Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Desire-Belief Account Of Intention Explains Everything

That's the new paper I've uploaded. I'll be submitting it somewhere by the end of the month, just in case some folks I sent it to want give me feedback before then.

I'm looking at a bunch of the things that the desire-belief view of intention supposedly can't explain -- for example, our tendency to rise in confidence that we're φing when we intentionally φ, our ability to choose which of several reasons we act on, and the stuff Michael Bratman describes in his 1987 book mostly dealing with the ability of intentions to explain deliberative phenomena. I argue that the view in fact explains all this stuff, often better than opposing views, because it can tell you why these phenomena obtain and say something about why, in some cases, they don't.

The title is kind of big and in-your-face because I got really annoyed with how casually the desire-belief view gets dismissed for supposed explanatory inadequacy. People didn't think seriously about functional properties of desire other than its motivational effects (and sometimes not even those) when dismissing it. My friend John Maier told me when I was giving a talk on something else at ANU in December that nobody accepted the view anymore. This got me really motivated and I gave talks at KCL and Tufts and Illinois and UChicago and Illinois State defending it this summer. If you're interested in intention, have a look and tell me how well I did!


John said...

Hi Neil,

I hope I didn't say that no one accepts the desire-belief account of intention anymore! I do remember saying that views on which intention is basically a species of desire are not so popular (as opposed to the cognitivist views of Velleman/Setiya and the anti-reductive view of Bratman). In any case, however, I am glad that my remarks (whatever exactly they were) inspired such an excellent paper!


Neil Sinhababu said...

Ah, okay! I remember saying something about how the view wasn't dead and then you told me that the view was dead but I was bringing it back, so that's what I was thinking of.

Glad you liked the paper! I'm really excited about it.

Andrew Higgins said...

Hi Neil,

I enjoyed looking over your paper again. As I might have mentioned in person, I dig your work because it's some of the best in the BDI centered literature.
But, I wonder, what does it mean to say that your account explains everything? Is it intended to explain moods like depression or concern? Disorders such as autism or body dysmorphic disorder? How robust are the explanations, and how might they be integrated into a psychological framework for predicting or at least better understanding human behavior?

Warm regards,

Neil Sinhababu said...

Thanks, Andrew!

Of course, the desire-belief account of intention doesn't explain absolutely everything -- the formation of the universe, mathematical facts, and depression, for example. "Everything" just quantifies over "stuff that philosophers beat up on it for not explaining." Which I think is ambitious enough.

But there's a deeper question which you're probably interested in about what psychological theory in general is supposed to explain. I hope that what I'm doing will be part of a larger psychological theory that will address all the issues you mention. Of course, the account of intention isn't going to be the really important thing for addressing some of those.

Andrew Higgins said...

Thanks Neil, this settles some worries I've had regarding your project for well over a year now. If the explanatory role of your account is limited to the Bs Ds & Is while making room for (or implicitly already endorsing) other mental states that don't reduce to BDI, then I'm fully on board.