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Unintended

The law of consequences

Update: this example has arisen in comments:

If I jump from a burning building in order to save myself from the fire while knowing that my fall will be cushioned by a child (who will not survive the impact), then I intend to kill the child as well as to save myself.

What do you think?

  • Sure, I intend to squash the kid! (81%, 119 Votes)
  • No way, I don't intend to squash the kid! (19%, 28 Votes)

Total Voters: 147

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As Israel bombs people in Gaza, and arguments are raised again in some quarters about what is or is not “disproportionate” in warfare, as they were in 2006, a useful observation on the concept is offered by dsquared, who reads the Geneva Conventions as saying:

that unintended but inevitable risk to noncombatants has to be proportionate to the military aim which is being carried out.

I do quibble, though, with the phrasing of the first part. As I have written elsewhere, it is my considered view that you cannot be aware of “inevitable” (or even very probable) harm that will come to civilians as a result of your action and at the same time not intend that harm, as well as whatever else you might be intending, when you commit the act which you have foreseen will cause the harm.1 To take the plainest case, the bureaucrat who signs off on the bombing of “high-collateral-damage targets” intends the predicted “collateral damage”; the best he can argue is that the “positive” consequences outweigh the negative. 2

Thus, I do not believe that we should easily accept the concept of “unintended but inevitable risk to noncombatants”, as it appears to contain a built-in excuse for those who have decided to impose the risk by dropping bombs on them. It is a common, almost invisible parcel of ethical Unspeak, that could appear unintended under anyone’s fingers — and that’s the kind of Unspeak against which we all have to be most on our guard.

I commend to you dsquared’s otherwise unimpeachably sensible post, the conclusion especially apposite at this time:

As an obvious corollary to this, any military action at all can be disproportionate if it has no point to it at all; no sensible or realistic objective other than shoring up political support for the people who ordered it. And as a further corollary, it is entirely possible (and indeed, not even unusual) for both sides in a conflict to be guilty of disproportionate use of violence.

What unintended or disproportionate things have you done lately, readers?

  1. Appeals to “double effect” notwithstanding, even the least disingenuous (ie not among those cherry-pickings from “just war theory” that serve only to provide a moral figleaf for one’s favoured war at the time).
  2. You sometimes hear the alternative case expressed like so: “Well, I didn’t intend to kill any of the specific individuals that were killed as a ‘collateral’ result of my bomb, so in that sense I could not have intended, could I, to kill the unfortunately deceased Mr. and Mrs. X., whose loss of life is of course regrettable”, etc. Unfortunately, this argument alone does not effectively distinguish the “strategic bomber” from the bomber who leaves a home-made explosive device in a shopping mall full of people whose names he does not know.
104 comments
  1. 1  Rob  December 30, 2008, 1:39 pm 

    Doesn’t whether one intends some inevitable effect of one’s act depend on what makes that inevitable effect inevitable? Specifically, I don’t think we’d want to say that anything I knew a murderous psychopath would do as a result of me doing something was necessarily something I intended. This would hold our intentions hostage to the intentions of others, who might have projects we find loathsome. Take Bernard Williams’ case of a potential chemical weapons researcher who a) opposes chemical weapons but b) knows that if he does not take a job as a chemical weapons researcher a more ambitious colleague with fewer moral scruples will. The effects of the more ambitious, less scrupulous colleague’s extra research, even where that includes harm to cvilians, is presumably inevitable but not, it seems to me, something the first potential researcher intends.

  2. 2  adolphe miliband  December 31, 2008, 10:07 am 

    SP:

    So if the declared military aim of Israel is to wipe out the duly elected representatives of the Palestinian people, and by implication the majority of Palestinians themselves, then Mr Sarkozy must clearly be wrong to describe the Israeli action as disproportionate. It is, given the genocidal implications of the Israeli position, entirely proportionate to their declared war aims. QED.

  3. 3  Steven  December 31, 2008, 4:35 pm 

    Rob — I agree that things can look more complex if we imagine scenarios with chains of intention (where person A somehow has perfect knowledge of person B’s intentions), but I don’t believe that retrospectively complicates the straightforward example of dropping non-sentient bombs in densely populated areas.

  4. 4  abb1  January 1, 2009, 7:06 am 

    I don’t think we’d want to say that anything I knew a murderous psychopath would do as a result of me doing something was necessarily something I intended.

    Hmm, why not, it seems it would be indeed something you intended.

    The researcher scenario is different because inaction is different from action. There are millions of actions one can take at any given moment to prevent various bad things from happening; refraining from taking any of them doesn’t make you responsible, except in extreme cases.

    But when you do take an action, it seems that the aggregate of all foreseeable consequences does indeed constitute your intention. How else would you define ‘intention’?

  5. 5  Chris Bertram  January 1, 2009, 10:43 am 

    Sorry, can’t agree with you here Steven.

    What I intend surely has to do with what I am trying to achieve, where there are criteria for success or failure attached to that trying. Things can get tricky, when part of my aim includes something like “minimizing civilian casualties” (and I’m not at all clear about how to do all the conceptual tidying-up here), but if the aim of the mission is, say, to destroy an arms dump and the foreseeable consequence is the destruction of the hospital next door, then we wouldn’t want to evaluate the mission as a partial success if we destroyed the hospital and missed the arms dump. But on your reading, we would have achieved part of what we intended.

    I’d be nervous about abandoning something like double effect. Of course we could do so, retain the prohibition on the harming of non-combatants and decide, therefore, to become pacifists. But a more likely conclusion is to plumb for a straightforward evaluation of costs and benefits, with non-combatants permissibly killed if the sums look good enough. Welcome to Hiroshima.

    By the way, double effect as properly understood, wouldn’t permit the current Israeli operation in Gaza, because the intended good is so vastly outweighed by the forseeable evil.

  6. 6  Steven  January 1, 2009, 11:22 am 

    if the aim of the mission is, say, to destroy an arms dump and the foreseeable consequence is the destruction of the hospital next door, then we wouldn’t want to evaluate the mission as a partial success if we destroyed the hospital and missed the arms dump. But on your reading, we would have achieved part of what we intended.

    I think that difficulty just arises from the counterintuitive use of “achieved”. I see no difficulty in saying “We did part of what we intended” in that case, though the “we” who did the bombing certainly wouldn’t want to admit it. The foreseen consequences of the plan were the destruction of an arms dump and a hospital. One of those things got destroyed. Therefore the intention was half-fulfilled. It may well be that a half-fulfilled intention comes out worse in some circumstances, to some eyes, than a wholly-fulfilled one. Perhaps intentions can be more or less ill-formed.

    I’d be nervous about abandoning something like double effect. Of course we could do so, retain the prohibition on the harming of non-combatants and decide, therefore, to become pacifists. But a more likely conclusion is to plumb for a straightforward evaluation of costs and benefits, with non-combatants permissibly killed if the sums look good enough. Welcome to Hiroshima.

    I’m not sure how your argument is working here. Is it along the lines: “If we abandon double effect, which at least enables people to sort of pretend to be sorry afterwards, then people will just bomb civilians willy-nilly and not even pretend to be sorry at all?” In any case the example of the bureaucratic sanctioning of “high-collateral-damage targets” seems to indicate that we are already living in the world of which you warn.

    By the way, double effect as properly understood, wouldn’t permit the current Israeli operation in Gaza, because the intended good is so vastly outweighed by the forseeable evil.

    I agree with you, but it does rather depend on who is a) doing the proper understanding of double effect; and b) defining the intended good.

    Happy New Year!

  7. 7  Chris Bertram  January 1, 2009, 11:50 am 

    We may indeed be living in a world in which purely instrumental calculation has triumphed and in which much of the moral apparatus of just war theory operates as a post hoc rhetorical fig-leaf. That observation about the world we are in doesn’t tell us anything about whether consquentialism or deontonology provides the right tools for thinking about the morality of war.

    Is it along the lines: “If we abandon double effect, which at least enables people to sort of pretend to be sorry afterwards, then people will just bomb civilians willy-nilly and not be sorry at all?”

    (Well you might allow that sometimes people fighting in war experience genuine regret at the deaths that they bring about when doing something they believe justified!)

    Actually, my thought was that if we abandon the principle of non-combatant immunity as modified by DE then (unless we draw the pacifist conclusion) there would be no barrier to deliberately killing as many civilians as possible as a way of getting the other side to capitulate. Maybe that’s what you meant by “willy nilly”, but I think that fails to capure the distinction between disregard for civilian death and the active pursuit of it. (But then, your views about intention may make it hard for you to keep hold of that distinction anyway.)

  8. 8  Chris Bertram  January 1, 2009, 11:51 am 

    Oh and Happy New Year to you too!

  9. 9  Steven  January 1, 2009, 12:01 pm 

    I think that fails to capure the distinction between disregard for civilian death and the active pursuit of it. (But then, your views about intention may make it hard for you to keep hold of that distinction anyway.)

    Well yes, I do think that the distinction between a) “disregard” for civilian deaths that were a foreseeable consequence of the bomber’s actions, and b) “active pursuit” of civilian deaths by the bomber, is in the end just numerical. The bomber who targets civilians as a matter of policy is likely to kill more civilians than the bomber who disregards, or averts his eyes from, the civilian deaths foreseeably resulting from his bombing; but what they have in common is that they both contemplate an action which they know will kill civilians, and then do it. In other words, they both intend to kill civilians, whatever further justifications for the act they might offer (and which others might on occasion agree with).

  10. 10  Chris Bertram  January 1, 2009, 12:15 pm 

    So where does that leave you with respect to permissible action in war?

    As far as I can see (assuming that you’re not a pacifist) you shouldn’t think that there’s anything specially abhorrent about a plan to win a (just) war by deliberately incinerating as many under-fives as possible. If that’s what the numbers recommend, that’s what they recommend and any qualms or quibbles are just cant.

    Is my example unfair?

  11. 11  Steven  January 1, 2009, 12:37 pm 

    you shouldn’t think that there’s anything specially abhorrent about a plan to win a (just) war by deliberately incinerating as many under-fives as possible.

    Compared to a rival plan in which the bombing of arms dumps etc will predictably incinerate the same number of under-fives, no.

  12. 12  Chris Bertram  January 1, 2009, 3:09 pm 

    I’m curious. Is your view about intention and forseeability quite general, or limited to the case of war? Many large human projects (construction offers many examples) involve statistically forseeable deaths. Would you really want to say that those who conceive such projects (a new airport or bridge for example) intend the deaths of those who die?

  13. 13  abb1  January 1, 2009, 3:37 pm 

    Construction projects seem to have gotten better since the Central Pacific railroad, and one hopes the improvement has been intentional.

  14. 14  abb1  January 1, 2009, 5:42 pm 

    BTW, apropos of straightforward cost/benefit analyses (aka proportionality), I am curious (sincerely) about Prof. Bertram’s and Mr. Davies’ opinion on that of various infamous grand-socio-economic experiments.

