Recently, Romy Vekony, Alfred Mele, and David Rose published “Intentional Action without Knowledge” in Synthese. Here’s a link. Matt King disagrees with them. He has written a response below. Vekony, Mele, and Rose disagree with Matt’s disagreement. They’ll comment. Watch it all unfold below, and please feel free to join in on our discussion of it. But first, an abstract of the paper:
“In order to be doing something intentionally, must one know that one is doing it? Some philosophers have answered yes. Our aim is to test a version of this knowledge thesis, what we call the Knowledge/Awareness Thesis, or KAT. KAT states that an agent is doing something intentionally only if he knows that he is doing it or is aware that he is doing it. Here, using vignettes featuring skilled action and vignettes featuring habitual action, we provide evidence that, in various scenarios, a majority of non-specialists regard agents as intentionally doing things that the agents do not know they are doing and are not aware of doing. This puts pressure on proponents of KAT and leaves it to them to find a way these results can coexist with KAT. ” (Vekony, Mele, and Rose)
And now, Matt King:
“What are you doing? Self-knowledge of intentional action remains unscathed”
The aim in “Intentional Action Without Awareness,” so the authors maintain, is to “provide evidence that, in various scenarios, a majority of non-specialists regard agents as intentionally doing things that the agents do not know they are doing and are not aware of doing” (1-2). The survey data they present is evidence of what non-specialists think about agents doing things intentionally.
The philosophical target of the empirical data is a thesis about the relationship between intentionality and self-knowledge, attributed to a range of theorists, perhaps most famously, G.E.M. Anscombe (1957). The general gist is that intentionality implies knowledge or awareness of what one is doing. As the authors put the principle:
KAT: An agent is doing something intentionally only if he knows that he is doing it or is aware that he is doing it (1).
The thesis of their paper is that there is evidence that the folk reject KAT. However, there is no evidence for this in the results provided due to ambiguity over two key terms: ‘doing’ and ‘aware’. I’ll also mention a final methodological concern before concluding.
Self-knowledge and doing things over time
There are two kinds of cases used in the experiments. The first kind uses highly-skilled agents performing their skills – a variety of sport performances at which the agents are very accomplished. There is a task (e.g., making a basket; sinking a putt) that the agent is very good at (92% success rate). Next, they attempt the task. During the attempt they are denied sensory access that would confirm whether or not they succeed in the task (e.g., all the lights go out along with a clap of thunder; they have an air horn blasted in their face).
Respondents were asked for their level of agreement with three statements. The details varied depending on the case, but the general structure is the same for each. Here are the claims for Andy, who was trying to make a free throw in basketball (5):
- When Andy was sinking the shot, he knew that he was sinking it. (Knowledge)
- While Andy was sinking the shot, he was aware of sinking the shot. (Awareness)
- Andy intentionally sank the shot. (Intentionality)
Respondents across cases tended to deny (a) and (b) but endorse (c). That is, most people thought Andy sank the shot intentionally despite neither knowing he was sinking it nor being aware that he was sinking it.
This data, however, doesn’t give us evidence of non-specialists rejecting KAT. The principal problem is that KAT is a thesis about intentional action as it is performed, whereas respondents were asked about intentional action that is completed. Anscombe’s point was that agents could always answer the following question for intentional actions: “What are you doing?” For someone absent-mindedly tapping away on a desk, they might be surprised to discover that they’re tapping away. But when someone is acting intentionally it is all too easy to answer the question. That, at least, is the intuitive appeal of KAT, and one that these experiments do not impugn.
It’s important to note that nothing here hangs on exegesis of Anscombe or allied theorists. Consider a different sort of case. Suppose I drop a watermelon from a very tall height so as to smash it into pieces. The height is so great, however, that I can’t see the ground. I don’t know whether it has smashed and I’m not aware that it is smashed. But if it is smashed, then I smashed it intentionally. Such a case is not a counterexample to KAT, however. It isn’t even relevant. Whether or not some event comes to pass is not germane to the kind of self-knowledge at issue. The relevant question is “What are you doing?” not “What have you done?” It is obvious how the latter is more easily opaque to the agent than the former, especially considering how subject to various contingencies our finished actions and their effects can be.
An action description like “sinking the shot” implies completion, despite being nonetheless compatible with an action in progress. While someone is taking a shot, they are also in the process of making the shot, but only if they go on to make it. So it’s plain that during the process of taking a shot one wouldn’t be aware or know that they were making a shot, because they hadn’t yet made it. But, for all that, we have no reason to think they don’t know or aren’t aware they’re taking a shot nor trying to make a shot. Similarly, as the watermelon falls, I’ll have no trouble saying what I’m doing (“smashing a watermelon”), even though I’ll be unable to answer whether I’ve yet smashed it, and, moreover, even though it is possible I’ll still fail to smash it. (Schwenkler 2012 has a similar discussion.)
The significance of theses like KAT was always tied to how we understand the nature of intentional action, its connection to an agent’s reasons, and a kind of authority agents have to determine the actions they are performing. Those subsequent connections are not without controversy or complication, but even they are not threatened by showing that we can deny an agent information about whether their performance was ultimately successful.
How to be aware of what you’re doing without really trying
The second set of experiments fails to challenge KAT for different reasons. The cases in this set feature routine or habitual actions. Here, the agent distractedly does something quotidian (e.g., locking the front door; turning off the coffee maker) and then later cannot recollect whether she has done so, though she has. Similar questions were asked of respondents (8):
- When Suzy was locking her door, she knew that she was locking it. (Knowledge)
- While Suzy was locking her door, she was aware of locking it. (Awareness)
- Suzy intentionally locked her door. (Intentionality)
Again, the results show higher agreement that Suzy intentionally locked the door than that she knew or was aware that she was doing it.
The difficulty here concerns the nature of awareness. For instance, it is plain that we are informationally aware of more than that of which we are phenomenally aware (to use the now common distinction). Habitual or routine examples bear the distinction out especially well. It is not unfamiliar to notice pulling into one’s driveway despite having no recollection of the three previous turns. Did one arrive by happy accident? Of course not. One may have been distracted or preoccupied, but it’s clear that one nevertheless navigated the car successfully, responding to the various signs, other vehicles, etc. Still, for all the distraction, if one were to be asked before the last turn, “What are you doing?”, one readily and easily answers, “Driving home.” There is thus a clear sense in which one is aware of one’s location and orientation on the way home, as well as the relevant reasons one has to turn here or there, despite not attending to it in consciousness. Informational awareness without phenomenal awareness.
