Sunday, August 14, 2011

A sufficient condition for not intending

Suppose that I do A, foreseeing that p.  Here is a sufficient condition for my action not to have p among its intentions:

  • All my active reasons in favor of my acting as I did in doing A could have been operative for me, and to at least as great a degree, had I not foreseen that p.
(A reason is active provided that it not only favors my acting a certain way, but that acting in this way comes from the reason in the right way.)  This logically follows from the general thesis, which I am inclined to accept, that my intentions supervene on my active reasons in favor of my acting as I did.

Consider two standard cases.  Terror bombing: bomb is dropped on civilian-occupied area to terrify enemy civilians into forcing their government to surrender.  Strategic bombing: bomb is dropped on civilian-occupied area to hit a military target.  In strategic bombing, one could act as one did, and for exactly the same reasons as one did, even if one did not foresee the deaths of the civilians.  But in terror bombing, one couldn't.  If one did not foresee the deaths of a civilians, one of the active reasons for dropping the bomb where one dropped it would not have been available: that dropping it there will terrify civilians by killing them.  

Notice that reasons in favor of my acting as I do in doing A include reasons that concern the value of the end but also include reasons that concern how the means leads up to the end.  Why did you act as you did?  "Because it would save the patient's life" gives the one kind of reason, and "Because it would remove the tumor" gives the other kind of reason.  

The condition I offer is sufficient but not necessary.  Frances Kamm's triple-effect cases, if they work as she thinks they do, show that the condition is not necessary, unless one distinguishes between reasons directly favoring the action, and includes only those in the sufficient condition, from reasons that act as defeater-defeaters.  Another kind of case is given by Neil Delaney's targeting cases, where the presence of civilians is evidence that the military target is there.  Or consider a case where I modify the manner in which I act in light of my foresight that p.  For instance, I expect that there will be civilian casualties, and so I drop the bomb early enough in the raid that I will have time to do a second pass once the smoke clears and drop medical supplies.  My actual active reasons for acting as I did, namely bombing at the time I did, couldn't have existed had I not believed that there would be civilian casualties.  (I could have had another similar reason still, such as that there might be civilian casualties.)

It would be nice if the sufficient condition could be made into a necessary one.  But even without being so made, I think the condition helps with a wide range of cases.  Moreover, sometimes one may be able to handle a recalcitrant case by the following strategem.  Modify the case in such a way that intuitively if the original case had an intention that p, so does the modified one, and then show that the modified case doesn't have an intention that p by using the condition. 

1 comment:

Daniel Hill said...

Thanks for this, Alex -- most helpful. Here's another example that shows the non-necessity of the condition: I am a conscientious PDE-believer and so it's an active reason required by me for acting that the foreseen good outweigh the foreseen evil. Yet, I don't think it's right to say that I *intend* that the foreseen good outweigh the foreseen evil. (Argument for this: suppose I hold a variant of PDE according to which some side-effects are so bad that no action causing them can be permissible. So it's an active reason that the side-effects not be so bad. Yet I don't intend that the side-effects not be so bad.)