Monday, July 23, 2012

"The Desire-Belief Account of Intention Explains Everything" appears in Noûs Early View

You can get the paper here at the Noûs site, or download the nearly final version from my PhilPapers account.

As the title suggests, it's a defense of desire-belief accounts of intention. Opponents of my view like Kieran Setiya and Michael Bratman claim that such accounts can't explain our knowledge of our intentional actions, the way we can sometimes decide which among several reasons to act on, and the role of intentions in deliberation. I respond that desire-belief accounts can explain the presence and absence of these phenomena even better than their own accounts can. The strategy is to use features of ordinary desire, like the way that our desires direct our attention at things we associate with their objects, to explain why we typically have immediate knowledge of our own intentional actions and why intentions have the degree of stability that they do. You don't need to invoke irreducible intentions or motivationally potent beliefs to explain motivational and deliberative phenomena. Simple explanations that leave out these mental states and do all the work with desire fit the data just fine.

People have said nice things about the writing, and I'm very proud of that.  Here's one of the examples in the paper, which is about the limits of our ability to choose which of our reasons we act on.  The point is that even if you take something as a reason for action and have perfect self-knowledge and want it to be your sole reason for action, you might fail to make it your sole reason for action:
Jane has received a marriage proposal from the King. She is poor, and she knows his wealth gives her a good reason to marry him. She also knows he is very kind, and she takes that as a good reason to marry him too. But he is old and grey, and had he been a commoner, she would’ve politely turned him down. She knows this, and sighs as she thinks about it. For it means a lot to her that her reason for marrying be something about her husband himself, and not his money. Something like his kindness! What a wonderful girl she would be if she could marry him for that reason! She wishes she could find a witch to cast a spell on her increasing her love for kind men, so she could marry him for his kindness, but all the witches were burned long ago.
The desire-belief view explains the limits on our power to choose which of our reasons we can act on.  Even though she accepts that it is a reason, Jane can't make the king's kindness her sole reason for marrying because her desire to marry a kind man isn't strong enough. The only way to make it her sole reason would be to (magically?) increase the strength of that desire.

Anyway, if you thought that was kind of nifty, feel free to read the rest of the paper!  It's fun stuff.  I'm thinking that after this and the paper defending the Humean theory of motivation in Phil Review, it's time for me to write a book taking on all the objections to Humean explanations of motivational phenomena.  If you've got a favorite objection, let me know!

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