The distinction is important because the Anscombean thesis does not require phenomenal awareness. I can intentionally do something without turning my attention carefully to it. At least, this much seems plausible. And there is nothing in the respondents’ responses to suggest otherwise. Indeed, as the authors note, a significant proportion of respondents refused to accept that Suzy wasn’t aware of locking the door at the time, despite the case explicitly stipulating this fact. But this is not really surprising given the ambiguity in awareness talk. She could have been phenomenally unaware, since distracted, and yet perfectly informationally aware. After all, if asked, “What are you doing?” it is hardly controversial to expect Suzy to answer immediately, “Locking the door.” The question would prompt her to orient her attention back on her action, but we needn’t conclude from this that she would therefore see herself undertaking an action and draw the conclusion that she is therefore locking the door.
The vignette as constructed stipulated that agents like Suzy were “completely unaware” of performing their task because they were “preoccupied with thoughts about [their] day” (8). It is an open question, however, whether such preoccupation renders one completely unaware of one’s activity, rather than suppressing such information from conscious awareness, in the way being preoccupied with humming along to an entertaining tune or being engrossed with a podcast might leave one unconscious of the turns of one’s route home. We can support the point by noting how in parallel cases, in which an agent is similarly preoccupied while engaged in a habitual task, agents often nonetheless easily recall having completed the task. Sure, in the vignette as described, Suzy couldn’t remember locking the door. But this is compatible with similar cases in which she does. While attending to such tasks is a good way to increase the likelihood of remembering having done them later, it isn’t required. Thus, preoccupation and distraction, while easily explaining why someone would be phenomenally unaware of doing something, don’t force us to conclude that they are likewise informationally unaware.
The responses give us no reading on how respondents understood the term. But if it would be natural for non-specialists to be disposed to understanding awareness in conscious terms, we might expect them to answer as they did, as they would be unversed in the relevant distinction.
Regardless, since KAT itself does not require treating ‘awareness’ in terms of ‘conscious awareness’, no matter how the folk interpreted the term, the results needn’t conflict with KAT itself.
As a final word on the second set of experiments, they suffer from a similar design flaw to the first. Recall that those cases involved instances in which an agent was blocked from information concerning the completion of their action (e.g., whether the shot was successfully made). In the second set of vignettes, agents couldn’t recall whether they had performed an earlier routine or habitual task. But whether or not one can recall having done something in no way bears on whether it was done intentionally. A memory dysfunction might corrupt my ability to reliably report what I did yesterday without in any way impugning my ability then to act intentionally. To claim otherwise would again conflate being aware that one is doing something with being aware that it has been done. To put the point in a sharper form: I cannot now recall anything I did in August of 1994; but I’m perfectly confident I performed at least one intentional action.
A broader methodological point
For the purposes of this discussion, I’ve taken the authors’ empirical conclusions for granted. But certain interpretive questions remain. Given that the respondents were asked to rate their agreement on a 7-point scale, and that the mean responses for the ‘intentionality’ option were never higher than 5.4, we should perhaps be a bit skeptical that this reflects that respondents “were overwhelmingly inclined to say that agents intentionally performed the actions we asked about” (7, my emphasis). Instead, it seems more apt to say that they somewhat agreed that they were performed intentionally. Even so, there is a general structural concern here. It’s unclear how to render conclusions about intentionality, even if the concept admits of degrees, from data concerning the strength of agreement with a categorical claim. Strength of agreement may only reflect respondents’ confidence in their attributions, or else could reflect the degree to which they judged the action intentional. However, on either reading, it isn’t clear we have an “overwhelming” verdict relevant to KAT.
My aim here hasn’t been to vindicate KAT. The authors claim that while the folk judgments they’ve collected do not falsify KAT, they do “put pressure on proponents of KAT (and, of course, proponents of theses that entail KAT) to find a plausible way for our results to coexist peacefully with KAT’s truth” (2). Here, I’ve shown how plausible peaceful coexistence is. Indeed, per the experimenters’ results, the folk haven’t given us any reason to suspect they reject the claim that “an agent is doing something intentionally only if he knows that he is doing it or is aware that he is doing it”.
Anscombe, G.E.M. 1957. Intention. Harvard University Press.
Block, N. 1995. “On a confusion about a function of consciousness.” Behavioral and Brain Sciences 18, 227-287.
Hampshire, S. 1959. Thought and Action. London: Chatto and Windus.
Marcus, E. 2019. Reconciling practical knowledge with self-deception. Mind 128(512): 1205–1225.
Schlosser, M. 2019. “Agency”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2019/entries/agency/>.
Schwenkler, J. 2012. “Non-Observational Knowledge of Action.” Philosophy Compass 7 (10):731-740.
Vekony, R., Mele, A., and Rose, D. forthcoming. “Intentional Action without Knowledge.” Synthese.
 Thanks to Joshua May for comments on an earlier draft.
33 Replies to “Forum on “Intentional Action Without Knowledge” (Guest contributor Matt King)”
We thank Matt for his response to our “Intentional Action Without Knowledge.” We have some replies to get the discussion going. Since a single post would be somewhat long, we will make two posts. This first one here includes responses from Al. The second post will include replies from David.
1. Why did we present participants with “Andy intentionally sank the shot” rather than something like “Andy was intentionally sinking the shot”? Partly because the latter option is hard to process. For one thing, it raises the question “When?” We could have tried to finesse this issue with the following option: “When he did what he did, Andy was intentionally sinking the shot.” But that’s hard to process too. So we made a simple assumption: If Andy intentionally sank the shot, there was some stretch of time during which he was intentionally sinking it. And notice that if there was some stretch of time during which Andy was intentionally sinking the shot and throughout that stretch of time he neither knew that he was sinking it nor was aware of sinking it, KAT is false.
We’re not taking any stand on exactly when Andy’s sinking of the shot – an intentional sinking of the shot, according to our participants – began and ended. But here’s one possibility. It began with Andy’s acquiring a proximal intention to sink the shot and ended when the ball went through the hoop. If that is so, it can be said that Andy’s sinking of the shot took place throughout that brief stretch of time and, accordingly, that during that stretch of time, he was sinking the shot. And given that Andy’s sinking of the shot was an intentional action (under that description, for people who prefer to talk that way), it can be said that during that stretch of time, Andy was intentionally sinking the shot.
Of course, someone might argue that our simple assumption is false – that there was no stretch of time during which Andy was intentionally sinking his shot. Perhaps Matt would like to offer such an argument.
Question: Which of the following is more plausible?
1. There was a stretch of time during which Andy’s sinking of the shot took place, but there was no time during which Andy was sinking the shot.
