Thursday, September 18, 2014

Trying and intending

Suppose I have a sore knee and a doctor asks me to try to lift my leg to see if I can do so. So I try, and let's say I succeed. Did I intend to lift my leg? It seems not. It seems that I intended to lift my leg if and only if I could, as a means to the doctor's being able to diagnose my knee. But this is very strange. I tried and I succeeded, but I didn't intend my success!

Maybe I didn't really try to lift my leg? Maybe I only tried to lift it if and only if I could. But that doesn't seem right. The doctor didn't want to see the effects of my trying to "lift my leg if and only if I could", but wanted to see the effects of my trying to lift my leg.

I am not sure what to make of this kind of case.


William said...

Think quantitative, not qualitative then.

Trying to lift, we create an outcome graded from 0 to 5, with 5 being normal and 0 measured as no movement. Assuming of course that one did try, even no movement is a successful effort, producing after all a true outcome, measurable as a 0 result.

In fact, if we do not try, we still give a result: that we did not or could not cooperate (for example, we are asleep). There may be ways to separate that from trying with a zero result, so even not trying can be considered a measurable outcome.

Mike Almeida said...

Didn't you assume that you could lift your leg in trying to do so to prove that you could? If so, then you intended to lift your leg. So it seems anyway. The odd case is where you try to lift your leg knowing that you cannot (as in trying to lift 1000 lbs off the ground, believing that you cannot). In that case, you did not intend to lift your leg.

Suppose some moral outcome depended on you lifting your leg. If you lift your leg, someone gets harmed. You are sure that you cannot lift your leg. You try to do so, and succeed, not intending to do so. Someone does get hurt, but it doesn't seem like you're to blame for that. Suppose you believed you could not lift your leg, but you were not sure. If you try in that case, it seems, you intended.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Think of this as a case where you don't have an opinion on if you can. Just like the doctor you want to find out. And how better to find out if you can lift the leg than by trying?

Mike Almeida said...

But you must have the relevant sort of opinion on whether you can. You must at least be disposed to say "I don't know that I can or that I can't". If you do not know that you can't (or, more weakly, if you don't believe that you can't) then in trying to lift the leg, you intend to lift the leg.

This is the case with putting all the time. Even good putters do not believe that they cannot make a 10ft putt, but when they putt and sink it, they surely intend to sink the putt.

SMatthewStolte said...

I may not know that I can lift my leg, but I know what it is like to know that I can lift my leg. Maybe I bracket my ignorance and act as if I knew that I could lift my leg.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Here's another case in the vicinity.

I get paid $100 for contracting a muscle. So I try to raise my arm. Trying to raise my arm causes a muscle to contract. But notice that I don't care about whether my arm actually goes up. So I intentionally try to raise my arm without intending success at raising my arm.

What I just said goes against an example I used here.