Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Do I need to be aware of what I am intending if I am to be responsible?

I am going to argue that one doesn’t need to be conscious of intending to ϕ in order to be responsible for intending to ϕ.

The easiest version of the argument supposes time is discrete. Let t1 be the very first moment at which I have already intended to ϕ. My consciousness of that intending comes later, at some time t2: there is a time delay in our mental processing. So, at t1, I have already intended to ϕ. When I have intended to ϕ, I am responsible for ϕ. But now suppose that God annihilates me before t2. Then I never come to be aware that I intended to ϕ, but yet I was already responsible for it.

Here are three ways out:

  1. I am not yet responsible at t1, but only come to be responsible once I come to be aware of my intention, namely at t2.

  2. My awareness is simultaneous with the intention, and doesn’t come from the intention, but from the causal process preceeding the intention. During that causal process I become more and more likely to intend to ϕ, and so my awareness is informed by this high probability.

  3. My awareness is a direct simultaneous seeing of the intention, partially constituted by the intention itself, so there is no time delay.


Walter Van den Acker said...

The problem is that ,ultimately, an intention can't be intentional That is, if you must intend to intend something, you must also intend to intend to intend something.
Hence, ultimate responsibility is impossible anyway,.

Norm said...

I am inclined to go with 3.

Although what constitutes "intention" in moral philosophy is itself contentious.

It's a frequent point of difference between classical natural lawyers amd new natural lawyers within catholic philosophy.

I tend to side with the classical natural law theorists represented by the likes of Fr Steven Brock.

William said...

Let us say I am driving while thinking of something other than diving, so that I am presumably in a kind of unconscious driving state. Let us say that while in that state I stop in an intersection and signal a left turn in that state, not realizing that the intersection is posted no left turn. Is it true that the patrolman in the patrol car that turns out to be behind me thinks correctly that I am responsible for intending to turn left before I know that I am?

Walter Van den Acker said...


No, that isn't true. You may have been intending to drive in an unconscious state.