2. There was a stretch of time during which Andy’s sinking of the shot took place, and it’s then that Andy was sinking the shot.
Readers may wish to weigh in on this.
Another tack one might take is to revise KAT in such a way that it is not falsified by Andy’s case. In this connection, we should point out that KAT isn’t a straw man. KAT is a more modest variant of such theses as the following (as we reported).
Hampshire: “if a man is doing something without knowing that he is doing it, then it must be true that he is not doing it intentionally.”
Olsen: one “cannot not know” what one is doing intentionally.
Gorr & Horgan: “P’s A-ing at t is intentional under the description ‘A-ing’ if and only if (i) this event is an act, and (ii) P knows, at t, of this act that it is an A-ing by him.”
Marcus: “It is impossible for a person to do something intentionally without knowing that she is doing it.” (Defended against a certain line of objection.)
Schwenkler on Anscombe: “A person does something intentionally only if she knows that she is doing it.”
If there was some stretch of time during which Andy was intentionally sinking the shot and throughout that stretch of time he didn’t know that he was sinking it, these theses are false.
2. Regarding our second set of cases, Matt writes: “if it would be natural for non-specialists to be disposed to understanding awareness in conscious terms, we might expect them to answer as they did, as they would be unversed in the relevant distinction.” This is a fair point (assuming that what Matt refers to as “informational awareness” counts as a kind of awareness). We didn’t test specifically for informational awareness. We did say that Suzy, e.g., was “completely unaware” of locking her door, but respondents might not have taken this to include the absence of informational awareness.
We say that our data “put pressure on proponents of KAT . . . to find a plausible way for our results to coexist peacefully with KAT’s truth.” And Matt says that he’s “shown how plausible peaceful coexistence is. Indeed, per the experimenters’ results, the folk haven’t given us any reason to suspect they reject the claim that ‘an agent is doing something intentionally only if he knows that he is doing it or is aware that he is doing it’.”
We make some quick points in response.
i. We are unpersuaded by Matt’s worry about the first set of cases, as we explained.
ii. Even though we didn’t address the issue about informational awareness in connection with our second set of cases, it is noteworthy that our results in those cases are at odds with the following theses:
KT. An agent is doing something intentionally only if he knows that he is doing it.
Old-school KAT. An agent is doing something intentionally only if he knows that he is doing it or is phenomenally aware that he is doing it.
iii. We’ll consider running a follow-up study in which it is stipulated that the agents don’t even non-consciously possess the information that they are performing the actions at issue – e.g., locking their door.
Perhaps we may be permitted to wax theoretical for a moment. How plausible is it that in order to have intentionally locked her door, Suzy must have had at least informational awareness of her locking it? We’ve never been impressed by the ask-her-what-she’s-doing strategy that Matt employs. Consider the following three-act play. In it, Suzy doesn’t remember what happened in the earlier acts and Al does.
Generic scene: Suzy is distracted, as in our story, and Al walks up to her.
Al: Hey, what are you doing?
Suzy: I’m going to work.
Al mumbles inaudibly and looks grumpy.
Al: Hey, what are you doing right now?
Suzy: I’m going to work.
Al mumbles again and looks even grumpier.
Al: Hey, what are you doing with your right hand?
Suzy looks at her right hand, sees the key in it, and infers that, as usual, she’s about to lock her door.
Suzy: What a weird question, Al. I’m locking my door.
Now imagine a scenario in which we subtract Al from Act 3 and distracted Suzy locks her door, as she was about to do when Al showed up. Apparently, Suzy lacks informational awareness of locking her door. Even so, we see her as intentionally locking it. But we are happy to consider arguments to the contrary.
The last matter we will discuss in our response centers on some interpretive issues Matt raises about our data. One important issue that Matt raises is that mean responses might not support our claim that people overwhelmingly judged the actions in our cases to be intentional. Recall that in our skilled action cases the overall mean rating for Intentionally was 5.06. This is even somewhat lower than the highest rating Matt mentions which was 5.4 (the hockey case). Overall it might seem that the mean ratings don’t suggest that people were overwhelmingly inclined to think these actions were performed intentionally. A mean might not, on its own, give enough information to suggest that people gave an overwhelming response in one direction or the other. Means can be produced by lots of different kinds of distributions. In our cases, it could be that many people selected 1, the lowest rating, but a few more selected 7, the highest rating. Or many people could have selected 1 or 2, with a few more selecting 4 and a few more than that selecting 5 or 6. The median might give some useful information here. This was 6. As telling as this might be, we may still want further information. The most useful thing to examine here would seem to be the distribution of responses. The histogram that shows the responses across all of the skilled action cases can be viewed here:
Almost 70% of participants gave a rating of 5, 6 or 7, with over half of all responses being 6 or 7. Only 20% of participants gave a rating of 1, 2 or 3. It seems to us very reasonable to think that these findings suggest that people overwhelmingly thought these actions were intentional.
The situation might be different for our habitual action cases. The overall mean Intentionally rating was 4.88 for these cases. That is somewhat lower than in our habitual action cases and is approaching the midpoint of 4. Maybe people are mixed on these cases. Here again, examining the distribution of responses is most useful. The histogram that shows responses across all of the habitual action cases can be seen here:
66% of our participants gave a rating of 5, 6 or 7. 22% of participants gave a rating of 1, 2 or 3. Here again it seems very reasonable to think that these findings suggest that people overwhelmingly thought these actions were intentional.
There is a further question about how to interpret people’s responses to our question about whether the action was intentional. As a reminder, people were asked to indicate the extent to which they agreed with statements like the following: Andy intentionally sank the shot. They made ratings on a 7pt Likert scale (1=strongly disagree, 7=strongly agree). As Matt notes, “Strength of agreement may only reflect respondents’ confidence in their attributions, or else could reflect the degree to which they judged the action intentional.” It seems that the latter is more plausible. The former seems to require a somewhat complicated cognitive exercise. Participants would first have to judge whether the action is intentional and then judge the extent to which they are confident in that judgment and finally use the scale to indicate their level of confidence. Aside from that being somewhat cognitively complicated, the test question doesn’t suggest that confidence is what is being requested. The latter interpretation—that participants judgments reflect the extent to which they view the action as intentional—seems more plausible here. That said, we can’t rule out that people may have had different interpretations. But if they did, we might have expected responses to be more variable. The histograms suggest that responses weren’t scattered across the board but instead tended toward one direction. In fact, as the histograms indicate, most responses fell in the 5-7 range. It would be somewhat surprising to find that level of convergence if the question really led people to take very different, multiple readings. In any case, Matt is right that different ways of probing would be very useful.
