification: suppose I know that if I gamble, you will recieve a severe electric shock. I decide to play anyway and claim that the shock you received was not intended. That's hard to believe, even if your being shocked was not my ultimate goal. Similarly, to shrink the time span, if I know that I will build a barn in my yard tomorrow--and I know my brain won't be manipulated by aliens or mad scientists, etc., etc.--it's really hard to see how I can, after the fact, claim that I did not intend to do that.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Heath:

I think I underestimated conception probabilities over the period of a year and you overestimated them. The reason you overestimated was because (a) it is not possible to determine ovulation day ahead of time with more than about a plus or minus one or two days precision (and conception probability goes down drastically 24 hours after ovulation day, and hits pretty much zero around 48 hours afterwards, and goes down significantly--I think by about ten percent--by each day before ovulation), and more importantly (b) there is no statistical independence between the events unless one controls for the couple's degree of fertility, so one cannot multiply probabilities.

However, I now recall having read that a typical couple, I assume of a standard reproductive age, who does not use contraception or time their marital relations will conceive on the average in six months. This may be good enough to enable them to plan to conceive within a year, barring addition information.

Mike:

I think that if half the time the police catch people, your success was not planned--it was planned for, and a result of your plan, but one's plan has to be substantially within one's control (in the sense that one can count as "ensuring" (the word is slightly too strong) the result), and I think that 50% is too low for that.

We do sometimes know we will do something that we have no plan to do. For instance, if many times I've unsuccessfully tried to quit smoking, and now is another such attempt, I have no plan to smoke ever again, but I may be in a position to know (based on the unfortunate inductive data) that I will smoke again.

Mike and Heath:

Another somewhat interesting phenomenon is this. So, over a period of a year, a couple that does not have any data contrary to their fertility can expect to conceive, and the conception will count as planned. Suppose they conceive in March. Then we can say: Their conception in March was planned qua conception in 2010, but was not planned qua conception in March. However, it may very well have been intended under both descriptions.

Heath:

So the suggestion is that an event E is planned iff it is intended and it had a high probability. This is a bit tricky, though. High epistemic or objective probability?

High objective probability is not enough. Suppose I set out to prove some mathematical proposition, to which proposition I assign a subjective probability 55%. And I succeed. It's not right to say that my success was planned, because, presumably, I assigned a probability lower than 50% to my success (the probability the proposition is true is 55%, and the probability that I will succeed in proving it has to be somewhat lower than that). But the objective probability that the proposition is true is in fact 100%, since it's a necessary truth, and let us suppose that I am such a good mathematician that I had objectively a 95% chance of proving it.

Is it perhaps high epistemic probability? Maybe, but I am worried about a case like this. I falsely but justifiably believe that salt water is a highly effective poison, and I give it to Fred to drink. He drinks and dies as a result (salt has a low toxicity, but maybe for some sickly people that low toxicity is enough to kill them). Is his death something planned? It was intended and had high epistemic probability. But I feel a pull to say it wasn't planned, because it in fact wasn't sufficiently under my control.

Still, I think I can bite the bullet on the second case and say that E was planned iff E resulted from an intention in the right way and E was epistemically highly probable. (I thought for a moment of making the second conjunct be: it was highly likely that E would result from the intention. But that's not right. Suppose that E is antecedently 95% likely, and that my action ensures that in the other 4.9% of the cases E also occurs. Then E is planned, I think.)

Alexander R Pruss said...

Actually, I am thinking that "being planned" is not as important for action theory and morality as the following concepts:
- being intended
- being expected
- being accomplished
- being planned for

Alexander R Pruss said...

Mike:

"suppose I know that if I gamble, you will recieve a severe electric shock. I decide to play anyway and claim that the shock you received was not intended. That's hard to believe, even if your being shocked was not my ultimate goal."

This example does beg the question against people who think double effect considerations make sense. This is exactly what a defender of double effect will have to say--the shock was not intended, and you are not guilty of intentionally causing pain, but of acting in a way that causes pain without sufficiently good reason.

Mike Almeida said...

