Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Intending to lower the probability of one's success

It seems a paradigm of irrationality to intend an event E in an action A and yet take the action to lower the probability of E.

But it’s not irrational if my principle that intending a specification of something implies intending that which it is a specification of.

Suppose that Alice is in a bicycle race and is almost at the finish. If she just lets inertia do its job, she will inevitably win. But she carefully starts braking just short of the finish, aiming to cross the finish just a hair in front of Barbara, the cyclist behind her. She does this because she wants to make the race more exciting for the spectators, and she carefully calibrates her braking to make her win but not inevitably so.

Alice is aiming to win with a probability modestly short of one. This is a specification of winning, so by my principle, she is intending to win. But she is also, and in the very same action, aiming to decrease the probability of winning.

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