We don’t take our findings to be the last word. Further work should be done. To this end, we would like to end our response by inviting discussion on how to make experimental progress on these issues. How might some new experiments—ones that address the challenges Matt raises, as well as others that readers might raise—look? What are some cases that might address some of these challenges? What are some questions that might address them?
In addition to inviting discussion on how to make experimental progress on these issues, we would also be keen to learn people’s thoughts on extensions of this work. To get the ball rolling, if people don’t think knowledge is required to act intentionally, are there any epistemic constraints on intentional action? If so, what might they be and how might we test this?
I want to thank Al and David for taking the time to reply. I won’t tackle everything they say, as I fear going on too long will keep others out of the conversation.
Instead, I’ll take Al up on his provocative challenge to offer an argument against the simple assumption that ‘if Andy intentionally sank the shot, there was some stretch of time during which he was intentionally sinking it’.
Here’s an idea. Some things I do intentionally because I tried to do them intentionally and in fact did them. So, if I intentionally try to sink a shot, and I sink a shot, then I intentionally sink the shot. (We may need a caveat that I sink the shot in roughly the way I intended, but perhaps not.) If this is a plausible thing to say, then I can intentionally sink a shot without it being the case that I ever am intentionally sinking the shot.
My idea in the response was that the most natural reading of ‘when he was sinking the shot’ is something like ‘when he was finished sinking the shot’. I’m not sure I have a natural referent for ‘sinking the shot’, understood as an in-process gerund. (Then again, I’m not the folk!) Anyways, since KAT doesn’t make reference to completed actions, it isn’t clear this result is incompatible with KAT.
On the second set of cases:
I confess that one would be hard-pressed to convince me that anyone could b doing something intentionally without informational awareness of doing so. ‘Intentionally doing x’ suggests to me non-accidentally doing it, but if one lacked all informational awareness of one’s activity, it seems entirely accidental that one should succeed.
Regardless, I’m happy to get this discussion going. I’d be especially curious to hear what proponents of KAT think about the cases.
A pilot study on informational awareness and our second set of cases might prove interesting. One thing we’d need is a simple description of informational awareness of an action for our participants. Would you like to suggest on for use in a pilot study?
Thanks to Matt for his interesting commentary and Al and David for their replies. I haven’t read everything above as carefully as I’d like but I want to make one more methodological point that I don’t think comes up in Matt’s commentary, viz. that it’s important to be sensitive to different ways that participants might be interpreting the use of “intentionally” in the (c) statements. In particular, a common way to use “intentionally” is in contrast with an adverb like “accidentally”, which I take it we use most often when someone does something despite wanting to do otherwise. And if people were interpreting the (c) statements along these lines then it’s possible that they expressed agreement with them partly as a way of saying that the things in question weren’t done *by accident*, and indeed that they were things that the agents clearly wanted to do.
PS. Another phrase that I think often contrasts with “intentionally” is “without meaning to”. Again, with the statements understood in *this* way it would clearly be misleading to say that Andy does not sink the shot, or Suzy lock the door, intentionally. For clearly these are things they both mean to do — and their doing them is no accident.
I’m grateful to John for joining the conversation. I’m obviously sympathetic to both of his comments. I tend to think that colloquial uses of ‘intentionally’ match most closely to ‘on purpose’ or ‘meant to’. These have rather broad scope and are sensitive to our practical interests.
As far as Al’s solicitation for a simple description of informational awareness. I think of it as information one has that is readily accessible or easily retrievable for use. I’m not sure that would guarantee that the folk had the relevant concept in mind, but that’s my initial suggestion.
I suppose I’ll also make a brief comment on David Rose’s reply. I think the histograms are particularly useful for interpreting the responses. But I don’t think treating the answers as reflective of confidence requires as much cognitive flexing as David suggests. The degree to which I agree with a statement strikes me as very plausibly a measure of my confidence that it’s true.
But I’ll put the point a bit more conditionally. Notice that *if* intentionality is all or nothing, then the responses *couldn’t* be measures of the degree to which the action is intentional. And it isn’t clear how to best interpret the idea that the participants’ judgments “reflect the extent to which they view the action as intentional”. Of course, if an action can be more intentional than another, then we might see the variation not as varying credences but as varying degrees of intentionality. But I’m not sure that’s the most natural option (especially given similar thoughts as John’s suggestions).
Thanks for weighing in John. You raise an important point here. I’m not sure if a common way to use “intentionally” is in contrast with “accidentally” or “without meaning to”. But if it is and people tend to use it that way, how do you think we might test for it in the context of these cases? Would the idea be to maybe follow-up after they make their judgment and ask them to explain it? Or would we maybe just want to ask them what they mean when they say something is intentional? Also, if people use “intentionally” as a contrast to “accidentally”, is there some other way you think they might use it? And if people use “intentionally” in different ways how might we ensure that they are using the relevant sense in evaluating test items? My first though here is to introduce characters discussing the action and use them to clarify the relevant notion. But I’d be interested to hear of other options for doing this.
Thanks to Matt for these helpful replies. We were assuming that people think actions can be more or less intentional and that’s why we went with the question we did. But one thing your comment seems to be pointing to is that it would be good to test for this and try to ensure that graded responses reflect differences in the extent to which people think the action is intentional as opposed to how confident they are that it is intentional. Maybe we could ask: Did X intentionally Y? (Yes/No) and then ask people how confident they were in their judgment. This, combined with our original measure, might help give us a better sense of the kind of judgment people are making. Are there other ways you think this might be tested?
Yes, that is one kind of thing I was thinking we might do. I’m sure you know the paper by Sean Nichols and Joe Ulatowski where they presented the chairman vignette and had participants explain their judgments of whether the CEO had helped or harmed the environment intentionally. They found significant individual differences in whether participants used the language of intent or the language of foreknowledge, and moreover they found that these differences significantly predicted judgments of intentionalness. (I’m sure that I am getting some of the details wrong here.) Something similar could be explored in the present case: perhaps people who agree that Andy sinks the shot intentionally will tend to explain their judgment by saying that doing so is his aim, while those who deny this will tend to explain their judgment by saying that it’s not sufficiently under his control, and he doesn’t know whether it’s going to go in; and likewise, perhaps people who agree that Suzy locks the door intentionally will say that it’s what she means to do, while those who deny this will say that she’s doing it unconsciously and purely out of habit. Of course I have no idea whether this would be the outcome! And nor am I confident in what conclusions we should draw if it were. As you know I do think there are possible cases of intentional action without knowledge that get around Matt’s and my criticisms of yours, though I also think there’s a way of understanding KAT that can accommodate them.
