Monday, August 19, 2019

Two ways to pursue y for the sake of z

The phrase

  1. x pursues y as a means to z

is ambiguous between two readings:

  1. x pursues y-as-a-means-to-z


  1. x’s pursuit of y is a means to z.

Case (2) is the standard case of means-end relationships: Alice goes on the exercise bike to keep her healthy.

But (3) can be a different beast. Bob’s psychologist has told him that it would be good for him to secrete more adrenaline; maybe striving to win at tennis is the most efficient of the safe methods for secreting adrenaline available to Bob; so, Bob relentlessly pursues victory in tennis. It is not the victory, however, that releases the adrenaline in my hypothetical story: it is the pursuit of that victory. In that case, it is Bob’s pursuit of victory that is a means to (mental) health. Moreover, it could be the case that what secretes adrenaline most effectively is the non-instrumental pursuit of victory:

It looks to me like in all these cases what we have are instances of final causation, where y’s endhood is caused by z’s endhood. In case (2), it is y’s instrumental endhood that is caused by z’s endhood, while in some cases of (3), like Bob’s adrenaline-releasing pursuit of victory, it is y’s non-instrumental endhood that is caused by z’s endhood.

There can also be cases where y’s instrumental endhood is caused by z’s endhood, but y is not a means to z. For instance, we could imagine that Bob’s psychologist told him that given his peculiar motivational structure, the most efficient way for him to release adrenaline would be to strive to gain money by winning at tennis. In that case, Bob pursues winning at tennis instrumentally for the sake of gaining money, but this pursuit is finally caused by his pursuit of adrenaline. So, the victory’s instrumental endhood is finally caused by adrenaline’s endhood, but the victory is instrumental to money, not adrenaline.

Note, also, that normally a case of (2) is also a case of (3): when x pursues y-as-a-means-to-z, then x’s pursuit of y is also a means to z. But there are pathological cases where this is not so.

Instances fo (3) that are not instance of (2) look like cases of higher order reasons. But they need not be cases of reasons at all. For case (3) can be subdivided into at least two subcases:

  1. x voluntarily chooses to pursue y in order that z might be achieved by the pursuit

  2. The unchosen teleological structure of x (e.g., the nature of x) is such that x’s pursuit of y is ordered to z.

In type (a) cases, indeed z can provide a higher order reason. But in type (b) cases, there need be no reasons involved. Lion cubs pursue play in order that they might grow strong, let’s say. But growing strong doesn’t provide lion cubs with a reason to pursue play, because lion cubs are not (let us suppose) the sorts of beings that can be responsive to higher order reasons. Nonetheless, there is final causation: the end of strength causes play to be an end.

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