    For example, suppose someone has decided to create a better (perhaps even ideal) society for the whole of mankind or a significant part of it (and to end all wars, certainly). To achieve this goal a bunch of dead-enders needs to be re-educated or eliminated. I noticed dsquared was unable to form an opinion on Hiroshima; what about, say, the Collectivization or The Great Leap Forward – would it be just as difficult? Without knowing the actual results, that is.

    Thanks.

  15. 15  Steven  January 1, 2009, 9:55 pm 

    Many large human projects (construction offers many examples) involve statistically forseeable deaths. Would you really want to say that those who conceive such projects (a new airport or bridge for example) intend the deaths of those who die?

    That’s a poor analogy. In airport or bridge projects there are of course many more actors and intentions working in between the conceiver and any eventual deaths: there are even people whose job it is to make concerted efforts to prevent such deaths. The airport visionary is not doing anything like dropping a bomb (or ordering the dropping of a bomb) on a target that has been identified as “high collateral damage”. His actions do not directly cause whatever deaths may happen later, and there is a far lower level of certainty all round about if or how deaths may occur down the line — as indeed you implicitly acknowledge by now choosing the subtly different terminology of “statistically foreseeable” for those construction deaths.

    The type of situation in your suggested milieu of construction that would be better comparable to bombing would be, say, if a foreman insisted on turning a faulty drill back on so as to meet his deadline, even though he knew that it would kill a couple of his workers. In that case, yes, he would intend those deaths, just as much as he would intend to finish his section of tunnel on time.

  16. 16  Chris Bertram  January 1, 2009, 10:21 pm 

    It wasn’t an analogy, it was another case where human action aimed at one thing forseeably results in some deaths. As I said, I asked about it in order to find out how general your view of intention to kill is. You’ve clarified that, thanks.

    I’m still not persuaded, though. I wonder whether you are hanging on to what I think of as an implausible view about intention because you want to take a view about responsibility (both moral and causal)? The case of negligence establishes that people can be morally responsible for deaths they don’t intend. Likewise the person who forseeably causes deaths they don’t (according to me) intend can be held responsible for those deaths. How far we want to blame them might then depend on whether there is some feature of the situation that excuses them – and that might be the function of double effect (or some similar principle). Forseeable deaths in a pointless and unjustified war, even unintended ones, can perfectly well be blamed on those who brought them about.

  17. 17  Sagredo  January 1, 2009, 10:55 pm 

    “Undesired” would make more sense, presumably.

    Guessing from the snippet provided, perhaps the Geneva Convention would have done better to simply eliminate the phrase “unintended but inevitable”.

  18. 18  Chris Bertram  January 2, 2009, 7:01 am 

    Yes Sagredo, but in the normal case, no-one has any difficulty with the idea that what I intend by an action picks out a smaller set of effects than what I forseeably bring about and that the former has to do with my reasons for the action whereas the latter does not.

    I quite realise that Steven is hypersensitive to exculpatory uses of language but I think this is a case where that sensitivity has misled him into making his own revision for moral/political reasons, a revision that impoverishes language by depriving us of possibilities of discrimination. Moreover it is unnecessary, because intent doesn’t track responsibility. The opportunistic use of a debased double-effect-type argument by Israeli politicians and wingnut commentators shouldn’t lead us to abandon the sensible distinctions that their rhetoric is parasitic on.

    (PS is that phrase really in the Geneva Convention?)

  19. 19  Steven  January 2, 2009, 9:20 am 

    in the normal case, no-one has any difficulty with the idea that what I intend by an action picks out a smaller set of effects than what I forseeably bring about and that the former has to do with my reasons for the action whereas the latter does not.

    Actually, plenty of people have had plenty of difficulty with that idea, for plenty of values of “the normal case”.

  20. 20  Chris Bertram  January 2, 2009, 9:53 am 

    I’ll venture that only those people wedded to mistaken philosophical commitments have such difficulties. After all, there is all the difference in the world between the case where

    Chris argues with the aim of clarifying the conceptual issues whilst knowing that he thereby irritates Steven.

    and

    Chris argues in order to irritate Steven.

  21. 21  hey zeus  January 2, 2009, 10:40 am 

    i keep telling my girlfriend i didn’t intend to sleep with her flatmate, but moreso cooked her dinner, got her drunk, tripped over my shoelace and accidentally got her pregnant. For some reason she seems to see things the same way as you do, Steven.
    I just can’t understand the mentality.
    doesn’t ‘accidentally’ even mean ANYthing anymore?

  22. 22  Guano  January 2, 2009, 11:02 am 

    There doesn’t seem to be very much pretence that the civilian deaths in Gaza are unintended.

  23. 23  Steven  January 2, 2009, 1:43 pm 

    there is all the difference in the world between the case where

    Chris argues with the aim of clarifying the conceptual issues whilst knowing that he thereby irritates Steven.

    and

    Chris argues in order to irritate Steven.

    There is indeed a difference, though not all the difference in the world: in the first case, I claim, Chris cannot but also have the intention to irritate Steven, albeit that he no doubt hopes that the eventual conceptual clarification will be worth it, should it ever arrive.

    But here you have written “aim” instead of “intention”: we can agree, perhaps, that irritating Steven is not part of the aim in the first example, understanding Chris’s “aim” to be his conception of the anticipated positive result only; but it is nonetheless part of his intention in acting with such foreknowledge, given that it is an inevitable part of the consequential package.

    Similarly in the bombing case, considering two analogous scenarios:

    a) Chris drops a bomb with the aim of destroying an enemy unit while knowing, eg because the coordinates are on a carefully calculated list of “high-collateral damage targets”, that he will thereby also kill 30 civilians

    b) Chris drops a bomb in order to kill 30 civilians

    My contention all along has been merely that among the possible differences between these two cases is not the difference that in the first case the civilian deaths are somehow “unintended”. They cannot but be intentional, given that they were foreseen with a high degree of confidence as a direct consequence of the act that Chris, in full possession of that foreknowledge, made a choice to perform.

    That, or so it seems to me, is the only “possibilit[y] of discrimination”, as per your #18, that is denied to anyone by this line of argument.

    IANAL but:

    In 1993, the [English] Law Commission revisited the definition of ‘intention’ proposing that:

    [A] person acts….’intentionally’ with respect to a result when:
    (i) it is his purpose to cause it; or
    (ii) although it is not his purpose to cause that result, he knows that it would occur in the ordinary course of events if he were to succeed in his purpose of causing some other result.

    In that conception, it seems that “purpose” v “intent” mirrors “aim” v “intent” discussed above.

  24. 24  Chris Bertram  January 2, 2009, 2:06 pm 

    Hmm, I see that that great authority on these matters, Wikipedia, supports me wrt to the philosophical meaning of intention

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intention

    and you wrt to its legal meaning

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intention_(criminal)

    Since the whole area of just war theory etc takes place in an area somewhere between the moral and the legal, I’m not sure that either of us could claim victory.

    Anyway, I meant “aim” throughout. The semantics probably do matter for my #18 above.

    I take it though that you’d continue to insist on the same moral point even if the case were reformulated in terms of aim/purpose v foreseeable effects?

  25. 25  Steven  January 2, 2009, 2:36 pm 

    Wikipedia, supports me wrt to the philosophical meaning of intention

    Well, that Wiki stub supports you wrt to the meaning of intention as Anscombe used it, which is not surprising, as she was trying to defend the kind of distinction between intended and foreseen consequences which I claim is untenable here. But the question of intention is hardly settled in philosophy generally.

    I take it though that you’d continue to insist on the same moral point even if the case were reformulated in terms of aim/purpose v foreseeable effects?

    All I have been claiming, and all I claim now, is that a reliably foreseen effect cannot be unintended.

  26. 26  Chris Bertram  January 2, 2009, 3:05 pm 

    I think it would be rather odd to suppose that Anscombe was driven by a desire to establish proprietary rights over the term “intention” so as to defend the (alleged) distinction we’re concerned with here. What sort of defence would that be? She was surely (whether her analysis was correct or not) trying to explicate what she took the concept of intention to be.

    Anyway your view, as clarified, seems to be that a reliably foreseen effect cannot be unintended but that such an effect may, indeed, not figure among the aims or purposes of the agent. To someone with my linguistic intuitions, that’s a deeply puzzling thing to say.

    “My purpose wasn’t to bomb the hospital but I intended to bomb it.”

    ??

    Again, I’m led to suppose that it is some special connection that you imagine between intention and responsibility that is driving your use of language here. But as I wrote above, there is no in-principle difficulty in holding someone responsible for effects that they foresaw and brought about.

  27. 27  Steven  January 2, 2009, 4:03 pm 

    I made no such absurd claim that Anscombe was trying to get proprietary rights on the term “intention”, but she certainly was explicitly concerned to defend the distinction between intended and foreseen consequences, because it had been abandoned, on her telling, by Sidgwick and “every English academic moral philosopher since him” (ie some of the people who have had trouble with accounts such as yours at #18).

    My purpose wasn’t to bomb the hospital but I intended to bomb it.

    That is made to sound funnier than necessary owing to the fact that “to bomb the hospital” already connotes a deliberate targeting. But sure: your purpose was to bomb the arms dump right next door. Knowing as you did that bombing the arms dump would also destroy the hospital, you inevitably intended to destroy the arms dump and the hospital, even though it was not your purpose to destroy the hospital.

    Afterwards, perhaps, you tried to justify yourself by saying it was a really important arms dump and its destruction would save lives by hastening the end of the war etc. I am not here offering a view on such alternative exculpations or justifications. I am merely saying that you cannot claim your destruction of the hospital was unintended.

    Again, I’m led to suppose that it is some special connection that you imagine between intention and responsibility that is driving your use of language here. But as I wrote above, there is no in-principle difficulty in holding someone responsible for effects that they foresaw and brought about.

    Suppose all you like, but I am merely offering a view about intention.

  28. 28  Chris Bertram  January 2, 2009, 5:35 pm 

    We’ve probably taken this as far as we can. But just to note that Anscome’s remarks about Sidgwick occur in her essay “Modern Moral Philosophy” where she is, as you rightly note, concerned to defend the distinction between the intended and the merely foreseen. Your remarks at #25 above give the impression, perhaps unwittingly, that her philosophical work on the concept of intention, in works such as Intention was driven by a concern to maintain that distinction. (Since the characterization I relied upon in #24 was drawn from Intention, I not surprisingly read your #25 (“as she was trying”) to be a claim about the motivation of that work.)

    (Full disclosure: since my copy of Intention is locked up in a university office about a mile away, it might turn out, on checking the book, that there is evidence for the motivation I took you to be suggesting.)

  29. 29  Chris Bertram  January 2, 2009, 5:46 pm 

    PS – There some irony in the fact that you claim that defenders of the distinction between the intended and the merely foreseen engage in a form of moral unspeak that contains “built-in excuses” for bombers, and then our discussion leads us to a vehement defender of that distinction, the author of “Mr Truman’s Degree”.

    http://www.anthonyflood.com/an.....degree.htm

    Doesn’t make you wrong of course!