Err, SHAUN Nichols, obviously.
About this: “As far as Al’s solicitation for a simple description of informational awareness. I think of it as information one has that is readily accessible or easily retrievable for use. I’m not sure that would guarantee that the folk had the relevant concept in mind, but that’s my initial suggestion.” This won’t do. First, consider the following from your first post: “if it would be natural for non-specialists to be disposed to understanding awareness in conscious terms, we might expect them to answer as they did, as they would be unversed in the relevant distinction.” It might be “natural” for non-specialists to think that the information is readily accessible or easily retrievable for use because the person is (as we would say) phenomenally conscious of it. Second, it has to be clear that the information in question is the information that the person *is performing the action at issue* – e.g., locking the door.
What I have in mind is a study that might start roughly as follows: “We’re interested in your attitude toward something that has been called informational awareness.” This would be followed by a relatively simple description of informational awareness that does what needs to be done. And that would be followed by versions of the second set of cases in which it’s clear that the characters lack informational awareness of the actions at issue. Would you like to suggest a description of informational awareness that will do the job? If it’s something you’re satisfied with (and we are too), we can run a study (or you can run it, or we and you can run it jointly).
More soon (on another matter).
John and Matt,
How would you respond to non-specialists who say that the following is a sufficient condition for the truth of “S intentionally A-ed”? S made at least a minimal effort to A and, without too much luck, succeeded in A-ing. (They admit that “too much luck” isn’t terribly useful, but they point out that we can run studies to get evidence about how much is too much in their opinion.)
I have to think more about a ‘clean and simple’ characterization of informational awareness. It’s tricky because I think both ‘awareness’ and ‘consciousness’ imply phenomenality to the folk, so the term can start to look like an oxymoron.
As for the proposed sufficient condition on ‘”S intentionally A-ed”: my initial response is to seek clarification on what it takes to make “at least a minimal effort to A”. My suspicion is that making an ‘effort to A’ will be very close, if not equivalent to, ‘trying to A”. So then the question is whether one can try to do A without being aware that one is trying to A. As I’ve said, I’ve no stake in the matter concerning the truth of KAT — but I do find it intuitively plausible that one must be at least informationally aware of trying to A in order to count as intentionally trying to A.
This whole conversation has been fascinating – really a model of constructive dialogue among philosophers who disagree about important issues.
I was just writing to see if I could hear more from all of you about the first of the issues that Matt raises. To get a sense for the broader phenomenon here, consider a different sort of case. Suppose that I spent a few months trying to build a house, but then I got sick and was never able to complete it. In a case like that, it seems that both of the following are true:
(1) At a certain time, it would have been correct to say: “Josh is now building a house.”
(2) There was no time at which it would have been correct to say: “Josh built a house.”
Cases like this one show that it is possible for there to be a time at which an agent is A-ing even if there is no time in which the agent A-ed.
The thing that confuses me is how one might apply this sort of issue to the specific cases in the Vekony et al. paper. If someone is playing pool, I don’t understand how it could ever happen that there was a time in which she was sinking the shot but no time at which she actually sunk the shot. So although I see how these two sorts of things can come apart, I’m not clear on how that is a problem for the argument in this specific paper.
Just in case it isn’t already obvious: This is not supposed to be an objection to anything that anyone has said here. It really is a genuine request for further clarification.
“Tried to A” is fine with me. Some people think that trying requires a substantial effort, and I didn’t want to get into that.
Can one intentionally try to A without being at least informationally aware of trying to A? (If the answer is no, we still have the question whether one can intentionally A without being at least informationally aware of A-ing.) I think the question about trying is interesting. Different kinds of case should be considered. What about a Freudian case? Zed is being gruff. Zelda says he’s trying to start a fight with her. Zed denies it – sincerely. He says he’s just venting about his day. Siggy, who understands informational awareness, asserts that Zed is intentionally trying to start a fight even though has no awareness of any kind that he is trying to do this. Can you show Siggy that he’s asserted something impossible?
“Cases like this one show that it is possible for there to be a time at which an agent is A-ing even if there is no time in which the agent A-ed.” I agree. One day last year, I was driving to work when a bus hit my car. That ended my drive to work. Btw, I’m inclined to read “I was driving to work” as meaning something like “I was driving with the intention of driving to work.”
“although I see how these two sorts of things can come apart, I’m not clear on how that is a problem for the argument in this specific paper.” I don’t see the problem.
I’m going to have to go offline soon. Sorry to be brief. I don’t think I’ll be back tomorrow.
I know that you might not get a chance to read this reply, but I thought I’d post it anyway, in part just to see whether Matt, David, John or others have further thoughts on these issues.
The question I was trying to ask is simply this. There is an obvious sense in which Al could at one point be building a house even if it is never the case that he built a house. For this reason, it is easy to see the difference between (a) asking whether Al knew that he was building a house and (b) asking whether Al knew that he built a house.
If I understand correctly, Matt is saying that it is also important to make that sort of distinction in the cases that are used in the Vekony et al. paper. I would definitely be very open to the idea that this distinction is indeed an important one there too, but I guess I don’t immediately see how these two things would come apart in those other cases. So I was asking for further clarification about why the distinction might be important in those specific cases
I find it hard to have firm intuitions about the temporality described in a phrase like “sinking the shot” — partly I think because it’s the kind of process where the agent’s direct contribution is very short-lived, and after that point things unfold totally out of their control. For just that reason I agree with you that it’s not a great candidate to be analyzed on the model of “building a house”. More plausible, I think, is that the thing it’s true to say of Andy while the ball is still in his hand and he’s flexing his arm, etc. is that he is *shooting* the ball and *trying* to sink the shot — which, of course, are both things he will know what he’s doing. This is, I think, similar to the line that Matt takes in his commentary.
Thanks, Al. You ask whether I can show that it’s impossible to try to do something without being informationally aware one is trying to do it.
I’m not sure I can show that it’s impossible, in part because it’s hard to settle just what individuals are informationally aware of with current brain science. At any rate, it seems more promising to talk in terms of what someone is “likely” to be informationally aware of. Consider these two contrast cases:
1) Priam drives home, preoccupied with a pressing problem, only to snap to attention upon pulling into his driveway.
2) Belinda drives home blindfolded, only to successfully pull into her driveway.
I’m not sure how to make (2) all that plausible a case! It seems plausible to say Belinda couldn’t be informationally aware of as much as Priam, given her sensory deprivation. But it’s partly an empirical question what we’re likely to have available for mental processing.
