Saturday, March 30, 2019

A requirement on the intention in every action

I take intentions to specify the success conditions for an action. An action is successful precisely to the extent that it satisfies the intentions. I am drawn to the following rather strong requirement on the permissible intentions for an action:

  1. If it was metaphysically possible for one’s intentions to be satisfied by a wrong action, one acted wrongly.

For instance, suppose I eat a sausage and I don’t care at all what species of animal it comes from. Then I have done wrong, because my intention would have been satisfied even if it turned out to be from a human. This is true even if what I ate was, in fact, pork (I am assuming that it is permissible to eat pigs). For my action of eating the pork was performed under a description equivalent to “intentionally eating pork, human flesh, or any other kind of meat.” A bad description to act under.

Of course, normally, we don’t explicitly state to ourselves all the things going into the intention: there are standing background intentions, such as that the sausage be made of meats it is permissible to eat. We can probe what the intention was by asking whether our action would have been successful under hypothetical conditions. For permissibility, it needs to be the case that had the sausage turned out to be human flesh, I would have been correct to say: “I was trying to do something else.”

One way to fulfill (1) is simply to have a uniform standing intention in one’s actions that is logically incompatible with any impermissible action. For instance, one could have a standing intention in one’s actions for the actions to be properly expressive of one’s love of God—or just for them to be permissible.

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