  30. 30  voyou  January 2, 2009, 7:22 pm 

    It seems to me that the issue here is not about whether or not one intends foreseeable consequences of ones actions, but rather about how we divide up actions and consequences. In the case of a dropping a bomb that destroys an arms dump and a neighbouring hospital, the destruction of the hospital isn’t a consequence of the action, but a part of the action.

    If I stick a knife in someone, it would be absurd for me to say that I only intended to insert a knife between their ribs, but I didn’t intend to stab them; the act of inserting the knife is the very same act as the act of stabbing, and because any reasonable person could be expected to know that, it’s absurd to pretend that I intend the act under one description but not under the other. And it seems to me that the same is true with “collateral damage”; if you intentionally drop a bomb that you know will land on an arms dump and a hospital, you intend the act under both descriptions.

  31. 31  abb1  January 2, 2009, 7:32 pm 

    wrt to the philosophical meaning… wrt to its legal meaning

    But in the context of the Geneva Conventions (which is a legal document), why would the philosophical meaning matter? And doesn’t it, in fact, clearly constitute an instance of unspeak – bringing an irrelevant meaning into the context?

  32. 32  Steven  January 2, 2009, 7:44 pm 

    I am sorry if I unintentionally gave the impression that I thought Intention in particular was centrally driven by a yen for Sidgwick-bashing.

    the author of “Mr Truman’s Degree”

    Indeed, but Hiroshima was not an example of “collateral damage”: the civilian deaths were intentional according to both your/Anscombe’s and my understanding of intention, so we can all agree on that one.

    An interesting passage from “Mr Truman’s Degree” in the context of this discussion is:

    It may be impossible to take the thing (or people) you want to destroy as your target; it may be possible to attack it only by taking as the object of your attack what includes large numbers of innocent people. Then you cannot very well say they died by accident. Here, your action is murder.

    I don’t myself suppose that if the numbers of innocent people in the example were smaller than “large”, one would suddenly be able to say that they died by accident, or even that their deaths were “unintended”.

  33. 33  Steven  January 2, 2009, 7:49 pm 

    abb1 — afaik the precise phrase I quoted of dsquared’s does not appear in the documents of the Geneva Conventions themselves; still, if we are talking jus in bello then I suppose the legal meanings of “intention” are not entirely irrelevant.

    Voyou —

    if you intentionally drop a bomb that you know will land on an arms dump and a hospital, you intend the act under both descriptions.

    I agree with that.

  34. 34  Chris Bertram  January 2, 2009, 8:04 pm 

    Well I certainly wouldn’t want to say that they “died by accident”.

    As for the Anscombe passage you quote, well yes. But not the immediately subsequent passage about line drawing (wrt to numbers) and the slightly earlier passage where she writes:

    For killing the innocent, even if you know as a matter of statistical certainty that the things you do involve it, is not necessarily murder. I mean that if you attack a lot of military targets, such as munitions factories and naval dockyards, as carefully as you can, you will be certain to kill a number of innocent people; but that is not murder. On the other hand, unscrupulousness in considering the possibilities turns it into murder.

    I think we can probably agree that a great deal of recent bombing, including the present case, involves such unscrupulousness.

  35. 35  Steven  January 2, 2009, 8:17 pm 

    So if on your account their deaths were not intentional (even though someone decided to drop a bomb in their vicinity), and yet they also didn’t die by accident… how exactly did they come to be deceased?

  36. 36  Chris Bertram  January 2, 2009, 8:51 pm 

    Well we know exactly how they came to be deceased, that isn’t in dispute between us. Since you made the surprising (to me) concession that you did concerning “aim” and “purpose”, are you now willing to agree that to aim at the killing of noncombatants or to have their deaths as your purpose is wrong? If you will then I’ll gladly let you carry on using “intentional” any way you like. (I’ll continue to think it odd, but not worth arguing about.)

  37. 37  Steven  January 2, 2009, 9:15 pm 

    I am once more (as above after #10) at a loss as to what you think I have been saying all this time, if you think such a question requires an answer. No doubt I could have been clearer, but it is the fag-end of the holiday season…

  38. 38  engels  January 3, 2009, 4:34 am 

    it is my considered view that you cannot be aware of “inevitable” (or even very probable) harm that will come to civilians as a result of your action and at the same time not intend that harm

    Like others, I would like to know if the principle that seems to underly this–that one intends any consequences of one’s actions foreseen as being at least very probable(?)–applies generally. For example, if I leap from a burning building knowing that it is highly probable (but not certain) that I shall die on hitting the ground, even supposing that I did so in the hope of surviving, would you say that I intended to jump to my death?

  39. 39  engels  January 3, 2009, 5:43 am 

    Again– when I play the lottery I know it is highly probable I shall lose. But would you say that I intend to lose?

  40. 40  Steven  January 3, 2009, 3:13 pm 

    Dying from the fall or saving oneself/winning the lottery or not are not separate consequences of the jump/ticket purchase: they are the mutually exclusive possible results under which the purpose or aim of the jump/ticket purchase is fulfilled or not. Since under your description one already intends to save oneself/win the lottery (because this is the aim of each action, however unlikely to succeed, and an aim must encompass an intention), one cannot intend to die/lose, since one cannot intend mutually exclusive results (A and not-A) in the way that one can intend multiple consequences (A and B).

    If you jumped from the burning building knowing that there was no way you could survive, or bought a ticket for a lottery you knew was fixed so that there was no way for you to win, then you would indeed intend to die/lose (there is no longer any problem of intending mutually exclusive results).

    If, on the other hand, I jumped from a burning building in order to save myself from the fire while knowing that my fall would be cushioned by a child, then I would intend to kill the child.

  41. 41  engels  January 3, 2009, 3:50 pm 

    Fair enough, but then I think this is a slight amendment of what you said initially.

    you cannot be aware of … even very probable … harm that will come … as a result of your action and at the same time not intend that harm as well as whatever else you might be intending, when you commit the act which you have foreseen will cause the harm

    [ellipsis to put the statement in the most general form]

    It seems that you agree that the jumping case is one where you are aware of such probable harm and yet you don’t intend it (contrary to the above statement that you ‘cannot’ do so.)

    I take it that your position is that I can be assumed to intend the likely consequences of my actions but this assumption may have to be abandoned if it conflicts with other facts about my purposes, etc — which seems very reasonable to me, but if this is what you think I don’t think it is clear from your post.

  42. 42  Steven  January 3, 2009, 4:13 pm 

    I take it that your position is that I can be assumed to intend the likely consequences of my actions but this assumption may have to be abandoned if it conflicts with other facts about my purposes, etc

    Well, pending further challenging examples, I think it has to be abandoned only in the special binary case, such as yours, where one would have otherwise to infer the intending of mutually exclusive outcomes. I believe it applies to all situations where one is considering multiple consequences that are really independent (insofar as each of them logically may or may not obtain).

    So to clarify, I can amend the most general statement of the principle that you take from the post to read something like:

    “You cannot be aware of “inevitable” (or even very probable) harm that will come … as a result of an action by means of which you intend some other consequence and at the same time not intend that harm as well as whatever else you might be intending, when you commit the act which you have foreseen will cause the harm.”

  43. 43  Dan G.  January 3, 2009, 4:27 pm 

    If, on the other hand, I jumped from a burning building in order to save myself from the fire while knowing that my fall would be cushioned by a child, then I would intend to kill the child.

    I’m curious – does Chris Bertram or anyone else really disagree with this?

  44. 44  Chris Bertram  January 3, 2009, 6:34 pm 

    I’m curious – does Chris Bertram or anyone else really disagree with this?

    Well yes I do, but not because Steven and I disagree about the facts, but because we disagree about the meaning of “intend”. Having (stupidly) surfed over to Harry’s Place and notices some particulary annoying uses of “unintentionally” in connection with Gaza, I can’t help feeling some sympathy for Steven’s view. (“What do you mean they didn’t intend those deaths!?” – the argument from incredulity.) But the real claim that ought to be made there is one of bad faith on the part of the reckless (or worse) bombers.

    Incidentally, though I haven’t though this through, Steven’s view that “since one cannot intend mutually exclusive results” seems false, or at least in need of careful reformulation, in the light of Lois Lane’s possible intentions towards Clark Kent and Superman.

  45. 45  sw  January 3, 2009, 7:16 pm 

    There is a part of me, a large part of me – in physical terms, everything from the ankles up – that is telling me to stop, to desist, that I have nothing to contribute to this thread. Unfortunately, I am typing this with my feet, and so here goes:

    Steve, the leader of the Unspeak community, is completely right to point out how “unintended” and its variants are Unspeak: they smuggle in the notion of innocence to an act for which the actors are entirely culpable; while approaching the moral highground (discerning the “problem” of civilian casualties, for example), the claim that something is “unintended” unspeaks responsibility. At the same time, the term “unintended” is so pernicious because it may be partly true: one simply does not always intend every foreseeable consequence of an act. That is, there is a meaning of “intend” that speaks to an active desire for an outcome and that excludes those results that are not “intended”. For good reasons, there are legal and ethical reproaches this to meaning (“Yuronner, I didn’t mean to make him poor when I robbed him, that wasn’t my intent; I only intended to make myself wealthy, and what’s so wrong ’bout that?”), but to claim that all “intent” always encompasses every foreseeable consequence is to do injustice to the human psychological capacity for “intent”. The “unintended” excuse is so pernicious not because it is an outright lie but because it is not entirely wrong, because it draws upon a meaning of “intent” that is commonly used and commonly understood, for good reason, and because it misleadingly speaksto the possibility of innocence over a terrible crime. Finally, it puts the outraged in the position of now retroactively insisting upon an “intent” that itself unspeaks the ambiguity of and within “intent”.

  46. 46  Steven  January 3, 2009, 8:08 pm 

    I’m curious – does Chris Bertram or anyone else really disagree with this?

    Well yes I do

    So if you don’t agree I intended to kill the child, do you therefore think I killed the child unintentionally, that the child’s death was unintended by me? Or are you trying to preserve some wiggle room in between “intended” and “unintended”? If so, what is this wiggle room like? Does it consist of some vague talk of “bad faith” or is there something more in it?

    I think this scenario is quite a clear example, so I’ve updated the original post with a poll — not that it will prove anything one way or another, but it would be interesting to see what other readers think. Vote now!

    Steven’s view that “since one cannot intend mutually exclusive results” seems false, or at least in need of careful reformulation, in the light of Lois Lane’s possible intentions towards Clark Kent and Superman.

    If you like: one cannot intend mutually exclusive results that one knows are mutually exclusive.

  47. 47  Steven  January 3, 2009, 8:16 pm 

    Hello, sw! May I say that you write better with your feet than most people on the internet do with their hands?

    That is, there is a meaning of “intend” that speaks to an active desire for an outcome and that excludes those results that are not “intended”.

