Consider these sentences:
- Intending to kill the wolverine, Alice pulled the trigger
- Intending to get to the mall, Bob started his car.
If Alice pulls the trigger intending to kill the wolverine and the wolverine survives, then necessarily Alice’s action is a failure.
But suppose that Bob intends to get to the mall, starts his car, changes his mind, and drives off for a hike in the woods. None of the actions described is a failure. He just changed his mind.
If nanoseconds after the bullet leaving the muzzle Alice changed her mind, and it so happens the wolverine survived, it is still true that Alice’s action failed. Given her intention, she tried to kill the wolverine, and failed.
In the change of mind case, Bob, however, didn’t try to get to the mall. Rather, he tried to start to get to the mall, and he also started trying to get to the mall. His trying to start was successful—he did start to get to the mall. But it makes no sense to attribute either success or failure to a mere start of trying.
There seems to be a moral difference, too. Suppose that killing the wolverine and getting to the mall are both wrong (maybe the wolverine is no danger to Alice, and Bob has promised his girlfriend not to go to this mall). Then Alice gets the opprobrium of being an attempted wolverine killer by virtue of (1), while Bob isn’t yet an attempted mall visitor by virtue of (2)—only when he strives to propel his body through the door does he become an attempted mall visitor. Even if killing the wolverine and getting to the mall are equally wrong, Bob has done something less bad—for the action he took in virtue of (2) was open to the possibility of changing his mind, as bringing it to completion would require further voluntary decisions. What Bob did was still wicked, but less so than what Alice did.
Action (1) commits Alice to killing the wolverine: if the wolverine fails to die, Alice is still an attempted wolverine killer. But Bob has undertaken no commitment to visiting the mall by starting the car.
This suggests to me that perhaps “intends” may be used in different senses in (1) and (2). In (1), it may be an “intends” that commits Alice to wolverine killing; in (2), it may be an “intends” that only commits Bob to starting trying to visit the mall. In (1), we have an intending that p that constitutes an action as a trying to bring it about that p.