I intend that we J, but I don’t intend to play my own part in our J-ing


Some people think that we should understand an intention (of mine) that we do something (“that we J”) as really an intention (of mine) to play my own part in our doing that thing (“our J-ing”). Here, I argue against this idea. I do so by showing that I can intend that we J when I do not even intend to play my own part in our J-ing (where by “play my own part in our J-ing” I understand “do something that I conceive of as somehow causally contributing to, or partly constitutive of, our J-ing”).

I argue for this idea in a positive and a negative way. Positively, I present examples where, intuitively, I intend that we J and not intend to do anything that I conceive of as causally contributing to, or partly constitutive of, our J-ing.

Negatively, present some reasons to doubt an argument recently presented by Kirk Ludwig (From Individual to Plural Agency: Collective Action I. Oxford University Press. 2016), according to which intentions with sentential complements should be understood as intentions with infinitival complements. Since the intention that we J takes a sentential complement, this argument could be used (I do not claim Ludwig himself uses it) to support the idea that an intention that we J should be understood as an intention to play my own part in our J-ing.


3 thoughts on “I intend that we J, but I don’t intend to play my own part in our J-ing

  1. Ludwig, Kirk says:

    Thanks for your paper, Carlos. I was unable to join the live session on Saturday but I have watched the video and looked at the handout.

    I like your cases. Those are interesting. I am going to suggest they may fall short of showing what you intend.

    Car selling 1. The idea here is that I may intend that we do something and then do my part but still have the intention though I no longer have an intention directed at any action of mine since everything I needed to do has been done. There can be something similar in the case of an individual intention (Room Temperature in fact). I may intend to fill a cup with water, and put it under the faucet and turn it on. It’s filling but isn’t full yet. Do I still intend to fill it? It would be odd to say I didn’t. But am I in the same state I was in before I put it under the faucet and turned it on? My intention was to do something to bring it about that the cup was filled. I executed that intention. It is just that there is some stuff downstream of my primitive action that has to take place for the intention to realize its end. But because the goal is not met, I am still prepared to intervene if necessary, but now I think the intentional state I am in is a modification of the one I was in before. Now I have a conditional intention to intervene as necessary to ensure the success of what I did. I want to say the same about the case of selling the car. I executed my intention, did my part, and now I have a conditional intention to take additional steps if needed, and that is why we don’t say flatly that I don’t intend that we sell the car. (My take on conditional intentions: https://philarchive.org/rec/LUDWAC)

    Same remarks about Room Temperature.

    Car selling 2. There might be different ways of spelling out details here but it is not clear that this is a case of the couple selling a car. Suppose that my wife can sell our car by signing the relevant papers. She doesn’t consult me. She just does it. Did we sell the car? I don’t think so. I think she did herself. Of course joint title has been transferred. But if the car was taken by the government and sold to pay back taxes, it wouldn’t follow that we sold it though joint title was transferred. So it shouldn’t follow that we sold it because my wife did. Now suppose we agree to transfer the title to someone else for monetary consideration. I’m on a trip. I say: okay, we’re in agreement, you sell it for us. That seems like the right description. I agree though that it is natural to say that we sold it or we decided to sell it, but if it is right that my wife sold it and that was the plan, there must be something a bit misleading about this. I think that what is going on is that we both agree that one or the other of us will sell the car only if we both agree on it. Then we are both agents of the sale by giving our agreement to the other, though my wife sells it. So I do something that makes me a agent of the sale, namely agree, and that’s what we have in mind by saying that we sold it: the sale was made by my wife on the basis of an agreement between us that she would sell it, which thereby makes her our agent as it were in the sale. We both intend that she sell it as our agent. All I need do is agree. Then I have a conditional intention to intervene if needed.

    Narcolpetic. Here I think once I realize that I am on the way to the airport, my intention changes into a conditional intention to intervene if needed.

    On the criticism of the Satisfaction Principle, you are taking satisfaction conditions to be less fine-grained that I or Searle intended. They are hyperintensional like the attitude contents that determine them.

    On the Stamp thing, my desire is not satisfied now, but it will be at noon. ‘is satisfied’ is tensed as well. I will die but we don’t say that I am dead because of that.

    Concurrence, if I am hungry and want to eat but have not eaten, then now my desire to eat is not satisfied. If I lose the desire and someone asks whether it is or is not satisfied, what are they asking? The question seems to presuppose that I still have the desire. Supposed I made a bench and it weighs 25 kilos. Then I destroy it. Someone asks, does your former bench weight 25 kilos now? The question is confused. Same for the exercise case.

    Underspecification just points out that we underdescribe the content of desires (or you could go with a contextualist story about how the sentence is understood in context as in Searle’s paper “Literal Meaning”).

    Matrix 1. He thinks his desire is satisfied when it is not. Seems like the natural thing to say.

    Matrix 2. Well, this is the underspecification problem again.

  2. Núñez, Carlos says:

    Hi Andrew,

    Sorry it took me a while to reply. I just read your message.

    You ask great questions, so here is my attempt at answering them:

    Concerning your first question: by “sub-intentional” dispositions I do not mean unconscious dispositions. I mean simply that they do not obtain in virtue of an intention that they obtain. Instead, it is their obtaining in relation to a given end that realizes an intention directed at that end. It is important that the dispositions that realize an intention can obtain independently of intentions that they obtain, because otherwise a regress would loom. My claim is that, in the examples I present, this is what is happening. I intend that my wife and I sell our car. This involves, among other things, a disposition on my part not to adopt inconsistent ends. But I need not intend to (be disposed to) not intend inconsistent ends in order to be disposed not to intend inconsistent ends. Otherwise regress looms. I might just come to be so disposed in virtue of my having formed the intention that we sell the car. This decision brings it about that I am so disposed, without going through an intention to be so disposed.

    Concerning your second question: you can have the policy to adopt means should you come to believe they are necessary. But you can also be disposed to adopt means should you come to believe they are necessary without having that policy (where “policy” is understood as a type of intention). Again, this possibility is important, because this disposition is in part what realizes an intention. If intending involves being so disposed, and in order to be so disposed you need to intend to be so disposed, then in order to intend you need to intend *ad infinitum*.

    Or that, in any case, is my worry. What do you think?

    In any case, thanks a lot for taking the time to watch the talk and engaging with it.


  3. Peet, Andrew says:

    This was a really interesting talk. Unfortunately I will not be able to attend the Q&A, so here is the question I would have asked:

    One of the objections you responded to was that, if subjects retain a disposition to track their ends, and a disposition to intend means should you come to believe that they are needed, then there is still a sense in which the subject retains a contributory intention. You argued against this, claiming that these processes and dispositions were ‘sub-intentional’, and that if they had to be intended then this would lead to a regress.

    I have some doubts about this response. Firstly, it is not clear to me what it is for something to be ‘sub-intentional’. I’m guessing that the idea is not simply that they are unconscious or something like that, because surely we can intend things without being occurantly aware of the fact that we intend them? But I am not sure what else could be meant by this. So, some clarification would be helpful.

    Secondly, it strikes me that a disposition to adopt means should you come to believe that they are needed is very close to a policy: that is, it is a commitment to Phi in certain anticipated circumstances. Yet, at least in Bratman’s framework, policies are a type of intention. So, in this sense at least, you do still have a contributory intention. I don’t see why this would give rise to a regress. In order to have or act on a policy it is not also required that you actively and intentionally monitor for the relevant circumstances. Rather it may be that one’s policy is to Phi simply when one finds oneself in the relevant circumstances.

    Anyway, I am somewhat sympathetic to your general point, and found the talk very interesting. Just had this one concern.

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