    I agree that “intend” is sometimes used that way. Indeed, in a way, my disagreement with Chris seems mainly to stem from the fact that he insists that this is the only meaning of intention, and that it is perfectly congruent with the meaning of aim or purpose, ie denotes only desired outcomes; whereas I don’t.

    but to claim that all “intent” always encompasses every foreseeable consequence is to do injustice to the human psychological capacity for “intent”.

    But I’m not sure about this. Surely it is I who am doing more justice to the human psychological capacity for “intent” by insisting that intent is present in cases where others accept assurances that it is not?

    On the other hand, I do like your theory that the bomber who pleads his killings were unintentional is deliberately playing on the two possible meanings of the term (viz. desired outcomes versus foreseen outcomes) — that’s very Unspeak!

  48. 48  sw  January 3, 2009, 8:16 pm 

    Or are you trying to preserve some wiggle room in between “intended” and “unintended”? If so, what is this wiggle room like? Does it consist of some vague talk of “bad faith” or is there something more in it?

    I suppose those questions could also be addressed to my feet?

    I think this scenario is quite a clear example, so I’ve updated the original post with a poll — not that it will prove anything one way or another, but it would be interesting to see what other readers think.

    What do you mean by “quite”? Are you trying to instill some wriggle-room into the clarity of your example? And what do you intend to show by adding a poll that, as you point out, won’t prove anything one way or another? Isn’t that the problem of intent? That it intimates something about motive without proving it one way or the other? And isn’t that what you’re unspeaking when you scoff at wiggle-room and insist upon an unambiguous reading of “intent” as necessarily entailing a desire or will to achieve all foreseeable outcomes?

    Just asking.

  49. 49  Steven  January 3, 2009, 8:31 pm 

    I suppose those questions could also be addressed to my feet?

    They were addressed to Chris; I hadn’t seen your comment when writing mine.

    And what do you intend to show by adding a poll that, as you point out, won’t prove anything one way or another?

    Well, like I said, it would be interesting to know what other readers think. Lots more people are reading this than are posting comments. They might be willing to click on a poll.

    Isn’t that the problem of intent? That it intimates something about motive without proving it one way or the other?

    I wish there were a lawyer here to tackle that question.

  50. 50  sw  January 3, 2009, 8:43 pm 

    They were addressed to Chris; I hadn’t seen your comment when writing mine.

    Likewise. There was a crossing of swords, so to speak.

    Surely it is I who am doing more justice to the human psychological capacity for “intent” by insisting that intent is present in cases where others accept assurances that it is not?

    No, I think you are quite right, and I do agree with you – there is a smear of innocence in “intent” that unspeaks exactly what you say. That is contained in the disavowal of responsibility, and we agree there; in other words, the responsibility and the risk include what is being unspoken when intent is gutted of the meaning you ascribe it. My concern is that “unintended” forces us to go back and engage in our own version of unspeak, unspeaking the very ambiguity and complexity of intent as well as its multiple meanings, when we insist that Yes, every foreseeable consequence of an act is intended. That’s why “unintended” is such a brilliant tactic; it essentially forces its critics to either engage in their own unspeak or get caught in the presumptions of retrospective assignment of an intent that is actually ambiguous.

  51. 51  Steven  January 3, 2009, 8:59 pm 

    My concern is that “unintended” forces us to go back and engage in our own version of unspeak, unspeaking the very ambiguity and complexity of intent as well as its multiple meanings, when we insist that Yes, every foreseeable consequence of an act is intended.

    Just to avoid the introduction of a possible unhelpful ambiguity here: I do continue to claim that every foreseen consequence of an act is intended; but not necessarily every foreseeable one. There might be a consequence that was “foreseeable” in that others foresaw it, or “a reasonable person” should have foreseen it, but if I didn’t actually foresee it myself then I didn’t intend it (though I might be open to accusations of recklessness/negligence).

  52. 52  sw  January 3, 2009, 9:22 pm 

    Ah quite right, I will maintain my position, but agree that it requires a “foreseen” in place of the “foreseeable” (but please hold onto that faintly queasy sense of ambiguity – it lives on).

  53. 53  sw  January 3, 2009, 9:26 pm 

    How many times may I vote in the poll? I might not vote the same way each time, but I love imagining and re-imagining myself in that scenario, savouring the scene and deciding on what it is I intend as I plummet towards the child cushion. And, just fyi, I have to use Safari to leave comments on Unspeak; Firefox won’t let me.

  54. 54  Steven  January 3, 2009, 11:52 pm 

    Please vote once.

    But you have made me think of another point, in your concentration on “disavowals of responsibility” etc. I have rather casually been switching between present and past in my examples, but perhaps the tense makes more of a difference to our intuitions than we think. In the past, when we are talking about a situation in which I have already killed a child / blown up 30 civilians, the abhorrence of that accomplished fact in itself might make some people indisposed to accept whatever subsequent claims I make, such as that the deaths were unintended, without their necessarily taking any very firm view on the philosophy of intention. On the other hand, if we are talking about the moment before I commit the act in question, when everything is still in flux and no one is yet dead, so that I as the actor in the scenario am as yet untainted by having definitively killed anyone, perhaps some of those who would accept my argument in the past-tense case are now more reluctant to do so.

    In other words, it seems possible that some people might accept my line of argument for (what I consider) the wrong reasons in the past-tense case, as well as reject it for the wrong reasons in the present-tense case.

  55. 55  sw  January 4, 2009, 2:00 am 

    I only voted once. I do worry about the integrity of the poll, though. Wouldn’t most people want to answer by saying “Sure I intend to squash the kid!” just because it’s so much fun to say that? It reminds me of my grandfather’s youth, when he used to play Dungeons and Dragons, and nobody wanted to be a Paladin, because you had to be Lawful Good. Euch.

    Let me get this straight. When looking back on an atrocity or desperately bad outcome, the consequence is so unpleasant that people will not want to accept the “unintended” claim regardless of their philosophy? Whether it was “intended” or “unintended”, you are guilty because you did such a shitty thing, and therefore, we will assume the Poolean argument that intent necessarily encompasses the foreseen consequences and use it to convict you, not because we are convinced by his logic on Unspeak but because the act was so heinous?

    And, in the present tense, at the point when you have not done the horrible thing, when you are looking down at that cushiony child while the flames lap around your knees, when you are using our joysticks to direct Bomber Squadron A to hit the Ammo Depot next to the Hospitale Por L’Innocenti, we look at one another and say, “A bad outcome is foreseeable, but that’s not what he intends . . . “

    Hmm. Did I get that right? But I do think you’re definitely right about the problem of tense. As Unspeak it is a definitely a retrospective issue, a disavowal of responsibility, etc. I think I’m most interested in “reject it for the wrong reasons in the present-tense case”.

    About two hours ago, a two year old child stormed into this room, reached up and grabbed a yellow legal pad, upon which I had precariously balanced two Mighty Boosh DVDs, a Live Russell Brand album, and two seasons of Peep Show. As he pulled the yellow pad from the table, he squinted and grimaced slightly, indicating that he clearly knew what was about to happen. The DVDs crashed to the floor, made a racket, and he held the legal pad triumphantly to his chest and said, “Mine!”

    His intent was entirely clear: that yellow legal pad had to be his; immediately before he claimed it, as he was in the process of claiming it, he was visibly aware of a now foreseeable consequence – that he was dislodging an avalanche of carefully balanced shit on my desk – but he did not stop. It would be utterly strange to say, at that moment, that he intended to cause a mess. He intended to get that legal pad, and did not care about the other consequences other than preparing himself for the loud noise it would cause; those other consequences did not alter his intent, but they were not the intent itself.

  56. 56  Steven  January 4, 2009, 2:10 am 

    Perhaps things are slightly different a) for two-year-old children; and/or b) for people who only foresee a particular consequence when they have already begun committing the act in question and it is impossible or at least difficult (owing to momentum, psychological and/or physical) to stop. But I don’t think the story is really a challenge to the general case of rational planning by an actor with reliable foreknowledge of consequences.

    a Live Russell Brand album

    I hope he smashed it into irrecoverable shards? Go, little one!

  57. 57  matthew  January 4, 2009, 10:32 am 

    It would be utterly strange to say, at that moment, that he intended to cause a mess. He intended to get that legal pad, and did not care about the other consequences other than preparing himself for the loud noise it would cause; those other consequences did not alter his intent, but they were not the intent itself.

    There is a sense, on the other hand, where if one truly does “not care about the other consequences” than one cannot be said to not intend those consequences either. That is, does not intend X can mean two things: (a) one never formed an intention either way; or (b) one actively intends not-X. Saying “I did not intend” to exculpate oneself requires the good faith connotations of (b), and (b) implies caring about the consequences of one’s actions. So of course it is “utterly strange” to say the two year old child intended the mess because the only reason to say that (in a non-philosophical context) is to defend the child. Similarly, when someone drops bombs and we want to talk about his intent, we must at least assume he cares what he’s killing. Otherwise, he scarcely has an aim, let alone an intent.

  58. 58  Chris Bertram  January 4, 2009, 12:33 pm 

    Looks like you’re way ahead in the poll Steven! (Perhaps not surprising on your own blog.)

    Some final thoughts from me …

    Those who have read carefully above will realise that nothing I’ve said commits me to the view that the jumper is not responsible for the child’s death. In fact, I think the jumper should not jump if they foresee the child’s death as a consequence.

    My intuition about intent is different in a similar case where you throw a spear at me and I grab a passing child to use a shield. There may be an active/passive difference here, which may explain this difference. I’m not sure.

    There may be some interference from the conversational-pragmatic side of things in the way we respond to some of the cases. Hence, I think, my reluctance to agree that foreseen victims die “accidentally”.

    Finally, though you claim above that all you have been concerned with is the clarification of “intent”, I don’t think that’s quite right, since you plainly also want to deny that the difference between what we aim at and the foreseeable consequences of our actions is morally significant. That denial is, to me, suggestive of a broader commitment to consequentialism.

  59. 59  dsquared  January 4, 2009, 1:14 pm 

    This is real “intellect bewitched by language” stuff isn’t it though. We have three categories of actions:

    1. Things that you did and knew you were doing, and you wanted to do them

    2. Things that you did and knew you were doing, but you wished you hadn’t, and you wouldn’t have done them if you could think of a way to go about your other projects without doing them.

    3. Things that you did, but didn’t know you were doing.

    The first one is clearly “intended”, the third one is clearly “unintended” and we’re arguing about the middle. I think that the distinction between 2 and 3 is more useful than the distinction between 1 and 2 (because as Chris says, you’re still morally responsible for the things and you still did them), and so I voted “no”, but it’s a matter of taste.

  60. 60  engels  January 4, 2009, 2:43 pm 

    Fwiw someone who believes contra Steven that a distinction may be drawn between intended and foreseen consequences of an action, and even a defender of the Doctrine of Double Effect, can happily vote ‘Yes’ in his poll, as she can maintain that here the child’s death is not a side-effect of a good end but that the child is killed as a means to this end, so it is both intended and impermissible. So I am not sure that so much hinges on the response to this particular example.

