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Seminars in Moral Philosophy Week 1 TT09

Event Name Seminars in Moral Philosophy Week 1 TT09
Start Date 27th Apr 2009 4:30pm
End Date 27th Apr 2009 6:30pm
Duration 2 hours

Sergio Tennenbaum (University of Toronto) 'Intention and Commitment' to be held in the Lecture Room, 10 Merton Street, Oxford - Seminars in Moral Philosophy webpage


We can distinguish between three different functions of a future directed intention:

[SETTLE] A future directed intention can settle an issue to avoid reconsideration costs.

Example: I must decide between investing in bonds or mutual funds. I find it difcult to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of each option, and my bank allows me to change my mind at any time. I could spend an unlimited amount of time considering the benefits of one option or the other; however, this is not a very fruitful use of my time. So I form a firm intention one way or the other, and (assuming certain background conditions obtain) do not reconsider the issue.

[LONG] A future directed intention can allow us to execute long term plans that require coordination between actions

at different point in times.

Example: if I ever want to go to Machu Picchu, I need to make sure that I have tickets ready in time, brush up on my Spanish, etc. My forming the intention to go to Machu Picchu next semester, as well as various further derivative intentions, allow me to make sure that come next summer I can successfully go to Machu Picchu.

[RESIST] A future directed intention can make sure that we do not change our mind in the face of temptation or tem- porary preference shifts. Example: If I intend to quit smoking, my intention can see me through those difficult moments when someone offers me a much-craved cigarette.

The rationality of forming and carrying out intentions that serve functions [SETTLE] and [LONG] is quite obvious. First it is obvious that if we can count on carrying out these intentions, it'll be rational for us to form them. Given that we're beings of limited rationality, it would be prohibitively costly for us to reconsider the wisdom of a certain future-directed intention at every opportunity. Similarly, in the absence of planning and coordination our menu of options would be severely limited. And since these benefits are still present when I carry out the intention (I avoid the unpleasantness of rethinking through some complex strategies of risk management when I stick to my intention to invest in mutual funds; my desire to go to to Machu Picchu does not (or at least need not) wane as I exe- cute each part of the plan), there is no reason to abandon my original plan as it is gradually executed. So insofar as I am rational, I expect I'll carry out these future-directed intentions if I form them, and it is rational for me to form the intentions if I expect I'll carry them out. So it is easy to see how it would be rational for me to form and carry out these intentions. Unfortunately, it's much harder to justify the rationality of forming and carrying out intentions that serve the function of [RESIST]. In fact, I will argue that intentions per se cannot have this function. I will argue that, instead, the rationality of carrying out intentions of type [RESIST] is fully determined by the reasons to form the intention in the first place. This conclusion, I argue, will generalize. The rationality of carrying out, and of not reconsidering, the intentions in [LONG] and [SETTLE] does not depend on rational norms that are specific to future directed intentions. The generalized conclusion then is that intentions, or at least so-called “future-directed intentions” have no autonomous rational function; roughly, the rationality of carrying out an intention can always be accounted for in terms of the reasons to form the intention in the first place. I argue then that the rationality of plans, policies, and commitments is best understood when we adopt the model I call "Policy as Action Model" (PAM). According to PAM, plans, policies, and commitment should be understood as ordinary non-momentary actions. It is widely agreed that forming plans or policies, or undertaking commitments or long-term projects are all instances of actions. However, according to PAM, having a plan or a policy, and being committed are all instances of actions, at least insofar as we are concerned solely with assessing their rationality. That is, in order to assess the rationality of forming and carrying out plans, policies, etc. introduces no new norms of rationality than the ones used in assessing ordinary actions that extend through time such as baking a cake or taking a walk. More particularly, I argue that we can account for all the plausible norms of rationality of planning and long-term projects and commitment as instances of norms of instrumental rationality that apply to all our actions. Accepting PAM has important consequences for various views about planning and intentions. It implies, for instance, that Bratman's Two-Tier Model is either superfluous or yields invalid rules of rationality. But PAM also has important consequences for our understanding of the nature and rationality of various types of commitments. In particular, I distinguish between strict and loose as well between vague and precise commitments and plans, and argue that various views on the rationality of complying with certain commitments (such as, for instance, Holton's and Gauthier's) imply that some of our instrumental policies or commitments are either precise or strict. This implication turns out to be extremely implausible. Acceptable instrumental policies are typically loose and vague, and the rare exceptions are policies that are desperate compromises to avoid more serious failures of rationality.

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