Friday, March 17, 2023

Highlighted outcome structures

In the previous two posts, I have been arguing that seeing action as pursuing ends does not capture all of the richness of the directed structure of action.

Here is my current alternative to the end-based approach. Start with the idea of a “highlighted outcome structure”, which is a partial ordering ≤ on the set O of possible outcomes together with a distinguished subset S of O with the property that if x ∈ S and y ∈ O and x ≤ y, then y ∈ S. The idea is that x ≤ y means one pursues y at least as much as x, and that one’s action is successful provided that one gets an outcome in S.

To a first approximation, directed action is action aligned along a highlighted outcome structure. But that doesn’t quite capture all the phenomena. For one might aim along a non-existent outcome structure. For instance, I may mistakenly think there is such a borogrove, and seek to know about borogroves, the more the better, but in fact the word “borogrove” is nonsense, and there is no set of outcomes corresponding to different degrees of knowledge about borogroves.

So, at least to a second approximation, direction action is action aligned along a conception of a highlighted outcome structure. Ideally, there actually is a highlighted outcome structure that fits the conception.

Note that this allows for the following interesting phenomenon: one can defer to another person with regard to a highlighted outcome structure. Thus, a Christian might pursue the structure that God has in mind for one, and do so as such.

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