    Also, unfortunately I don’t have access to a better dictionary now, but Chambers Online gives the following definition of ‘intention’

    intention noun 1 something that someone plans or intends to do; an aim or purpose. 2 (intentions) colloq someone’s, especially a man’s, purpose with regard to marriage to a particular woman. 3 RC Church (also special or particular intention) the purpose or reason for prayers being said or mass celebrated.
    ETYMOLOGY: 14c: from Latin intendere to stretch towards.

    which doesn’t seem to support Steven’s wish to drive a conceptual wedge between ‘intention’ on the one hand and ‘aim’ or ‘purpose’ on the other.

  61. 61  sw  January 4, 2009, 3:08 pm 

    Perhaps things are slightly different a) for two-year-old children; and/or b) for people who only foresee a particular consequence when they have already begun committing the act in question and it is impossible or at least difficult (owing to momentum, psychological and/or physical) to stop.

    Hmm, maybe you’re right. I will immediately reduce his punishment to only one week of gruel and water for dinner.

  62. 62  abb1  January 4, 2009, 3:23 pm 

    The “yellow legal pad” story reminds me of this Chomsky’s comment on some essay by Samantha Power:

    …A little more subtle, perhaps, is her observation that “if you continue to believe (as I do) that there is a moral difference between setting out to destroy as many civilians as possible and killing civilians unintentionally and reluctantly in pursuit of a military objective, you will indeed find “On Suicide Bombing” disturbing, if not always in the way he intends.” Let’s accept her judgment and proceed.

    Evidently, a crucial case is omitted, which is far more depraved than massacring civilians intentionally. Namely, knowing that you are massacring them but not doing so intentionally because you don’t regard them as worthy of concern. That is, you don’t even care enough about them to intend to kill them. Thus when I walk down the street, if I stop to think about it I know I’ll probably kill lots of ants, but I don’t intend to kill them, because in my mind they do not even rise to the level where it matters. There are many such examples.

    The same case is also omitted/obscured in comment 59 above, as the degree of strength of “you wished you hadn’t” in case 2 seems critically important, indeed that’s what divides case 1 from case 2. Because perhaps the bomber who purposely targeted the hospital also wishes he hadn’t, but he usually doesn’t get any points for that.

  63. 63  abb1  January 4, 2009, 3:24 pm 

    Oops, here’s the link: http://www.zmag.org/blog/view/1012

  64. 64  Steven  January 4, 2009, 3:57 pm 

    Looks like you’re way ahead in the poll Steven! (Perhaps not surprising on your own blog.)

    Because I am rigging the vote? Because readers are such fans of my blog that they are voting against what they really think?

    My intuition about intent is different in a similar case where you throw a spear at me and I grab a passing child to use a shield. There may be an active/passive difference here, which may explain this difference. I’m not sure.

    We know from trolley-problem surveys that people quite often have such apparently inconsistent intuitions. Myself, I see no substantive difference between fatally jumping on a child and grabbing a child to use as a shield, and I think that the fact that you do shows there are serious problems with your position.

    you plainly also want to deny that the difference between what we aim at and the foreseeable consequences of our actions is morally significant.

    I have never said such a thing, so I don’t know on what other evidence you are inferring what I “want” to do. I have in fact indicated that a consideration of what was aimed at might in some circumstances justify harmful foreseen consequences. I have merely denied that any such harmful foreseen consequences could be unintended.

    That denial is, to me, suggestive of a broader commitment to consequentialism.

    Of course, “consequentialism” was Anscombe’s contemptuous coinage for a variety of theories she didn’t like, and it remains hard to tell what someone means by it without further clarification. I’m sure you are not proposing that I think an action should be judged only by its consequences, since a careful reader of the above could not have come to such a conclusion.

  65. 65  engels  January 4, 2009, 4:57 pm 

    The OED’s definition of ‘intention’:

    I. General senses.
    1. The action of straining or directing the mind or attention to something; mental application or effort; attention, intent observation or regard; endeavour. Obs. (but cf. 7b).
    2. The action or faculty of understanding; way of understanding (something); the notion one has of anything. Also, the mind or mental faculties generally; cf. INTENT n. 4. Obs.
    3. The way in which anything is to be understood; meaning, significance, import. Obs. or blending with 5.
    4. The action of intending or purposing; volition which one is minded to carry out; purpose. {dag}of intention, on purpose, intentionally (obs.).
    5. a. That which is intended or purposed; a purpose, design.
    b. colloq. in pl. Purposes in respect of a proposal of marriage.
    6. a. Ultimate purpose; the aim of an action; {dag}that for which anything is intended (obs.).
    b. In literary criticism: the aim or design which a critic detects in a writer’s work.
    7. a. Stretching, tension: = INTENSION 1. Obs.
    b. Straining, bending, forcible application or direction (of the mind, eye, thoughts, etc.). (Akin to 1, but with more of the notion of tension as in 7.)
    8. Intensification: = INTENTION 3. Obs.
    9. Inclination, tendency. Obs.[...]

    II. Specific uses.[...]

    So here again I think your view that there is an important contrast to be made between an agent’s intentions on the one hand and her aims or purposes on the other looks… a little idiosyncatic.

  66. 66  engels  January 4, 2009, 5:02 pm 

    (If anyone cares the first ‘[...]‘ there is a mistake: nothing has been omitted from the entry quoted apart from the ‘Specific uses’ section.)

  67. 67  abb1  January 4, 2009, 5:39 pm 

    Incidentally, should the “intention=purpose” group prevail in this semantic dispute, the “bad” bomber will be vindicated as well. He can easily claim that his aim (‘intention’), is not to kill as many children as possible, but, on the contrary, as few as possible, just enough to fulfill his aim (‘intent’) – to destroy the arms dump… oops, sorry, – to make the enemy surrender.

    The bright line between the “bad” and the “good” bombers remains illusive.

  68. 68  engels  January 4, 2009, 6:05 pm 

    abb1, I’m not saying ‘intention=purpose” and I’m pretty sure no-one else is either. Steven made the claim that any harmful results of an action which the agent foresees as being very probable are intended by the agent (subsequently slightly qualified). I don’t agree with him about that because I think that there are other considerations that inform our judgements about whether a given consequence was intended or not, the agent’s aims being among these. I haven’t tried to give my own definition of what ‘intention’ is: that would not be so simple…

  69. 69  Chris Bertram  January 4, 2009, 6:32 pm 

    Grrr, I go and say “finally” and then Steven posts a comment which cries out for further response …..

    Because I am rigging the vote? Because readers are such fans of my blog that they are voting against what they really think?

    No, of course not.

    “consequentialism” was Anscombe’s contemptuous coinage for a variety of theories she didn’t like …..

    Yes but I wasn’t using the term contemptuously, though I am not a consequentialist. My guesswork about where you stand on the ethics of war was based on clues such as your comment #11 above.

  70. 70  Chris Bertram  January 4, 2009, 6:41 pm 

    btw I was thinking about the jumping/child case earlier and I think you have set it out ambiguously.

    Am I trying (1) to save myself by using the child as a cushion when I jump, and thereby causing the child’s death? (i.e. the child is the means I use to my salvation.)

    Or, am I (2) trying to save myself by jumping whilst knowing that the child will cushion my fall and die? (i.e. the child is just in the way).

    If (1) then I’m happy to grant that I intend the child’s death, if (2) then I’m not. (See my #5 above.) (and 1. is more like the spear case.)

  71. 71  Steven  January 4, 2009, 7:48 pm 

    Chris — 

    I am not a consequentialist.

    Splendid, but what does that mean?

    Since I have gone to some lengths to clarify my position as best I can at your behest, perhaps you could return the favour and answer the question I posed at #46, viz:

    So if you don’t agree I intended to kill the child, do you therefore think I killed the child unintentionally, that the child’s death was unintended by me? Or are you trying to preserve some wiggle room in between “intended” and “unintended”? If so, what is this wiggle room like?

    My guesswork about where you stand on the ethics of war was based on clues such as your comment #11 above.

    My #11 just follows naturally from my view about intention. It follows further, actually, that deliberately incinerating the toddlers is preferable, given that at least one wouldn’t kill the extra people that one would presumably kill in also destroying the arms dumps while incinerating the same number of toddlers. Does that make me a “consequentialist”? (I am actually asking.)

    Am I trying (1) to save myself by using the child as a cushion when I jump, and thereby causing the child’s death? (i.e. the child is the means I use to my salvation.)

    Or, am I (2) trying to save myself by jumping whilst knowing that the child will cushion my fall and die? (i.e. the child is just in the way).

    Well, the poll question is worded almost exactly as your (2). It’s an interesting side question whether there is really a difference between (1) and (2). I suspect there isn’t.

  72. 72  Steven  January 4, 2009, 7:53 pm 

    dsquared —

    This is real “intellect bewitched by language” stuff isn’t it though.

    I am tempted to make that the slogan of this blog…

    2. Things that you did and knew you were doing, but you wished you hadn’t, and you wouldn’t have done them if you could think of a way to go about your other projects without doing them.

    I wonder if it makes an intuitive difference, as per my #54 but somehow in the opposite direction, if we change the tense (and number, for clarity) here. Then we get something like:

    A thing that you are going to do and know that you are going to do, but you wish you weren’t going to do, and you wouldn’t do if you could think of a way to go about your other project without doing it.

    Given that you wish you weren’t going to do this thing, what overrides that wish such that you actually do it? Could it be something like an intention to do it anyway because your other project is so important?

  73. 73  Steven  January 4, 2009, 8:07 pm 

    abb1, re Power and Chomsky —

    well, naturally I disagree with both. Power’s picture of killing civilians “unintentionally and reluctantly” looks flatly incoherent to me, since reluctance implies not only foreknowledge but intention in everyone’s sense: if one does something reluctantly one does it on purpose despite one’s reservations. Meanwhile, Chomsky’s claim that not caring whether you kill civilians is “far more depraved” than purposively murdering them is a silly bit of rhetoric, and anyway just wrong according to his own analogy — it’s obviously not “far more depraved” to accidentally kill a bunch of ants while walking down the street than it is to seek out a bunch of ants and deliberately pour boiling water on them. Further, I of course don’t agree with him that you can know you are killing people and yet be doing it “unintentionally”.

  74. 74  engels  January 4, 2009, 8:41 pm 

    Interesting to note a certain amount of slippage in these later comments between talk of ‘intended’ consequences (in the original post) and words like ‘intentional… unintentional… doing it “untintentionally”‘ (in later comments). I know very little about this whole issue but my understanding is that there has been some research that shows that most people are much more willing to judge various consequences as being ‘intentional’ than they are to judge them as being ‘intended’. It may indeed be the case that generally people consider (with Steven) all known consequences of an action to be ‘intentional’ but (contra Steven) they would not necessarily wish to call them ‘intended’. So at least some of Steven’s later posts, which ask questions about whether certain consequences are intentional, unintentional, etc may be somewhat wide of the mark, as far as his original contention is concerned.

