Wednesday, July 04, 2018

On Desire 2018. Part 61: Desiring, Intending, and Doing

I have been looking at G.E. Schueler's account of how desires figure in action. (Schueler, G.E., (2017), “Deliberation and Desire” In Deonna J. & Lauria F. (eds). The Nature of Desire. Oxford University Press. (Referencing Broome, John, 2005, "Does Rationality Give Us Reasons?" Philosophical Issues, 15, 321-337.)

So far, I have presented Schueler's objections to Robert Audi's account of practical reasoning.

Just as a brief reminder: Audi suggested that practical reasoning works as follows:

(1) Major Premise—the motivational premise: I want phi
(2) Minor Premise—the cognitive (instrumental) premise: My A-ing would contribute to realizing phi
(3) Conclusion—the practical judgment: I should A.

Schueler objected that the Major Premise is a belief about a desire, not a desire. It could be false. If it is false, then, when the agent acts from deliberation, the agent is acting from a belief about a desire he does not have. At the same time, the Major Premise cannot be false when the agent acts from deliberation because, even if the Major Premise was false, it would still be the reason or purpose for the action, and thus what the agent wanted.

I followed this with a posting with my own take on the problem. On that take, if the Major Premise is false, then the agent comes to a practical judgment that lacks motivation. This is how it can come about that an agent judges, "I should A," but doesn't A. Like, "I should make a dentist appointment" or "I should be working on my homework."

However, I owe it to Schueler to present his answer to the puzzle.

Schueler divides practical reasoning into two parts.

The first part of practical reasoning involves the consideration of various reasons to do something and deciding what to do. Just a few moments ago, I was at the gym working on an elliptical while I read/listened to Schueler's article on deliberation and desire. An annoying thing often happens when I am at the gym. In considering something that I am reading, I think of something that I would want to say in response to that content. I enter a state of mind where I am writing in my head, churning through the phrases and ideas. When I am in this state, any further reading is nearly impossible. I will get a few sentences further, then my mind is churning on that writing again. The best thing to do is go home, get written what I want to write, and then I can continue with the reading.

Have you been wondering why I am now on post 61 of this series?

On the other hand, I need to get my exercise in. So, I had a choice to make. Stay on the elliptical and exercise even though I was doing no useful studying, or go home and write so that I can return to the elliptical later with a clear head ready to work on the next section.

This is the first part of practical reasoning on Schueler's account - the comparing of different reasons, weighing pros and cons, and coming up with an intention. That intention was to finish up 1 hour of exercise then go home and write up my commentary on Schueler's account of practical deliberation. This is the part of the deliberation where, according to Schueler, the agent considers likes, dislikes, applies judgments about what should be done, and considers the effects of the actions on other goals the agent may have.

Once the agent form an intention, then one acts on the intention. Acting on the intention, according to Schueler looks something like Audi's practical reasoning. However, its form is actually:

(1') Major Premise—the motivational premise: I intend to phi
(2') Minor Premise—the cognitive (instrumental) premise: My A-ing would contribute to realizing phi
(3') Conclusion—the practical judgment: I will A.

Note the two significant differences between this structure and Audi's structure.

The first difference is that the Major Premise is an intention. Intentions themselves are neither true nor false. The belief that one has an intention can be true or false, but the intention itself cannot be.

The second difference is that the "conclusion" in this case is an actual action. It, too, is not a belief. It is the actual muscle movements that are involved in performing that action.

I find it interesting to take Schueler's account and place it along Timothy Schroeder's account of the biology of intentional action which I reviewed in Part 48 of this series.

Schroeder described a system in which beliefs and perceptions queued up a bunch of actions. The motivational system then selected the action to pass through into actual action. Those signals went through the motor cortex where it selected the specific muscle movements that would be required to perform the action and then sent the signals down the spinal cord to perform those actions. Schueler's "phase 1" of intentional action involved the decision in the affective centers of the brain selecting the proposed action that will become actual action. The second part of Schueler's account then involves the steps whereby the selection becomes muscle movement.

This may almost sound as if I am going with Schueler's account of action. And I may be.

However, what I notice about this account is that it says almost nothing about desire. The role of desire is found in that vaguely described process of comparing values - something that actually takes up just a few sentences in Schueler's article.

Schueler takes the second "puzzle" he raises against Audi and concludes that if the agent is performs the action identified in Premise 3', and does so on the basis of the intention identified in Premise 1', then it must be the case that this intention is what the agent wants (in the goal-sense of want). This, according to Schueler, would be want the agent desires.

For all practical purposes, Schueler identifies desires with intentions, and has given us a theory of intentions.

In contrast, as I have been understanding the issue, a theory of desires is a theory of those forces that select the queued action that will become actual action or intention.

Schueler himself identifies one of the primary differences between desires and intentions. Desires can conflict. A person can desire to finish exercising and, at the same time, desire to get his ideas down in writing so he can clear his head for further study. Intentions cannot conflict. A person cannot intend to continue exercising and also intend to go home and get his ideas down in writing.

The study of desire is a study of those things that can conflict.

Schueler has not given us an account of desire. Though, this does not imply that his account of intention has no merit. It simply needs to be recognized for what it is.

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