Friday, August 3, 2012

Intending a disjunction that has an evil disjunct

This may take back the central part of my argument about tautologously equivalent intentions.

Suppose that Sally is a crime boss who really hates Fred and really likes fresh salmon. So she tells a henchman: "I need some sparkle in my day. I need you today to either kill Fred or find me some fresh salmon." Sally's intention is that

  1. Fred is killed or Sally[note 1] gets fresh salmon.
It seems, then, that (1) is a wicked intention for Sally to have. What makes it wicked is that one of its disjuncts is an evil.

But actually (1) is not a wicked intention as such for Sally to have. Let's say I am the henchman. But yesterday I repented of my sins and confessed them all, and then I went to the FBI. The FBI asked me to remain in Sally's service for a few more days while they gather more evidence. So there I am: Sally wants me to kill Fred or find her some fresh salmon. I go and find her some fresh salmon. Why? In order to fulfill her order by killing Fred or getting her some fresh salmon. In other words, I am finding her some fresh salmon as a means to (1), which in turn is a means to having Sally be satisfied with me for a couple more days. My intention is morally upright.

There is nothing wrong, then, with acting to make true a disjunction that has an evil disjunct as long as I do so by means of making true a non-evil disjunct. There is something wrong with acting to make true a disjunction that has an evil disjunct indifferently between the disjuncts, as Sally does or as a henchperson passing Sally's unchanged order to a lower-down henchperson would be doing.

Notice a crucial difference between my and Sally's action plan. If I were to kill Fred, that would not fulfill my action plan. For my plan was to make the disjunction true by making the salmon disjunct true. But it would fulfill Sally's action plan.

Here is a tough question: What intention does Sally have that makes her action wicked and mine upright? Of course Sally has a desire that Fred die, and that makes her, we may suppose, a wicked person. But that does not make her action wicked. Sally wants to please herself. I want to please Sally. So far our intentions are the same. Sally wants to please herself by making (1) true. I want to please Sally by making (1) true. Our intentions are still the same. I have an additional intention: to make the salmon disjunct true. Sally doesn't care how (1) is made true. But that's a matter of her lacking an intention. Is that what makes her action wicked?

If so, then this would be an interesting example of a thought I've explored in other contexts, that certain actions are only permitted with certain intentions. For instance it is only permitted to participate in some of the sacraments if one has an appropriate intention. Or perhaps it is only permitted for spouses to make love with the intention of uniting or the intention of reproducing. Or maybe it is only permissible to assert with the intention of avoiding asserting a falsehood. To these kinds of cases (which are controversial, of course) one would add: one is only permitted to intend a disjunction with an evil disjunct if one additionally intends a non-evil disjunct (or intends that a non-evil disjunct be true or something else of like nature).

In "The Accomplishment of Plans", I've suggested that it's wrong to act in such a way that an evil might be accomplished by one. (Not everything one causes is accomplished. Paradigmatic cases of unintended side-effects are caused but not accomplished.) This would also explain the difference between Sally and me. Sally's plan is such that she might end up accomplishing Fred's death through it. But my plan is not like that. While I might accidentally kill Fred while driving to the airport in order to fly to a place where they have fresh salmon, Fred's death wouldn't be an accomplishment of mine.


James said...

I think it's wrong to say that if I intend p, then I intend "p or q" for arbitrary q.

So while you intend "Sally is made happy today", and you intend "Sally gets fresh salmon", you don't intend "Sally gets fresh salmon or Fred dies".

For if you did intend "Sally gets a fresh salmon or Fred dies", your intention would be satisfied if Fred died. But clearly that would not satisfy you.

Alexander R Pruss said...

That's right: one can intend p without intending p or q.

But he who intends the means intends the end (to reverse the usual maxim). And in the story I gave, the end of Sally's getting a fresh salmon is that Sally gets a fresh salmon or Fred dies, since it is the disjunction that fulfills her command.

It would be pointless to get her a fresh salmon if one did not intend thereby to make the disjunction hold. So the disjunction is something one intends to hold.

"For if you did intend 'Sally gets a fresh salmon or Fred dies', your intention would be satisfied if Fred died."

Yes, that intention would be satisfied. But because the intention would not be satisfied by the means by which you intended to satisfy it, this would not make the action successful.

Consider a different case. I intend to make Maurice happy, so I go to buy him chocolates. On my way to buy him chocolates, I break a leg and go to the hospital. This makes Maurice happy, because he hates me. I have satisfied my intention to make Maurice happy. But my action is not successful, because I did not satisfy my intention by the means by which I meant to. One of my intentions is satisfied, but another--the intention to get him chocolates--is not.

James said...

But you don't care about the disjunction; you care about the sufficiency of providing Sally with fresh salmon for keeping her off your back.

Sure, you happen to make the disjunction hold. By doing p, you incidentally make every disjunction "p or q" hold.

I suppose I'm having trouble seeing what the issue is. If Sally intends "Fred is killed or Sally gets fresh salmon", and you intend "Sally gets fresh salmon" and "Sally is satisfied"...what's the problem?

Surely you wouldn't suddenly intend something different if Sally decided, "Actually, I'm only satisfied if I get salmon". Your intentions haven't changed at all, have they?