Thanks for the question! Tryings are interesting things and set us down a path of other sorts of complications. One is the one you mention. Here’s a somewhat brief (admittedly, off the cuff) response.
All actions are temporally extended. Some more so than others. Building a house is definitely like this. And, I would say that part of what makes it the case that you’re engaged in a project like this has to do with your (at least intention-like) mental states. Because it’s boundaries extend over time, you can be engaged in the project for spans of time, even if the project never reaches completion. (I don’t mean to imply anything very substantive by “project” here.)
The curious cases, like sinking a shot, are ones in which the gerund seems apt *only if* the project is complete. I can only be now sinking a shot if the shot is in fact sunk, regardless of how far back I can count as “sinking”. That’s a curious feature of these cases, and one that’s curious independently of KAT.
I think it would be interesting to try to get more data on how respondents interpreted the first two claims in each trio from the first set of cases (the awareness and knowledge claims). For my own part, I’m not sure I’ve a clear referent for what “sinking a shot” picks out as an action, that isn’t just a *stretchier* version of “sunk the shot”.
You’re right that that might not matter for the purposes of the original paper’s argument. If they’re the same(-ish) thing, then isn’t that all the better for rejecting KAT? I suppose my thought was about whether the responses gave us new insight into a problem for KAT, and I didn’t see that here precisely *because* the curious feature of the cases is independent of KAT.
Hi John and Matt,
Thanks! These comments are all super helpful, and definitely give me a better sense of what is going on here.
Suppose one wants to test the claim:
(1) People won’t think that an agent intentionally A-ed unless they think she knew that she was A-ing
I agree that, in principle, there can be a problem with the approach of trying to test claim (1) by giving participants a question about whether the agent knew that she A-ed. The problem is that it could turn out that it was indeed the case people think that the agent knew that she was A-ing but that it was not the case that she knew that she A-ed. So we are totally on the same page about all of that.
However, I am not sure if this is actually a problem for the argument in the Vekony et al. paper, since it feels like the specific cases they use often have the quality that if the agent did know that she was A-ing, then it is clear that she knew that she A-ed.
In your recent comments, it feels like something really interesting and promising is going on, but I wasn’t quite sure how to characterize precisely how it is supposed to work. Is it that you are thinking that the relevant claim to be testing is not the straightforward claim (1) above?
Thanks for the discussion so far. Add me to the list of those who have enjoyed and profited from the exchange! I have a few points to add to the discussion.
1. On Matt King’s first point: I ran some studies (with a lot of help from Josh Knobe) a few years ago testing similar cases as the Vekony et al., but using a prompt that was aspect-sensitive. This was initially tricky in the way noted in Al Mele’s first reply, but we tried to get around it by asking participants to rate their agreement about sentences attributing intentionality/knowledge (e.g. for the sentence “He is intentionally breaking 7 slats of wood.”/ “He knows he is breaking 7 slats of wood” stated at a time when the action is in progress. The results were similar to those reported in Vekony et al..
(I note that the results showed something very different for a case that tested for the description “shooting a [bowling] strike”. The folk were very disinclined to attribute intentionality in this case. This seems to fall under the class of descriptions that Josh mentions above that display something analogous to an Aristotelian energeia structure (you can’t be doing it unless you will have done them). If these descriptions do have a different aspectual structure, they may fall outside the scope of a principle like KAT, and the folk may be showing sensitivity to this when they don’t attribute intentionality in these cases).
2. What do such results tell us anyhow? I’m inclined to think they provide some reason to reject a thesis like KAT, but not strong reason. Some reason, because I think of the judgments we make about these cases as manifestations of our mind-reading capacities, and I take those capacities to be reliable enough. But I share Matt’s worry that with the results being a bit more mixed it is tempting to interpret them as displaying middling confidence in the judgments. And I agree with Matt that this doesn’t require a lot of sophistication. It could, for instance, all take place via the kind of monitoring mechanisms that Jennifer Nagel discusses in her work on pragmatic encroachment and other places.
3. Another worry is that, as Evans notes somewhere in the Varieties of Reference, we are often quite lax with attributions of practical mental states. So, e.g. someone might come to an office and ask what he needs to do to process a form, and we might on this basis say “he wants to see Mr.X”, even if the person has no idea who Mr.X is. And I wonder if something similar might not be going on in this cases with the locution ‘intentionally Fs’. With this in mind, I’ve come to think that intuitions about such cases can ultimately be ignored by defenders of KAT, in the way many of us ignore intuitions against the view that knowledge entails belief (as in Myers-Schulz and Schwitzgebel), in light of its many advantages. Or again, compare the claim that to *mean* something requires grasping or knowing what one *means*, where the notions of *meaning* is supposed to be what distinguishes the words of a fluent speaker from a parrot, or of a sign-giver from Putnam’s ants. Well, I take it we can’t disprove the view by noting that e.g. there are contexts where we can say correctly, “X doesn’t know what he means by those words”, or by intuitions about a case where someone is taken to mean something without knowing it. For it might be that we are then picking up on a use of “meaning” that could not at all help with the question that gave rise to the thesis, as it might be attributed even to the words of a parrot.
I worry that the same might be said about the use of “intentionally” that people might most readily pick out, as John Schwenkler has suggested. In terms of thinking of questions that might be asked of participants to get at what they’re picking out, I’d be curious to see if there are questions that might test whether the notion of ‘intentionally’ they pick out has the connections with practical reasoning that are central to Anscombe). Fwiw, I try a different style of argument in my “Action and Luminosity”.
[I’d be happy to share a draft of the piece with the experimental results mentioned in (1) by email (firstname.lastname@example.org), but it is very drafty, partly because every time I go back to it I am assailed by new doubts as to what the results show, which is partly why I’m so much enjoying this discussion…]
Great to see you here! That paper you wrote on this topic is really wonderful, and I would absolutely love to see it in print sometime soon.
Regarding the larger point you make: I certainly agree that the mere fact that people regard these behaviors as intentional does not mean that they truly are intentional. Just as you say, if we start out with a larger picture of the role of the concept of intentional action and we find certain quirky cases in which people’s use of the concept seem not to make sense within this picture, we might be inclined to say that those intuitions are just mistaken. But of course, the point also goes in the opposite direction. The more we find cases In which people’s use of the concept seems not to make sense within our larger picture, the more we have reason to think that the larger picture might be mistaken and that we should switch over to a different one.