  75. 75  engels  January 4, 2009, 8:43 pm 

    And I’d be interested to know Steven’s reactions to the dictionary definitions I posted above which seem to show at the very least that the ordinary meaning of intention has more to do with purpose, aim, etc then he seems willing to grant.

  76. 76  Steven  January 4, 2009, 8:53 pm 

    Without knowing more, I don’t understand a relevant distinction between “intended” and “intentional” (presumably the latter is not being used in the special philosophical sense). It appears from your description as though this distinction might simply map onto the purported distinction between “intended” (in the narrow Anscombe/Bertram sense) and “foreseen” that I already don’t accept, in which case I don’t see how I am “wide of the mark” in terms of my own argument. Perhaps a link to the research would be useful.

    And I’d be interested to know Steven’s reactions to the dictionary definitions I posted above which seem to show at the very least that the ordinary meaning of intention has more to do with purpose, aim, etc then he seems willing to grant.

    Surely, given your previous comment, you ought to be more interested in my reactions to the dictionary definitions of “intended” (or “unintended”), whatever they are? But your citation of dictionary definitions would only have a point in this argument if they showed that the concept of intention was always and exclusively associated with that of purpose or aim — which they do not; and even if they did, it would remain open to me to argue with the usage.

  77. 77  engels  January 4, 2009, 9:12 pm 

    The point is about how ordinary people use the words, not philosophers. As I said I don’t know much about it but Google reveals this paper by Gilbert Harman which has some references, including the startling claim by Joshua Knobe and Arudra Burra that the relationship between ‘intention’ and ‘intentionally’ is …like the relationship between ‘ration’ and ‘rationally’—just two separate words that happen to be morphologically related’.

    I say that you might be wide of the mark in quizzing people about whether they judge various things to be ‘intentional’, ‘unintentional’, ‘done intentionally’, etc if these judgements are systematically different from whether these things are ‘intended’, assuming we were discussing the latter.

    Excerpt:

    It is tempting to think that a variety of similar sounding English words are used to express a single basic folk concept involving intending to do something.
    (1) Jack intended [verb] to break the vase.
    (2) Jack had an intention [noun] to break the vase.
    (3) Jack was intent [adjective] on breaking the vase.
    (4) Jack’s breaking the vase was intentional [adjective].
    (5) Jack intentionally [adverb] broke the vase.

    In particular, there has been a temptation to treat (1)-(3) as equivalent, to treat (4) and (5) as equivalent, and to suppose that each of (4) and (5) entails any of (1)-(3).

    There has been considerable controversy about whether this last entailment always holds. Ordinary subjects may judge that (4) and (5) are appropriate in cases in which none of (1)-(3) are—cases in which Jack’s breaking the base is a foreseen but undesired consequence of Jack’s intentionally doing something else. It is currently debated what the best explanation of such ordinary reactions might be.

  78. 78  engels  January 4, 2009, 9:13 pm 

    Link

  79. 79  engels  January 4, 2009, 9:18 pm 

    Surely, given your previous comment, you ought to be more interested in my reactions to the dictionary definitions of “intended” (or “unintended”), whatever they are?

    Without having really thought about this, I’m guessing I can say that if I intend X then I have the intention to do X and X is intended by me. It’s the connection between these words and the adjective ‘intentional’ and adverb ‘intentionally’ which may be more problematic.

  80. 80  Steven  January 4, 2009, 9:24 pm 

    Thanks — then I disagree with what some “ordinary subjects” in a survey “may” think. (How many of them? A majority? In what sample size?) It’s interesting; but it’s also interesting that my own survey is so far showing different overall results, using “intend”. (I’d also be interested if they changed the tense to see if the responses were different.)

    PS it’s pretty damn obvious that (3) is not the same as (1) or (2), isn’t it?

  81. 81  engels  January 4, 2009, 9:28 pm 

    But yes it would have been better to have cited the definitions of ‘intended’. (I was responding to your previous comments, though.) Here they are:

    Chambers:

    intend verb (intended, intending) 1 to plan or have in mind as one’s purpose or aim. 2 (intend something for someone or something) to set it aside or destine it to some specified person or thing. 3 to mean.
    ETYMOLOGY: 14c: from French entendre, from Latin intendere to stretch towards.

    intended adj meant; done on purpose or planned. noun, colloq someone’s future husband or wife.

    OED

    intended, ppl. a. (n.)

    1. Purposed to be done or accomplished; designed, meant; designed to be what is denoted by the noun (cf. INTENDING ppl. a. b); done on purpose, intentional.

    2. Stretched out or forth, outstretched; extended; increased in force or intensity, strained.

    3. Of a person: Minded, resolved, having the purpose; to be intended, to intend, to purpose. Obs.
    B. colloq. as n. An intended husband or wife.

    Hence in{sm}tendedness, the quality or fact of being intended.

  82. 82  engels  January 4, 2009, 9:30 pm 

    PS it’s pretty damn obvious that (3) is not the same as (1) or (2), isn’t it?

    Yes, I agree with you about that.

  83. 83  Steven  January 4, 2009, 10:41 pm 

    Well again, the dictionaries are just telling us what we already knew, ie that there have existed a wider and a narrower usage of intend/intention, of the kinds that sw elucidated in #45 and I acknowledged in #47.

  84. 84  Chris Bertram  January 4, 2009, 10:42 pm 

    I thought I had answered the question you posed at #46, at least by implication. Certainly, I intended my remark that

    There may be some interference from the conversational-pragmatic side of things in the way we respond to some of the cases. Hence, I think, my reluctance to agree that foreseen victims die “accidentally”.

    to be responsive to your point. Anyway, I think the research Engels cites here is pretty relevant.

    You write

    My #11 just follows naturally from my view about intention.

    Well it may do, but I don’t see how, exactly, unless it is with the benefit of some further premises which you haven’t made explicit. I suppose my worrying about consequentialism is an attempt to get at what those might be. Your answer doesn’t make you a consequentialist, but it is the kind of thing a consequentialist might say.

    Oh, and you ask what a consequentialist is? Well here’s a crack at that: a consequentialist is someone who believes that some X (where X can be action, rule, institution etc) is to be evaluated as a function of whether it makes the world a better or a worse place and that, hence, we should always choose some token x that makes the world better over some token y that makes it less good. (I’m sure I could do better in the morning.) Obviously, there can be different forms of consequentialism depending on (a) what the relevant object of evaluation in taken to be (actions/institutions/rules etc.) and (b) what the standard of betterness is (utility, aesthetic value, something more complicated, etc) .

    The important constrast here is with views that say that some acts are prohibited even if they would make the world a better place. I believe (#10) that a plan of which the purpose is to incinerate lots of under fives is impermissible, even if it makes the world a better place (by getting the evil dictator to surrender, say).

    I’d be very happy to have you agree with me about that.

  85. 85  Steven  January 4, 2009, 11:11 pm 

    I thought I had answered the question you posed at #46, at least by implication.

    Why not just answer it directly by saying “unintended” or “intentional but not intended” (if you buy that distinction) or something else?

    My #11 just follows naturally from my view about intention.

    Well it may do, but I don’t see how, exactly

    My view about intention is that to bomb arms dumps with the certain foreknowledge that this act will also incinerate a million toddlers is to intend to incinerate a million toddlers, as well as to destroy the arms dumps. It follows naturally from this that, compared to that plan, a plan that also intends to incinerate a million toddlers (ie yours) is not “specially abhorrent”. (Indeed, as I later argued, it is preferable to the other plan if arms-dump guards would not also die.)

    Thank you for explaining what you mean by “consequentialism”, which is, you say, to be contrasted:

    with views that say that some acts are prohibited even if they would make the world a better place

    Is there any actual reputable thinker who has ever said that nothing is prohibited/impermissible/wrong, including say the mass incineration of toddlers, if it would make the world a better place? I must say it sounds a bit straw-manish to me.

  86. 86  abb1  January 4, 2009, 11:19 pm 

    I think the “more depraved” thing has to do with killing without any regret.

  87. 87  Chris Bertram  January 5, 2009, 6:38 am 

    Maybe “intentional but not intended” is right, but I don’t have a secure enough grip on what that means to be happy about saying it.

  88. 88  Jon Elliott  January 5, 2009, 3:42 pm 

    The outcome, the consequence of taking the action remains the same, the child is dead and you are responsible. The “mens rea” is clear, you intended to kill the kid so that you could selfishly survive.

    If you pull the trigger, drop the phosper bomb, aim the barrel of the tank and fire the uranium depleted shell, or release the Qassam rocket you are responsible for the outcome.

    To then argue or attempt to mitigate your murderous decision and hide behind what your intention was or claim it was an unitended consequence, seems at best cowardly to me.

    The killing continues, intended or otherwise. We learn nothing from history and for those in the Gaza strip life or lack of it is about to get worse. What a crazy f***** up race us humans are.

    Happy New Year?

  89. 89  Steven  January 5, 2009, 8:57 pm 

    Cf.

  90. 90  Steven  January 5, 2009, 10:11 pm 

    Perhaps an illustrative nanodrama will, after all, clear things up:

    The Unintentional Fallacy

    COLONEL HUFHURRH: I want to destroy that arms dump, Lieutenant.

    LIEUTENANT UVAVU: But sir, if we bomb that arms dump we will inevitably destroy the hospital next door.

    HUFHURRH: Ah, shit. No other way to do it?

    UVAVU: No, sir.

    HUFHURRH: Could we use something else instead of a bomb?

    UVAVU: You mean like a magical smart device that only destroys exactly what we want it to from a great distance?

    HUFHURRH: [exhaling with relief] Sure, use one of them.

    UVAVU: [nervously] Uh… we don’t have any, sir.

    HUFHURRH: Then order some more! [pause] We sure need that arms dump gone or my boys will have hell to pay… [taps fingers on desk] … If we drop the bomb, it’ll destroy the arms dump and the hospital, you say?

    UVAVU: That’s right, sir.

    HUFHURRH: Christ… [sighs] … Well, rather them than us. Drop the bomb.

    UVAVU: [hurrying towards the door] Right away, sir. [turning back] Don’t feel too bad, sir, it’s not like you intend to destroy the hospital.

    HUFHURRH: [shouting] What are you talking about, man? Of course I intend to destroy the goddamn hospital, I just told you to do it!

    [UVAVU leaves, and HUFHURRH pours himself a large whisky, muttering to himself]

    HUFHURRH: It better be goddamn worth it.

  91. 91  abb1  January 5, 2009, 11:30 pm 

    The more I think/read about it, the more it seems that there’s a lot of doublespeak involved here.

    For example Dave Maier, a philosopher of language, has this at CT:

    Q: If there were a way to stop the rockets without killing anyone, would you do that?

    A: Of course.

    Q: If there were a way to kill people without stopping the rockets, would you do that?

    A: No, of course not. What would be the point of that? We want to stop the rockets, not to kill people.

    From this he concludes that the killings are unintentional.

    But by the same logic Al Qaida doesn’t intentionally kill people either, after all for them killing people is a means to an end as well. If they could do whatever they want to do (for the sake of argument let’s say: to convert everybody on earth to Islam) without killing people, they wouldn’t kill anybody.

