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Jacob Ross
Los Angeles
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Thanks for your replies, John. Looks like we're on the same page. Really looking forward to the book!
A few comments on John's fascinating paper: (1) I'm a little confused about John's stance on the Strong Belief Thesis. If I read him correctly, he isn't claiming that this thesis is false, but rather that either it's false or it can't provide a maximally general account of the means-end coherence requirement (since a maximally general account would have to apply to aim states that don't satisfy the Strong Belief Thesis). Now suppose John is right about all this. It seems to me that, in this case, the cognitivist should opt for the second horn of John's dilemma, and accept the Strong Belief Thesis while granting that it isn't required for explaining the means-end coherence requirement. The cognitivist could say something like the following: There are planning states and there are aim states. The Strong Belief Thesis applies only to planning states. These two kinds of states are governed by somewhat different rational requirements. In particular, the consistency requirement applies only to planning states, not to aim states. As Bratman's video game case illustrates, it seems that one could aim to do two things that one knows to be incompatible (e.g., in playing a video game, one could aim to destroy the enemy by firing the gun operated by the left controller, and one could likewise aim to destroy the enemy by firing the gun operated by the right controller, even if one knows that the game is set up in such a way as to make doing both impossible). We need the Strong Belief Thesis to explain the consistency requirement, and luckily this Thesis is true only of states to which consistency requirement applies, namely the planning states. Now, while the consistency requirement applies only to the planning states, the means-end coherence requirement seems to apply both to both kinds of states. Or rather, there is a separate means-end coherence requirement that applies to each. One of these requirements concerns the relation between means-plans and end-plans (roughly, if you plan the end you must plan the means), and the other requirement concerns the relationship between means-aims and end-aims (roughly, if you aim at the end you must aim at the means). Moreover, while the Strong Belief Thesis applies only to planning states, the Very Weak Belief Thesis seems to apply to both planning states and aim states. So if the Very Weak Belief Thesis is enough to account for the means-end coherence requirement, then the cognitivist can appeal to the Very Weak Belief Thesis in explaining the means-end coherence requirement (thereby explaining why it applies to both types of states) while appealing to the Strong Belief Thesis in explaining the consistency requirement (thereby explaining why it applies only to planning states). If this is right, then we can avoid the conclusion that the best account of means-end-coherence will leave us unable to provide a cognitivist account of the coherence requirement. And so we can avoid much of the force of John's lack-of-generality argument. (2) John criticizes the explanation of the means-end coherence requirement that appeals to the Strong Belief Thesis because he says it doesn't apply in all the cases where it seems such a requirement should apply. But the same thing seems to be true of John's explanation. For his explanation applies only in cases where one is certain that, unless one intends the means one will not carry out the end. But this seems too narrow. In "How To Be a Cognitivist about Practical Reason" I give the example of Daria the darts player who is such a skillful player that she knows she can hit the bulls-eye at will. She also knows that the only way she can win the darts game is by hitting the bulls-eye. And she intends to win the game. However, she has no intention to hit the bulls-eye. Rather, she just throws the dart haphazardly in the direction of the dart board, knowing that in so doing she is likely to miss the bulls-eye. This seems to be a clear case of irrationality, and, indeed, of means-end incoherence. But this is not a case where Daria is certain that, unless she intends to hit the bulls-eye, she won't win the game. For she recognizes that, even if she lacks the intention to hit the bulls-eye and throws the dart haphazardly, she might nonetheless get lucky, hit the bulls-eye, and win the game. Hence, the kind of means-end coherence requirement that John's account is meant to explain is too narrow to apply to this kind of case. (3) I'm not convinced by the direction-of-revision argument. THis argument is meant to show that the cognitivist account can't propery explain the means-end coherence requirement because it makes the wrong predictions about how we should revise our attitudes when they are means-end incoherent. John argues that the cognitivist account has the false implication that we should revise by dropping the end-intention, whereas John argues that it would be fine (and perhaps even best) to revise by forming the means-intention. However, it seems to me that we need to distinguish between two periods of time. Let t be the first time at which the agent believes that, unless she already intends the means at t she will be unable to achieve the end. Once time t has arrived, I think Kieran is right that the rational thing to do is to drop the end-intention, since, by the agent's own lights, it is now too late to carry out this intention. Of course, prior to time t, the agent doesn't seem to be rationally required to drop the end-intention. But the cognitivist can allow this. For, prior to time t, the agent's beliefs (including the belief that she doesn't yet intend the means) will be perfectly consistent with the agents not being certain that she won't achieve the end. Hence, on the cognitivist view, prior to t, the agent's attitudes will be perfeclty consistent with intending the end. Thus, like Kieran, I'm not moved by the direction-of-revision argument. If the cognitivist has a problem, it's not that she makes the wrong prediction about how one should revise one's attitudes. Rather, it's that she has trouble accounting for why one should revise one's attitudes prior to t.
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Oct 1, 2015