Wednesday, May 24, 2023


Suppose that Alice wishes to steal an item she can only take if Bob is dead. She plans to go to Bob’s house and ensure he is dead, by first checking if he is already dead, and shooting him if he is not, and then she plans to take the item. She goes to Bob’s house and finds Bob dead. And then she successfully takes the item.

Did Alice intend Bob’s death as a means to her theft? It seems she did. But one might think this:

  1. If x intends y as a means to z, and x plan of action succeeds, then x caused y.

However, Alice’s plan does succeed and yet Alice did not cause Bob’s death.

Perhaps I was too quick to say that Alice intended Bob’s death. Maybe instead Alice has a conditional intention that Bob die if he is not already dead. This is, of course, a wicked conditional intention, but it is a different thing to have this conditional intention than to intend Bob’s death.

I am now inclined to think this is the right way to understand ensuring: one ensures X provided that one conditionally intends to bring about X if X does not happen for some other reason.

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