    So, his, philosopher’s of language, exercise is clearly meaningless for all practical purposes. What gives? Of course they’ll try to obscure it by introducing these “military targets” the good guys want to hit, but that’s just silly – a target isn’t anyone’s ultimate goal in it.

  92. 92  Ken  January 5, 2009, 11:36 pm 

    I am sort of moved, actually, by the sympathy with which you treat Colonel Hufhurrh’s situation. (I also agree with your conclusion fwiw.)

  93. 93  engels  January 6, 2009, 1:32 am 

    I must say I think the best response to you now and on this whole issue is exactly what David Velleman says on the Crooked Timber thread.

  94. 94  Steven  January 6, 2009, 1:40 am 

    Well, he seems to take the same position as I do. Velleman says:

    In general, whether an action is intentional is not a direct function of whether it is intended. These are two different matters. I readily grant that the Israelis do not intend to cause civilian casualties. But not intending to cause those casualties does not acquit the Israelis of causing them intentionally. And it is whether the casualties are caused intentionally—not whether they are intended—that is most relevant to the question of wrongness and blame.

    If I understand him correctly, he is saying civilian casualties are “caused intentionally” but not “intended” because he is using “intended” in the narrow sense to mean “aimed-at” — ie he is acknowledging, as I explicitly also do, that the casualties were not the purpose of the action; while they were nonetheless in his view caused intentionally.

    So it seems to me as though he is expressing the same position as mine, using different terminology.

  95. 95  john c. halasz  January 6, 2009, 5:42 am 

    Is it really the case that one can not intend mutually exclusive “things”, whether the intentions, aims or consequences of acts? Wouldn’t that be the hallmark of panicked, desperate agency? But is such agency collapsed and thereby not agency at all? Is emergent agency really identifiable with the complete unification of the “object-world” in which agency acts, in which case only a complete disposal over such an object-world or a fused identification of agent with object-world would suffice for the identification and differentiation of agents, acts, intentions, consequences, etc.?

    My own inclination is to regard terms such as acts, intentions, consequences, motives, and the like, as distinctions within language-games concerning human agency, rather than as discrete atomic items, which are merely subsequently “clothed” in flesh and words. “Acts” would be the relative “primitives”, insofar as both their loci and effects can be discretely selected out and identified, with any distinction between intentions and consequences being largely a function of mutual and reflexive self-monitoring and acknowledgement between mutually situated and engaged agents, whose existence as agents is not wholely separable from such situated engagement. That would, at least, go to what is wrong with dichotomizing between “intentionalist” and “consequentialist” accounts, as if, once the interventions into chains of causes-and-effects have been parsed out into identifiable and acknowledged loci of agency, both considerations, with variable weightings depending on the particular situation at issue, might not weigh in the balance. The ulterior “consequence” doesn’t concern the consequences of particular attributions, but rather what sort of form-of-life a specific grammar of such attributions allows, which, er, is precisely what is at issue in such violent conflicts and their corresponding polemics, such as this.

    Probably the other distinction that needs to be made is that between forms of “justificatory” discourse with respect to attributions of agency and the (re-)construction of situated agency to begin with. That has already be addressed in terms of a temporal asymmetry between “before” and “after” at the level of “justification”, but not in terms of the welter of circumstances and the constant temporal pressure of uncertainties at the more “primitive” level. Still more, the situated, therefore, networked, shared or collective “nature” of any agency at the “primitive” level, the inter-linked multiplicity of agencies involved in any given agency, tends to be abstracted out from at the “justificatory” level, leading to the atomistic itemization of discrete components of agency and likewise of discrete acts, that belie the originating circumstances the give rise to the polemical issue in the first place, and thereby “authorize” all sorts of sophistical abuses. That there is some overall guiding “intention”, which could be evaluated in terms of some “redeeming” purpose, amidst the violent welter, is already to assume the disengaged spectator’s stance, and invite the sorts of sophistical abuses that are precisely aimed at exploiting such disengagement (or mistaken engagements of those for whom nothing is really at stake).

    Perhaps Levinas’ hyperbolic conception of responsibility needs to be brought up, with regard to the conflicting claims of “intuition” here. Responsibility would precede and exceed our very “freedom”, (which may or may not be identifiable with our “intentionality”, though the technical, phenomenological point that Levinas is making is that “intentionality”, whether cognitively or practically construed, is preceded, conditioned, and rendered possible by one’s modal relation to the other). One is inevitably complicit in the violences of this world, willy-nilly, by virtue of one’s existence in it and one’s conditional assumption of “freedom” within it. Whatever one’s commitments and engagements in this world, (and, as their root, with others in it), they involve a “quota” of the inevitable violence of that world, willy-nilly, for which, regardless of one’s specific intentions, one is and remains responsible, and the degree to which one acknowledges and “owns” such responsibility does not diminish, but rather “increases” it: such responsibility can only grow with its awareness, which prevents it from becoming its own disavowal. But then such responsibility should condition the way in which one engages with the violence of one’s own commitments, without in any way absolving one of responsibility for one’s own violence(s).

    To assert or lay claim to the sovereignty of an intention, whether as a participant or a judge, (which is also to lay claim, after all, to a sovereignty), is already to admit the failure of one’s case, its “non-sovereignty”, its generation of and cross-implication with subsequent and contrary “intentions”.

  96. 96  Steven  January 6, 2009, 1:00 pm 

    John, I am sympathetic to your very thoughtful and nuanced approach, though I do think that in many real-life situations we can and do indeed consider discrete consequences and formulate an intention based on those considerations (as I tried to illustrate dramatically).

    Meanwhile, though the poll at the top of the post doesn’t prove anything, I suppose that the results so far do at least show that my argument cannot be dismissed on the grounds, as some have proposed, that it runs contrary to everyone’s ordinary intuitions. Either those are not everyone’s ordinary intuitions, or people are more willing to re-examine their intuitions than has been assumed.

  97. 97  sw  January 6, 2009, 3:05 pm 

    COLONEL HUFHURRH (idle at his desk, a sepia-toned photograph in his hand of a tall, gaunt man in full military regalia on a horse, surrounded by natives): Ah, Grandpapa Higbottom Hufhurrh, you lived in simpler times, when men were men, women were women, and . . .

    LIEUTENANT UVAVU (bursting through the door): Good morning, sir. Have you seen the papers today?

    COLONEL HUFHURRH (slipping the photograph into a breast pocket): Of course not, I don’t have time to read that codswallop.

    LIEUTENANT UVAVU: Ah, then you won’t have seen the front page. We made headlines again, I’m afraid . . . (Hands Colonel Hufhurrh the paper) . . . A journalist phoned me to ask about the collateral damages –

    COLONEL HUFHURRH: “Collateral damages”? You mean the hospital?

    LIEUTENANT UVAVU: Yes, the hospital –

    COLONEL HUFHURRH: Then call it that, man, don’t dilly-dally with euphemism in here. You won’t hear any of that Orwellian misdirection coming from me, Lieutenant.

    LIEUTENANT UVAVU: I believe it’s called “unspeak”, sir.

    COLONEL HUFHURRH: Don’t be sassy with me, man – we agree in principle, it’s just the terminology. So what did johnny journalist write today?

    LIEUTENANT UVAVU: Well, that we bombed the hospital. Which we did. But they called me for a quote.

    COLONEL HUFHURRH: . . . What is that in your mouth?

    LIEUTENANT UVAVU: My mouth, sir?

    COLONEL HUFHURRH: Yes, “your mouth sir”.

    LIEUTENANT UVAVU: A fizzy lollipop, sir.

    COLONEL HUFHURRH: What is it doing there?

    LIEUTENANT UVAVU: Slowly dissolving, sir?

    COLONEL HUFHURRH: Get it out immediately, lieutenant! Now, where were we?

    LIEUTENANT UVAVU: The journalist, sir, calling me about the hospital, sir, that we bombed.

    COLONEL HUFHURRH: Yes?

    LIEUTENANT UVAVU: I said it was “unintended” sir.

    COLONEL HUFHURRH: . . . What are you wearing on your head?

    LIEUTENANT UVAVU: On my head, sir?

    COLONEL HUFHURRH (huffily): Yes, on your head!

    LIEUTENANT UVAVU: Mickey mouse ears, sir.

    COLONEL HUFHURRH: “Mickey masseurs”? What are “Mickey masseurs”?

    LIEUTENANT UVAVU: A cartoon rodent’s ears, sir. Very popular with the kids these days.

    COLONEL HUFHURRH: Get that ridiculous hat off! Christ, what is it about soldiering today? So, you told the journalist it was “unintended.” How on earth did you contrive that? We did it intentionally.

    LIEUTENANT UVAVU: True, sir, but we did not intend to do it.

    COLONEL HUFHURRH: Of course we did – well, in some senses of the word, but it wasn’t something we set out to do, it wasn’t our goal, our intent . . . why aren’t you in uniform, Lieutenant?

    LIEUTENANT UVAVU: Sir?

    COLONEL HUFHURRH: It’s almost nine in the morning, you’ve come in to see your commanding officer with this (slams down newspaper), and you’re wearing a dress?

    LIEUTENANT UVAVU: Not a dress, sir. It’s a toga.

    COLONEL HUFHURRH: Get it off, this minute!

    LIEUTENANT UVAVU (hurriedely removing toga): Yes, sir.

    COLONEL HUFHURRH: Good god, man, you’re naked.

    LIEUTENANT UVAVU: Isn’t that what you intended, sir?

  98. 98  Steven  January 6, 2009, 3:54 pm 

    I’m sure that Hufhurrh had the reasonable expectation that Uvavu would have underwear on.

  99. 99  Chris Bertram  January 7, 2009, 10:54 am 

    I’m going to make a final comment (I *know* I’ve said that before!), cross-post to both threads and then retire. I’d like to thank Steven Poole, especially, for prompting me to think more about some of these issues. One thing that seems clear from both discussions is that uses of “intend”, “intention”, “unintentionally” etc are fraught with complexity and that we need to be careful to make clear what we are trying to say rather than relying on the assumption that our readers and hearers will spontaneously attach the same meanings.

    That said, I was trying very early this morning to construct an example which involved me going to the bathroom in the middle of the night and waking my partner, and then found that Michael Bratman uses a very similar example in a discussion of … David Velleman. Since Bratman says clearly what I’d merely stumble towards I think I’ll rely on him:

    I arrive home late at night and wonder whether to turn on the light even though that will, unfortunately, wake up Susan. On reflection I decide to turn it on, for I worry I will otherwise trip over something. I intend to turn on the light – and expect but do not intend – that I will thereby wake up Susan. I have an intention and a related self-prediction that is not an intention.