This example does beg the question against people who think double effect considerations make sense

Alex,

It begs the question only if I do not have independent evidence for my claim. But I do have independent evidence, don't I? I appeal to your intuitions about the case, which are (ideally) independent of your theoretical commitments otherwise. Setting aside the theoretical work DDE is doing for you and considering the case as is, I submit that it is not intuitively a case in which the pain is foreseen but unintended. Do we disagree that appeal to intuition in any particular case should be insulated from broader theoretical commitments?

Heath White said...

Alex,

Actually, I am thinking that "being planned" is not as important for action theory and morality as the following concepts:
- being intended
- being expected
- being accomplished
- being planned for


I completely agree.

Mike,

suppose I know that if I gamble, you will recieve a severe electric shock. I decide to play anyway and claim that the shock you received was not intended. That's hard to believe, even if your being shocked was not my ultimate goal.

It's quite easy for me to believe the shock is not intended. It's more plausible to say that the shock (or letting me get the shock) is intentional, albeit not intended. (There is good empirical research on this question by Knobe.)

Alexander R Pruss said...

Mike,

I wonder if your intuitions aren't misled by an assumption that if something is not intended then it is unintentional. In other words, one might have the intuition that the shock is not unintentional, and then think that this implies it is intended.

In fact, I have no intuition that the shock is intended. To intend cannot merely be a matter of belief--it has to contribute to the explanation of the action.

Mike Almeida said...

It's quite easy for me to believe the shock is not intended. It's more plausible to say that the shock (or letting me get the shock) is intentional, albeit not intended.

It's the space between intentional and intended action that is not always so obvious. I'm wondering how you're reading 'intend'. Do you read 'S intends X (or, to X)' as entailing that S has X as a goal or aim? I don't think intending to X has that entailment. My surgeon intends to cut into my abdomen, but that is not his goal or aim. It might not even be necessary to any goal or aim he has. And it might not be the best means to any goal he has. Nonetheless, he can certainly intend to cut into my abdomen during a surgery he is performing to (say) repair a muscle.

Mike Almeida said...

In fact, I have no intuition that the shock is intended. To intend cannot merely be a matter of belief--it has to contribute to the explanation of the action.

Again, it seems like you're understanding 'S intends to X' in a way that entails that S had X as an aim. But I'm not sure that entailment holds. Doesn't my surgeon intend to cut open my abdomen in performing an operation, even in cases where there are other better means of completing the operation, and even in cases where his aim is to repair a muscle? I think he does intend to do so. Ask him what he intends to do, just after taking scalpel in hand, and I'm sure he will say, "at the moment, I intend to cut through this tissue".

Alexander R Pruss said...

I agree that there may be a space between something being intentionally done and something being intended. In that case, my insistence is only that the shock was not intended, not that it was unintentional. There are at least three ways one could try to partition the relevant portion of logical space:
(a) intended / intentional but not intended / not intentional
(b) intended / unintentional / not intentional but not unintentional (Wasserman, I think)
(c) intended / unintentional (the classic binary)

I am right now neutral on which partitioning one should take, but I think that (a) and (b) significantly lessen or remove the force of examples like yours.

Roughly, one intends that p iff that p is a part of one's plan of action. A plan of action includes both ends and means (both causal and constitutive). A sufficient condition for p not being a part of one's plan of action is that it is possible (I think "metaphysically possible" is the right modality here, but I am open to argument) that one's plan of action succeed without p. But the success of one's plan of action is more than the achievement of the end. For instance, suppose my plan is to have lots of money by the end of the year, and to that end I plan to work at three jobs from which I will save lots of money. It turns out that the three jobs don't actually pay much and my expenses are higher than I thought, and I can't save much money from them, but on the last day of the year, I inherit millions. In that case, my plan of action was not successful, because a step in the plan--saving lots of money earned through the three jobs--was not achieved, even though the end was achieved.

Similarly, if the surgeon chooses a particular incision as a means, then she aims at that incision, and it is a part of her plan. We can see that she aims at that incision in the following two ways:

1. If the incision doesn't happen, but she finds that miraculously the skin has become transparent and permeable to surgical instruments, so she can do surgery right through it, her original plan does not succeed--she has to modify (in this case: simplify) the plan into a new one in order to succeed.

2. That she has the incision as an aim is the best explanation of why it is rational for her to deliberate about the right means for making that incision.