Tuesday, January 17, 2023


As far as I know, in all racquet sports players are told to follow-through: to continue the racquet swing after the ball or shuttle have left the racquet. But of course the ball or shuttle doesn’t care what the racquet is doing at that point. So what’s the point of follow-through? The usual story is this: by aiming to follow-through, one hits the ball or shuttle better. If one weren’t trying to follow-through, the swing’s direction would be wrong or the swing might slow down.

This is interesting action-theoretically. The follow-through appears pointless, because the agent’s interest is in what happens before the follow-through, the impact’s having the right physical properties, and yet there is surely no backwards causation here. But there not appear to be an effective way to reliably secure these physical properties of the impact except by trying for the follow-through. So the follow-through itself is pointless, but one’s aiming at or trying for the follow-through very much has a point. And here the order of causality is respected: one swings aiming at the follow-through, which causes an impact with the right physical properties, and the swing then continues on to the “pointless” follow-through.

Clearly the follow-through is intended—it’s consciously planned, aimed at, etc. But it need not be a means to anything one cares about in the game (though, of course, in some cases it can be a means to impressing the spectators or intimidating an opponent). But is it an end? It seems pointless as an end!

Yet it seems that whatever is intended is intended as a means or an end. One might reject this principle, taking follow-through to be a counterexample.

Another move is this. We actually have a normative power to make something be an end. And then it becomes genuinely worth pursuing, because we have adopted it as an end. So the player first exercises the normative power to make follow-through be an end, and then pursues that end as an end.

But there is a problem here. For even if there is a “success value” in accomplishing a self-set goal, the strength of the reasons for pursuing the follow-through is also proportioned to facts independent of this exercise of normative power. Rather, the reasons for pursuing the follow-through will include the internal and external goods of victory (winning as such, prizes, adulation, etc.), and these are independent of one’s setting follow-through as one’s goal.

Maybe we should say this. Even if all intentional action is end-directed, there are two kinds of reasons for an action: the reasons that come from the value of the end and the reasons that come from the value of the pursuit of that end. In the case of follow-through, there may be a fairly trivial success value in the follow-through—a success value that comes from one’s exercise of normative power in adopting the follow-through as one’s end—but that success value provides only fairly trivial reasons. However, there can be significantly non-trivial reasons for one’s pursuing that end, reasons independent of that end.

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