I haven’t updated this blog for a bit so I thought I’d throw in a quick piece to keep my eye in (and a brief break from writing the thesis chapter from which the example is pulled).
I sometimes wonder when coming up with thought examples/intuition pumps, whether they really are convincing or whether I find them convincing only because of my prior theoretical convictions. Do you share the intuition that Jane is committing some normative error in the example bellow?
Imagine that Jane decides that she is going to go fishing. She now, according to Gilbert, has a personal commitment towards this activity. In particular she has an intention to do so.
Now suppose that she believes that it is necessary to for her to buy worms in order to go fishing. Further, suppose that she knows that she must catch the early bus if she is to get to town before the shop selling the worms shuts. Our imaginary Jane however has a worm phobia (Scoleciphobia?) and in this case her disgust at the thought of the worms is so great, that she intentionally catches the late bus.
Here Jane is breaking what Bratman calls the principle of Means-ends Coherence; “The following is always pro-tanto irrational: intending E while believing that a necessary means to E is M and that M requires that one now intend M, and yet not intending M”
Whilst your average person (or probably anyone at all) doesn’t explicitly utilise Bratman’s principle as formalise it does seem to me to capture the way we naturally reason. If Jane’s had a fishing partner, Jim, I’m sure that we could agree that he would then be able to rightly criticise Jane.
However, what is to stop Jane from saying to Jim that, as a free agent, she should be free to engage in practical reasoning in whatever way she sees fit? If she is of a particularly politicly wilful character we might imagine that she could claim that Jim is some kind of ‘Normative imperialist’ trying to impose his value judgements upon her, while she is an ‘normative anarchist’ and thus should be free to govern herself as she sees fit.
It seems to me that Jane is mistaken because the problem with her practical reasoning is not a matter of it breaking some taboo value but rather (and this is roughly the argument found in Bratman) that doing so she undermines her ability to be an authentic agent because without the rule of means-end coherence her mental states are not united in the way.