    Why say that I expect but do not intend to wake up Susan, even though I made my decision in full awareness that I would wake her up by turning on the light? The answer is that I do not satisfy any of a trio of conditions, satisfaction of which seems characteristic of intention: I am not at all disposed to explore alternative means to waking Susan if it turns out the light bulb isn’t working; nor am I disposed to rule out other options because of their incompatibility with my waking of Susan; nor do I see myself as faced with a problem of what means to use in order to to wake up Susan. (“Cognitivism about Practical Reason”, in Bratman’s Faces of Intention, p. 258.

    That seems about right to me. On the other issues, I think we’ve at least established consensus that intention doesn’t track culpability and that “unintentionally” is not exculpatory.

  100. 100  Steven  January 7, 2009, 11:08 am 

    You’re welcome! And thank you in turn for eliciting my own attempts at clarification.

    It looks like Bratman’s is just another case of someone using intendP (I intend something only if it is the purpose of my action), where I am using intendF (I intend something if it is a confidently foreseen consequence of my action, even if it is not the main purpose of it). So I agree with Bratman that waking Susan is not the purpose (intendP) of his switching on the light. But I say that in switching it on, he does intend (intendF) to wake her.

    This distinction also, as we have seen, maps on to the distinction used by some (eg Velleman, again assuming I understand him correctly) between intending something (intendP) and doing something intentionally (intendF). (Thus, maybe some people would choose to say “Bratman wakes Susan intentionally, though he does not intend to wake her”.)

    Perhaps after all there is not so much disagreement on this as it at first seemed, and there can indeed be some consensus across different terminological preferences — or at least consensus on what we disagree about.

    I think we’ve at least established consensus that intention doesn’t track culpability and that “unintentionally” is not exculpatory.

    Yes, I agree with both of those statements.

  101. 101  john c. halasz  January 8, 2009, 7:33 am 

    Whereas I’ve no doubt about the sort of “unspeak” being deployed by the Israeli spokesmen at issue here,- (which is unsurprising, in that the Israelis are past masters of such “unspeak”, let alone further rhetorical-polemical spirals, tendentiously embracing the whole sweep of the relevant history, sweeping it “clean”),- there is something in the academic-pedantic semantic niggling, involved in this thread and other parallel ones, that is redolent of “fiddling while Rome burns”. I suppose what bothers me most is the apparent implication that complicated orchestrations on the part of collective-aggregate agencies, (in this case, the Israeli government/IDF vs. Hamas, however one would characterize the branches or pseudo-pods of the latter), could be discussed by focusing on the “grammar”, however well or mistakenly construed, of the intentions of individual agents. In fact, such inflation of intentionality is most always a hall-mark of ideology, which invites the de-negating operations of “unspeak”, by re-domesticating collective events and processes in terms of individual identifications. (That Chris Bertram is the author, IIRC, of a book on Rousseau, the locus classicus of the appeal to “good intentions”, might not be entirely irrelevant to the way in which he assumes that “intentions” have a fixed, external or objective, “logic”, an “essential” character, independent of the specific contexts and perspectives in which questions of “intentions” are engaged and discussed,- which, er, is why several commenters have remarked that the whole question of “intentions” is ambiguous, since it’s not always the same question at issue. But it’s not just that intentions have consequences, by virtue of being interactions, sine qua non, with causal environments, but the fact that intentions and their consequences occur only, if implicitly or indirectly, as interactions between agents and hence as framed by their inter-relations, such that intentions are always effectively exchanged and reciprocally “define” one another. If one is asked what one is doing, one responds by “naming” an intention: an elementary bit of grammar. But the fact that there is a multiplicity of possible “namings” or descriptions, and their relevant consequential criteria, is what renders questions of intentionality contestable and conflictual, and precludes them from being self-protectively immured in a mental interiority, from which judgments can be sovereignly pronounced). However, even if one succeeds in unraveling the various rhetorical operations of “unspeak” and thereby “clarifying” the “justificatory” framework and its contexts, that is not tantamount to “clarifying” the fatal courses-of-events and real processes in which variously situated agents are engaged.

    But the main problem with focusing on intentions, rather than the underlying dis-intentional conditions and relational nexuses in which they occur, is that it serves to obscure the broader strategery and political “economy” in which they occur. It might be the case that the IDF actually intends the “excess” casualties they inflict, but not because of any direct military objective: rather the aim is to intimidate Hamas and dismember any broader Palestinian polity. The problem with the “intentional” focus is that it amounts to an attempt to entirely moralize politics,- (in accordance with an academic effort to deduce a grid of normative “foundations”, “political liberalism”, without any attention to the way actual norms are generated, sustained, instituted, and enforced, and the “irrational” incoherences and contradictions actually involved in the process),- and thereby eliminate the risks and uncertainties of the actually political. To be sure, there is always a normative/ethical component to the political and its attendant judgments, whether by “internal” participants or “external” spectators, “legitimacy”, since the political concerns how to resolve and contain conflicts between respective others and regulate them in ways which preserve a common “good”, but there are always considerations of available means/end relations and the differential distribution of actual power-relations that are at issue, regardless of any “morality”, and, indeed, because it is a matter of conflictual otherness, inspite of conflicting “moralities”. The effort to entirely moralize politics does damage to both morality and politics. (Though, of course, in this particular case, it is a matter of putative polities in conflict, which would wish to destroy each other’s “moralities”). But then, one shouldn’t underestimate how low standards of “legitimation” can go. (Indeed, that is one point of Israeli propaganda that deserves consideration: why the “West” is so obsessed with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, when the extent of violence and its sheer numbers is so much greater elsewhere: Fallujah makes Jenin look like a pre-season scrimage, after all. It’s as if that long-running conflict were to serve as an inverted measure of the “West’s” historical wrongs and bad faith. That the partisans of Israel might feel encouraged by such comparisons speaks, rather than “unspeaks”, to the abasement of concerns for “legitimacy”). I’d doubt that anyone reading or commenting here would actually support either side to the current conflict, rather than being repulsed by the ethnic/religious fanaticism fueling the “justifications” of both sides, other than “relativistically”,- (and those denunciations of “relativism” that ensue are an all-too-rich mine of “unspeak”),- or “tactically”, in terms of parsing relations between power and responsibility involved. But then, self-protection against harsh realities, or the desire to return to accustomed “moral” programming, might be the primary motivation for anyone commenting here.

    I’m confused by the notion that any “intentional” perspective might operate sheer-on-through, as if, given the complications of this old world, it might not stumble into contradictory aims and result in absurdity. In fact, especially politically, I don’t see how “things” could end up otherwise. The response to such absurdity might be irony or it might be horror, though that’s not an exclusive disjunction, but what it’s not is a “clear” path to moral “vindication”. That there is a disruptive gap between any framework of ethico-political action and any “corresponding” framework of responsibility expresses the hope that any framework of “justification” might lead on to a world in which it is no longer “necessary”.

    I think the method of linguistic variation to tease out the underlying “rules” remains useful. If it were said that Israeli actions were done “deliberately”, rather than ” intentionally”, what difference would that make? Might it not indicate that the sorting of variable intentions and consequences belongs, politically speaking, to any “intentional” act?

  102. 102  Steven  January 8, 2009, 5:52 pm 

    academic-pedantic semantic niggling

    I had hoped that the discovery that the same position can be described in different terminology showed that I hadn’t after all been merely pissing around arguing about nothing more than the “right” meaning of one word or another. (Also, for “semantics”, see here, and Unspeak, p238).

    I suppose what bothers me most is the apparent implication that complicated orchestrations on the part of collective-aggregate agencies [...] could be discussed by focusing on the “grammar”, however well or mistakenly construed, of the intentions of individual agents. In fact, such inflation of intentionality is most always a hall-mark of ideology

    Very often, sure. However, in the military case at the very least, as I tried to show, I think that we can confidently assume deliberation by single actors (or groups who share a goal) who are coldly calculating cost/benefit ratios of the identifiable consequences of their projected acts. That is, after all, what they are paid to do.

    However, even if one succeeds in unraveling the various rhetorical operations of “unspeak” and thereby “clarifying” the “justificatory” framework and its contexts, that is not tantamount to “clarifying” the fatal courses-of-events and real processes in which variously situated agents are engaged.

    Of course it is not necessarily tantamount to doing such: I have never claimed that it is. I take it that it’s my prerogative to decide in any case whether I want to do one or both (the chapter “Abuse” in the book perhaps represents an attempt to do both). Naturally, if you think that only the second is worth doing, then you won’t like it when I restrict myself mainly to the first. However, I think you are wrong in your apparent assumption that the first has no implications at all for the second — as though discussion of language and rhetoric (ie the attempt to design how language will operate in other minds) had no implications for what happens in the “real world”. Evidently it does, or the attempt would not be made in the first place. (See Unspeak, passim.)

    The problem with the “intentional” focus is that it amounts to an attempt to entirely moralize politics

    Actually (to the evident frustration of some commenters), I have been at pains in this thread to separate any argument about the moral/ethical evaluation of acts from my view of what is or is not intended. I’m not sure what is meant, either, by your charge of an attempt to “entirely moralize politics”, if it doesn’t mean something I have explicitly repudiated elsewhere (eg in Unspeak, p24), and do not think I am doing here. I take it that my main focus in Unspeak and on unspeak.net is the morality of political (and other) speech acts, not the morality of “politics” in general — though obviously, as above, each informs the other to variable degrees. (I do, I suppose, evince at least one “moralizing” bias on a general question that is not even restricted to the “political”: viz., a bias against lying.)

    (in accordance with an academic effort to deduce a grid of normative “foundations”, “political liberalism”, without any attention to the way actual norms are generated, sustained, instituted, and enforced, and the “irrational” incoherences and contradictions actually involved in the process)

    I am making no such effort.

    there are always considerations of available means/end relations and the differential distribution of actual power-relations that are at issue, regardless of any “morality”

    Such considerations are indeed sometimes considered around here.

    But then, self-protection against harsh realities, or the desire to return to accustomed “moral” programming, might be the primary motivation for anyone commenting here.

    That’s an impressively insulting speculation about your fellow commenters! Perhaps you mean to include yourself in “anyone”, though even in that case you’re still gratuitously insulting everyone else. To what purpose, I wonder?

    I think the method of linguistic variation to tease out the underlying “rules” remains useful.

    Oh, good!

    If it were said that Israeli actions were done “deliberately”, rather than “intentionally”, what difference would that make?

    I myself do not have a problem with saying that foreseen civilian deaths as a result of some other purpose are brought about deliberately.

  103. 103  john c. halasz  January 9, 2009, 5:29 am 

    Steven:

    My responding post just got destroyed somehow in the divine ether. Short version, my musings were directed far more at Chris Bertram, whose “nigglings” prolonged this thread beyond the obvious, than toward you or “Unspeak”. And my reflections concerned the effort to apply an idealized model of “rational” agency to derive “universal” moral judgments, with a corresponding notion of “responsibility”, to a world and its embedded agents, wherein, obviously and absurdly, they do not apply. I’ll leave it to you to work out how that might affect the project of “Unspeak”.

  104. 104  Steven  January 9, 2009, 9:10 am 

    Thanks for the clarification! I’m sorry your first post got destroyed (how did that happen?).



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