Both options seem reasonable here. If we start out with a certain picture of the role of the concept (e.g., based on an account of practical reason), we might have reason to dismiss people’s use of the concept in these cases. But at the same time, if we see that these intuitions don’t fit our picture of the use of the concept, we might have reason to switch over to a different picture. For example, people’s use of the concept in these cases seems like it would make perfect sense on a larger picture according to which the concept of intentional action was best understood in terms of its role in making assessments of praise and blame.
Glad you’ve profited from the discussion! I appreciate your comments regarding the complexities of moving from response results to firm implications for theoretical commitments. I really like your point about potential mismatch between the sorts of factors that give rise to certain commitments and those at work in an experimental setup. Maybe that’s a helpful way to think about the ‘quirky’ cases we’ve been so focused on here!
Thanks for the comments and questions. On your prompt for clarification: I’m not sure my thoughts on all this are all that clear! Here’s what I’m being led toward thinking, though.
Consider one of these quirky activities, like smashing a melon. Suppose I drop it off a really talk building so I can’t see if it lands. I know I’m trying to smash a melon, but I don’t know, and plausibly, can’t know, whether I’ve yet smashed it. But it seems plausible to say that *if* I’ve smashed it, I’ve smashed it intentionally.
Now, the question is what should make of such a case in relation to KAT. One conclusion could be KAT is false. After all, it seems I may have smashed a melon intentionally without knowing that I have. Since I’m not a proponent or defender of KAT, I can’t be sure, but it seems like this can’t be the sort of situation that the thesis was trying to describe. It seems obvious that we could lack information that would confirm whether we’ve in fact succeeded in an effort of ours, without it being the case that we lack self-knowledge about what we’re doing. So my suggestion was that KAT is a thesis about knowing what you’re doing while you’re doing it. Those actions may in fact have further effects or success conditions, but those might not be determinative for what you count as doing.
I think you make a great point about how we understand ‘intentionally’. I’m inclined to think that our use of the concept is often driven by our practical interests; e.g., whether we’re assessing conduct for responsibility. This might be especially true of the first set of cases in the original paper. They are all performances in, roughly, sports, which come with various practices of assessment with which we’re quite familiar. So, if asked whether someone sank the shot, or scored the goal, or whatever ‘intentionally’, respondents may be primed to be thinking in terms of whether the agent warrants credit for the success.
Thanks once again! These further clarifications are super helpful. I feel like I now have a much better understanding of the concern you are raising.
I’m not sure if you will agree, but I guess my sense is that these sorts of cases are not just peripheral to our use of the concept of intentional action but are instead core cases of the use of that concept. For example, suppose you say something – maybe just a single sentence – and end up hurting Al’s feelings. People might ask: “Did he hurt Al’s feelings intentionally?” If I understand correctly, this is the sort of case that you are thinking defenders of KAT were not centrally concerned with. Fair enough, but at least to me, this feels like a core case of our use of the concept of intentional action, much more so then, e.g., a case in which we are essentially concerned with questions about an activity that is in progress and whether an agent knows that she is engaged in it.
There are too many balls in the air now for me to keep up with everything but I want to observe that there might be an important dividing line between Anscombeans and others over part of what you just said. In one of my favorite passages from INTENTION, Anscombe writes that “if I saw a man, who was walking along the pavement, turn towards the roadway, look up and down, and then walk across the road when it was safe for him to do so, it would not be usual for me to say that he crossed the road intentionally. But it would be wrong to infer from this that we ought not to give such an action as a typical example of an intentional action” (p. 29). The point she’s making is that many typical (“core”) examples of intentional action will be ones that it would be unusual to use words like “intentional” or “intentionally” in describing — for *that* is a word that we tend to use, as Ryle and Austin observed, mainly when someone does something unusual or aberrant (as in your example of hurting Al’s feelings). By contrast, on her view the most common use of the concept of intentional action is when we describe what someone is doing through concepts that represent their movements as ordered to a further end, often through the uses of words and phrases like “because”, “by”, “so (that)”, “(in order) to”, and so on, as well as through what Jonathan Bennett called “intention drenched” descriptions that have this kind of order internal to their sense. And her claim is that this order is present only as a consequence of the agent’s knowledge of what she is doing.
This is a great point – thanks! You are totally right to point out that the mere fact that people almost never apply the word “intentionally” to a given case doesn’t necessarily give a strong reason to think that it is not a core case for the concept of intentional action. But I was trying to make, as it were, the converse point. The kind of cases that the Vekony et al. paper explores are the kind of cases to which people *do* apply the concept of intentional action all the time, and this gives us a reason to think that these are are core cases for that concept.
To give a different example, Lanteri (2009) shows that people say that an agent intentionally harmed the environment even in the case where he did not know that he was harming the environment. Someone might argue that we have a good reason to hold onto KAT even in the face of this evidence, but I don’t think it would be reasonable to suggest that when people wonder whether an agent intentionally harms the environment, they are engaged in some peripheral or unusual sort of application of the concept of intentional action.
Thanks, Josh! I do hope to get back to the paper soon, and the conversation here is providing immediate motivation (though right now I’m supposed to be on a break from philosophy for a week—blogs don’t count, right?).
I want to reply to the point you raise by distinguishing two kinds of projects one might have (the projects will be oversimplified for the sake of highlighting a difference). One project would be to give an account of a concept expressed by a certain word, such as ‘intentionally’, the aim of which is to explain as many of our judgments expressed in these words, or otherwise our judgments about claims expressed using those words. For that kind of project I agree with you, in light of the kind of work you and others have done, we will want to give an account of analysis where (a) there is no necessary connection between intentional action and knowledge, and (b) where significant explanatory work is done by moral features of the context. (One question I have about such a project—which is somewhat relevant here—is this: how we should take into account judgments formed *after* some fact is brought to light to ordinary speakers, e.g. suppose that the folk were inclined to change their judgments about one or another of the cases that give rise to the Knobe effect after they have been alerted that they have the same structure, so as to have a parity of judgment?).
But a different kind of project begins by noting some important facts that seem to be in need of explanation, and where the natural explanation of those facts is to appeal to claims expressed using a certain word like ‘intention/intentionally’ or ‘meaning’. Then, as part of the explanation one might posit certain necessary connections. I take this second kind of project to be closer to Anscombe’s project. The facts in need of explanation include, e.g. the fact that words like ‘intention’ and related show up when we speak of intention for the future, intention in action, and intentional action; the fact that intentions are expressed most naturally as assertions; the fact that agents seem to know what they’re doing in a special way, different from non-agents. Then, KAT is posited as part of the explanation of why all this is so.
