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PHIL 201 (STOLZE) Notes on Richard Holton, Willing, Wanting, Waiting, introduction, chapters 1-3.

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Presentation on theme: "PHIL 201 (STOLZE) Notes on Richard Holton, Willing, Wanting, Waiting, introduction, chapters 1-3."— Presentation transcript:

1 PHIL 201 (STOLZE) Notes on Richard Holton, Willing, Wanting, Waiting, introduction, chapters 1-3

2 A Recent Course on Moral Psychology by Richard Holton

3 An Outline of Holton’s Book Chapter 1:introduces intentions as mental states that differ from beliefs and desires, with supporting psychological research Chapter 2:argues that an intention to do something doesn’t require the belief that one will be successful Chapter 3:argues that we form intentions by a process of choosing that is not determined by an agent’s prior beliefs, desires, and intentions Chapter 4:argues that weakness of will should be understood as the over-ready abandonment of a resolution Chapter 5:discusses temptation in its normal form and in cases of addiction and compulsion Chapter 6:argues that strength of will should be explained in terms of a separate faculty or skill of willpower Chapter 7:argues that the employment of willpower is rational Chapter 8:argues that free will stems, at least partly, from the experience of choosing an action, and of maintaining the intentions that result

4 Key Questions in Chapter 1 What is an intention? What is the purpose of intentions? How do intentions differ from beliefs and desires? What is the empirical evidence from psychological research that we even have intentions? What are resolutions?

5 What is an Intention? An intention is a mental state that has two chief characteristics: it is stable and controlling.

6 What is the Purpose of an Intention? To help us make a decision to perform an action and stick with that decision. Future-directed vs. present-directed intentions Intentions vs. acting intentionally (only the later is normative)

7 How Do Intentions Differ from Beliefs and Desires? “One can believe that one will succumb to a temptation without intending to do so; and equally one can want to perform some forbidden act without thereby intending to perform it.” As Holton argues, “a reduction of intentions to beliefs and desires only confuses things” (p. 17, 19).

8 Psychological Evidence for Intentions Alloy and Abramson (pp. 5-6) Gollwitzer (pp. 6-9) on deliberative vs. implementation intentions

9 What is a Resolution? A resolution is an intention “that is designed to stand firm in the face of future contrary inclinations or beliefs” (p. 10). Resolutions can be regarded as “involving both an intention to engage in a certain action, and a further intention not to let that intention be deflected. Understood in this way they involve a conjunction of two simpler intentions, one first-order and one second-order (i.e., an intention about an intention)” (p. 11). Objection: children’s formation of resolutions

10 Two Thought Experiments about Intentions and Beliefs “Does intending to do something entail that you believe you will succeed in doing it?” (p. 20) Consider these examples: Removing a tree brought down by a storm Returning overdue library books

11 All-Out vs. Partial Beliefs All-Out Belief = One all-out believes p iff one takes p as a live possibility and does not take non-p as a live possibility. Partial Belief = One partially believes p iff one takes p as a live possibility and takes not-p as a live possibility.

12 The Practical Value of All-Out Beliefs “Just as intentions enable us to resolve deliberative uncertainty in order to facilitate action, so all-out beliefs enable us to resolve epistemic uncertainty in order to facilitate action. They allow us to reduce an unmanageable amount of information to a manageable amount by excluding certain possibilities from our practical reasoning. They provide us with a relatively simple description of what the world is like, to which straightforward non- probabilistic reasoning can be applied, around which plans can easily be built, and which can easily be communicated to others” (p. 30).

13 Partial Intentions Partial Intention = An intention to F is partial iff it is designed to achieve a given end E and it is accompanied by one or more alternative intentions also designed to achieve E. If an intention is not partial it is all-out.

14 Partial Intentions and Effort “A partial intention need not be half-hearted….although your intention is partial, you may execute it with everything at your disposal. A partial intention is only partial because of the presence of alternatives” (p. 37).

15 Consistency Requirements Weak Consistency = If an agent forms an intention, then they must not believe that they will fail to realize that intention. Strong Consistency = If an agent forms an intention, then the realization of that intention must be consistent with their beliefs and with the realization of all their other intentions. Very Weak Consistency for Partial Intentions = If an agent forms a partial intention, then they must not all-out believe that they will fail to realize that intention. Weak Consistency for Partial Intentions = If an agent forms a partial intention, then they must have a partial belief that they will succeed in realizing that intention. Strong Consistency for Partial Intentions = If an agent forms a partial intention, then that intention must be consistent with the agent’s other intentions, and with the agent’s beliefs (partial and all-out), as this is established by the extended probability calculus test. Proportionality Requirement = For each partial intention of degree n the agent should have a credence of degree n that it will succeed; and the agent’s total set of credences, including those that result from this requirement, should conform to the axioms of the probability calculus.

16 Three Final Questions about Intentions and Beliefs Does partial intention entail all-out belief? Does all-out intention entail all-out belief? Does intention (whether partial or all-out) entail partial belief? (Holton’s answer to each of these questions is “No.”)

17 Two Levels of Acts There are two ways we form intentions: Without choice With choice NOTE: Compare Holton’s approach with Daniel Kahneman’s distinction between two “Systems” of thinking and decision making: “fast” (System 1) and “slow” (System 2). See Kahneman’s recent book Thinking, Fast and Slow (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011).

18 The Three Central Features of Choice 1.Choice is an act. 2.Choice isn’t determined by our prior beliefs and desires. 3.Choice has effects.

19 Barry Schwartz on the Costs of Excessive Choice

20 A (Flawed) Four-Stage Model of How Freedom of the Will is Typically Exercised 1.Deliberating 2.Judging (deciding that) 3.Choosing (deciding to) 4.Acting Objection: Isn’t it quite common to “decide-to” without ever “deciding-that,” in other words, to make a choice without making a prior judgment that one option is better than another? The process of choosing in such instances is conscious but we are largely unaware of the mechanisms that determine the choice (e.g., Lewicki, Hill, and Bizot’s “quadrant” game, Bechara’s gambling game, and Gary Klein’s research on cases of quick decision-making that rely on unconscious expertise [pp ]). Moreover, sometimes judgment doesn’t precede but follows choice (e.g., Nisbett and Wilson’s research on “right-bias” [p. 65]).

21 Forming Intentions and Making Choices “The formation of an intention involves a host of complex interactions, not just between intention and judgment, but also between conscious states and unconscious reactions and abilities….A growing intention provokes an emotional response, which modifies the intention, which triggers an unconscious pattern recognition, and so on. Forming an intention can sometimes seem more like a rolling ball finding its equilibrium settling point, than like the tripping of a switch” (p. 67). “...[T]he [four-stage] model is flawed as a general account….Sometimes we form a judgment first and then choose. Sometimes we choose and then form a judgment. Sometimes we do both together. And sometimes, as in the case of habitual action, we act without choice at all. We should not pre- judge, of any action, into which class it is going to fall” (pp ).


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