Wednesday, September 2, 2020

"In the right way"

When I was in grad school, we were taught that one should abandon all hope of solving “in the right way” problems, such as the problem of how exactly an intention has to result in an action in order for the action to be done from that intention.

I think that with a robust metaphysics of causation, the problem is soluble.

Solution 1: Causal powers have a teleology: to produce a certain effect in a certain way. That teleology is metaphysically written into the causes. The “in the right way” condition may be infinitely complex, but it has a metaphysical home: it is found in the causal power. What makes it be the case that William James’ mountaineer who intended to kill his buddy by dropping the rope, and then dropped the rope because of the nervousness resulting from the intention did not intentionally drop the rope is because the outcome of events is a mismatch to the description in the teleology of the causal powers constituting the intention.

Solution 2: It is a Thomistic maxim that the effect is the actuality of the cause qua cause. This maxim I suspect needs a qualification: the proper effect—the one that happens in the right way—is the actuality of the cause qua cause. So now we have a neat and simple criterion for when a cause C has caused an effect E in the right way: this happens precisely when E is the actuality of C qua cause. (See here for more discussion.)

I think the reason we were taught to eschew the problem of “in the right way” conditions was because of an implicit reductionistic metaphysics. If we think that the cause is just an arrangement of particles, it is hopeless to have a distinction between proper and improper effects.


Philip Rand said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Philip Rand said...

Dr Pruss

The first sentence of your in progress book Norms...etc. reads:

I have a human nature or human form that governs my voluntary and involuntary activity.

This opening sentence does not express the Aristotelian view "in the right way".

If you wish to be accurate, precise and correct (and not to monster bar) the opening sentence should read:

I have a human nature or human form that governs my voluntary, involuntary and NON-VOLUNTARY activity.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Nice catch. Thanks!

Walker said...

FYI, Ernest Sosa defends something like solution 1 in ch. 1 of Judgment and Agency.