For a project of the first kind, evidence of the sort provided by the studies in Vekony et al. and the ones I’ve run will obviously be very powerful. A project of the second sort, I’m suggesting, might not make much, and may ultimately might ignore those results in favour of a thesis that has enough explanatory value. I do not know whether to think of this matter as fixing on a concept that departs from the concept associated with that used in an ordinary language, or rather as fixing on an available precisification of a concept that coheres more or less well with ordinary language (which would be compatible with the view that there’s no such thing as *the* concept so associated).
I hasten to add that I don’t think the studies are valueless even for a project of the second kind. First, because too much departure will open the view to the objection that one is simply defining a word technically, and then one can do as one likes. Second, because I do think this data can serve as the grounds for an argument that would go something like: the view gets these wrong because it is ignoring something quite central to the concept—and if it so ignores it, it may not be able to carry out the explanatory tasks it purports to carry out. But then the challenge needs to be posed in a way that goes beyond intuitions about cases.
One last point on the discussion between you and Matt. Both of you might be interested in Rowland Stout’s excellent “Ballistic Actions”, as it seems to be on the question you’re discussing: https://oxford.universitypressscholarship.com/view/10.1093/oso/9780198777991.001.0001/oso-9780198777991-chapter-11.
Happy holidays to you too! Hope all is well in NH and that we may be able to hang out at some point when all this is over!
As you know I am open to agreeing with a lot of what you say here. It seems like a lot mind end up turning on the work that your phrase “the concept of intentional action” is doing. I think there’s a possibility, which would make good sense of a lot of the empirical evidence, that in fact there are numerous (i.e., n>1) different concepts that can be expressed in words like “intend”, “intentional”, and “intentionally”, and that some of these might have non-overlapping extensions or at least non-overlapping cores — so that offending someone or harming the environment through a corporate policy might be a core case of one of them, while crossing a street or building a house might be a core case of another. Of course, this is itself an empirical hypothesis and there’s not sufficient evidence in favor of it — though the same can be said on the other side too, I believe.
PS. I agree totally with what Juan says just above, and indeed I believe our comments might amount to the same thing.
Hi Juan and John,
We have now gotten pretty far away from our original discussion of Matt’s comments on the Vekony et al. paper, and I’m going to have to leave pretty soon to enjoy the holidays, but I was so struck by your insightful responses that I wanted to write back one last time.
I guess I am thinking that a core theme coming out of both of your recent responses is that many of the questions we face here, though of course deeply philosophical, are also empirical. For example, as Juan says, even if we go with the second of the two approaches he mentions, we don’t entirely escape the relevance of empirical data. Empirical facts would still be relevant even on that second, importantly different meta-philosophical picture.
Just to give one example that brings out this larger point: Juan follows Anscombe in thinking that we need a larger picture that helps us to make sense both of people’s use of the adverb “intentionally” and of the noun “intention.” But for empirical reasons, I think that this is the wrong picture. In my view, it is just a fact about English that the English word that means intentionally sounds a lot like the word that means intention. In Hindi, for example, there’s also a word that means intentionally and a word that means intention, but the word that means intentionally does not sound at all like the word that means intention; instead, the word that means intentionally sounds a lot like the word that means knowledge. (See https://tinyurl.com/ydhhkfsa) Empirical facts like this one have at least some potential to change our understanding of what needs explaining and hence to be relevant even on a picture more like the second one.
I’m afraid I won’t be able to continue participating actively in this conversation, but if anyone posts a further comment, I promise that I will check this and read anything you write.
Thanks, Josh! I agree that we’ve strayed too much from the topic of the post, but I wanted to say that I agree that the empirical data can also help us better understand what is and isn’t in need of explanation. The point about ‘intentionally’ in Hindi is really interesting!
One last point about the second kind of methodology is that we could expect that the initial uses from which the inquiry arises may need to be revisited and re-regimented in light of theory. So e.g. in light of the sort of surprising discoveries you have made about ‘intentionally’, I’m inclined to think that the word is primarily used with an extension that covers basically all the culpable states distinguished in the law (‘with intent’, ‘willfully’, ‘knowingly’, ‘recklessly’). But, just as the law saw the need to articulate more fine-grained concepts, so might philosophy of action (with Austin, I think another important source of empiricalish data is the law). And if we privilege the ‘in order to’ constructions as what’s revelatory of the unity that would explain the morphological similarities (in English and other languages), as John suggests, we may end up regimenting ‘intentionally’ to cover only something like notion of ‘with intent’ (just as, e.g. we might end up regimenting ‘belief’ or the quasi-technical ‘all-out-belief’ in epistemology). I suspect something like this is what has happened in authors like Anscombe.
p.s. I haven’t looked into this, but if I had to guess, I would think ‘intentionaliter’ from which ‘intentionally’ and the corresponding words in Romance languages seem to come from was introduced in a legal setting, initially as a technical word derived from ‘intentio’, later taking a life of its own when it caught on more broadly. I’d be curious if anyone knows info relevant to this question.
(With apologies for extending the diversion …)
Josh’s point about Hindi is indeed very interesting! What I want to say about ‘intend’, ‘intent’, ‘intention’, ‘intentional’, and so on is just what Anscombe says about ’cause’ in her Inaugural Lecture: that they are words that could be *added* to a language in which a number of other ways of representing these concepts were already present. (I believe this is just Michael Thompson’s position in Part II of /Life and Action/: that e.g. “I am crossing the street because I am walking to the store” is conceptually prior to “I am crossing the street with the intend of walking to the store”.) For just this reason, the connection between the words needn’t be visible in their morphology: it’s rather a matter of the conceptual connection between the roles that they play.
As there are a lot of ideas circulating here, I’m not sure I’m tracking them all. Still, I wanted to chime in again, first, to congratulate everyone on maintaining the momentum on the discussion, even across the holiday break.
Second, Juan makes an excellent point about the law, and his conjecture about the origins in Latin is very interesting. And while I agree that etymology will be an imperfect guide to conceptual use, the law gives us one kind of fora for partially adjudicating some disputes (pun intended!). Josh’s fact about Hindi (also very interesting!), for instance, might point us to looking at legal systems instituted using Hindi (presumably, pre-British rule) and how they understood the relevant criminal mental states. This will not give us a kind of universality, of course, since there are different ways we might understand the building blocks of, say, criminal liability (or even the nature of criminality).
Still, as John notes, if the family of ‘intentional’ terms is the sort of thing we might have cause to add to language, then the law might be one kind of activity in which we would find it helpful to regiment some of these terms.
This has been a really enjoyable and illuminating conversation. Thanks to all who participated.
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