Tom said...

The question, I think, is whether "Kill Fred or find me some fresh salmon" is an intention as such or a set of disjoint means to the end of Sally having some sparkle in her day.

Alexander R Pruss said...

I think the disjunction could be intended. Consider this possible story as to what happens when I get Sally's request. I think to myself: "Now I have good reason to bring it about that Fred is dead or Sally gets fresh salmon. But only if I can do so by morally licit means. I can't make the first disjunct true by morally licit means. But I can make the second disjunct true by morally licit means, and that will make the disjunction true, and thereby make happen what Sally requested."

For a variant case, suppose Sally asks for an exclusive disjunction, maybe because she is a bit of an ascetic and doesn't want too much sparkle in her day. Then clearly I am aiming at the exclusive disjunction of Fred being killed or her getting salmon, since in addition to getting her the salmon I will be trying to make sure nobody kills Fred.

Tom said...

Then clearly I am aiming at the exclusive disjunction of Fred being killed or her getting salmon, since in addition to getting her the salmon I will be trying to make sure nobody kills Fred.

Wouldn't the intention then be, not (Salmon + Fred Dies)^(Fred Lives), but simply (Salmon ^ Fred Lives)?

What I'm missing in your first example is why the henchman, in willing the means of bringing Sally fresh salmon, intends (Salmon V Fred Dies), but not, say (Salmon V Ecuador Wins an Olympic Track and Field Medal).

Alexander R Pruss said...

"Salmon V Ecuador Wins an Olympic Track and Field Medal" does nothing as such to further your goal of keeping Sally hapy. But "Salmon or Fred's death" does.

And salmon furthers your goal only by making true the disjunction, since it is the disjunction she wants to hold.

Helen Watt said...

If Sally's a bit of an ascetic, she has two conditional, mutually exclusive intentions: that she eat salmon and that Fred die (by my agency, in both cases). She also has the separate, (fairly) absolute intention that one or the other happen, but not both.

So - fine to cooperate formally in her existing conditional salmon-eating intention, by finding her some really nice salmon. Fine to try earlier to engage her intention - as absolute as I can make it - in eating salmon, as a distraction from her intending that Fred die.

But interestingly, not fine to cooperate formally in her forming the absolute intention that I-get-her-salmon-or-kill-Fred (even as a less wicked alternative to her intending that I-kill-Fred ASAP). Nor do I seem to be intending myself that I-get-salmon-or-kill-Fred, as opposed to just I-get-salmon-make-Sally-happy-make-everyone-happy-save-me-save-Fred.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Thanks, Helen. This sparks this idea: Maybe here is a solution. Maybe there is no need to intend to fulfill Sally's command. All you need to intend is for Sally to think her command has been fulfilled. And while a means to fulfilling her command is that she get fresh salmon or Fred dies, her getting fresh salmon is sufficient to cause her to think her command has been fulfilled, and her thinking her command has been fulfilled is sufficient for your purposes.

Compare this. She points a gun to your head and says: "Boil some water for a hemlock stew for us to kill you with in an hour." You can boil some water without intending to boil the water for a hemlock stew. This is obvious when you have a contingency plan to escape before the stew is made. But even if you have no such plan, there is no need to attribute to you the intention to boil water for a stew to kill you with. Rather, you think: "If I boil water, she doesn't kill me. So I'll boil water." Her intentions and plans, and the details of her command, are not directly relevant.

This is all very important for questions of formal cooperation with evil. For while the actions that one performs that help an evildoer along may request of one may in themselves be morally innocent--say, boiling some water--the evildoer intends these actions as means to an evil. Can one perform the actions without sharing that intention?

If one intends that what the evildoer wants to happen should happen, then one may end up sharing the evildoer's intention, and that's not acceptable. But one may simply intend that the evildoer think that her request has been fulfilled, and there is nothing wrong with that.

But here's a worry. We intend to make Sally feel satisfied by getting her fresh salmon. But if she is a literalist logician who doesn't care about the disjuncts but only the disjunction, the way her getting fresh salmon makes her feel satisfied is that it makes her feel that the disjunction is true. But doesn't that mean that we intend her to feel satisfied at the truth of the disjunction? But doesn't that mean that we intend her to have a wicked satisfaction?

One can ask this in the hemlock case, too.

Helen Watt said...

That's very interesting. Should we maybe bite the bullet and say: I should not be intending to trigger Sally's gloating; only the absence of alternative bad intentions of Sally (i.e. to shoot me) which will be triggered if she sees I haven't done what she says?

That would have implications not just for whether but for how I carry out Sally's commands. So I shouldn't deliberately cringe while boiling the water to make Sally gloat, but rather meekly boil in an unobtrusive way compatible with Sally thinking her own thoughts (e.g., she may in any case be gloating now but could theoretically be distracted by a phonecall - from which, however, she would be fatally distracted if she noticed I wasn't boiling like she said).

As regards the disjunction: could I merely intend that Sally register intellectually - not necessarily with pleasure - the fact the disjunction holds? If she lost interest at that point - without the aim to kill me being triggered - I'd still be alive, after all.