Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Your intention is _____

When p is the case and you believe that p, we say that your belief is true. When p is the case and you desire that p, we say that your desire is satisfied. When p is the case and you intend that p, what do we say about your intention?

"Your intention is true" sounds bad. "Your intention is satisfied" sounds a lot better, though I think I'd say "Your intention is achieved."

I don't know how much weight this should have in getting us to prefer accounts on which intentions are desires to accounts on which intentions are beliefs. But it seems to me that it has a little bit of weight.


Clayton Littlejohn said...

I think "achieved" is problematic. What about cases where you intend to bring it about that p, p is brought about, but p is not brought about because of your intention? (Maybe you intend to bring it about that your uncle dies and so you intend to poison his coffee. Your reaching for the coffee cup signals a ninja you didn't know was out to get your uncle that the time is right for the assassination and the ninja kills your uncle with a poisoned dart as he's lifting the coffee to his lips. I don't think your intention is achieved but I think it's fulfilled, satisfied, etc....) There, "satisfied" or "fulfilled" seems better than "achieved".

Ben Blumson said...


Anonymous said...

The most natural complements of "desire" and "intend" are infinitival, not propositional. If you desire to phi, and things go well, your desire "will be satisfied". If you intend to phi, and things go well, you "carry through on your intention". If you desire to phi, it is enough for things to go well that you end up phiing. But, as Clayton said, if you intend to phi, for things to go well, it is not enough that you end up phiing; you must carry through on your intention.

Neil Sinhababu said...

Anonymous, I disagree with the infinitival / propositional point. I desire that the Kansas Jayhawks win the NCAA basketball tournament. As this doesn't involve any actions of mine, I don't see how to rephrase this with a desire to phi.

I'm now liking 'fulfilled' best.

AJD said...

Neil, the way to rephrase that as an infinitive is I desire for the Jayhawks to win the tournament.

Also, the clause after the that in I desire that the Jayhawks win the tournament isn't propositional in the sense of being a declarative clause; it's subjunctive. You can tell because the negation of it is that the Jayhawks not win the tournament, not *that the Jayhawks don't win the tournament.

But surely it's misleading to expect the subcategorization frames of certain English verbs to be useful evidence for any hypothesis about the metaphysical status of intention vs. desire, isn't it?

Neil Sinhababu said...

Huh... I don't think I ever use 'desire for' like that, though I would understand it if somebody said it. Is that old-fashioned?

One of the reasons that I'm interested in arguing for 'desire that' is that I think we can get a better understanding of the psychological effects of desire if we see its object as being a state of affairs rather than an action. That better explains (for example) what will please someone who has a desire.

Also, if desire and belief end up taking very different objects, there may be problems about how we can use them to explain when someone will and will not act. (I have a short paper on this if you're interested.) I think 'desire for' is going to be okay with respect to these issues, though, since it seems to pick out a state of affairs.

AJD said...

Really I think it's the use of desire as a verb taking a clausal argument that's archaic more than anything else. But note that the verb want, which has the same meaning, can't take a clause with that as its argument; it can only take an infinitive. This is why it's misleading to use the grammatical idiosyncrasies of certain verbs as a source of data on what the nature of desire is: the grammatical subcategorizations are to some extent haphazard and contingent, and not necessarily well correlated with the semantic nature of the complement. (That said, infinitives and that-subjunctive clauses are used for similar functions in English; it's not too surprising that they can both be used to express desires.)

Neil Sinhababu said...

Yeah, that desire/want point is good.