"Aristotle's Theory of Prohairesis and Its Significance for Accounts of Human Action and Practical Reasoning"
The relationship between intention, intentional action, and moral assessment is of fundamental importance to ethical theory. In large part, moral responsibility is based on an assessment of agent responsibility, which in turn is based on the connection between an agent's intentions and the actions which they cause. In the last twenty-five years, there has been a debate in contemporary action theory about the relationship between intentions and intentional action. Objecting to what he calls the "Simple View," which he characterizes as the view that all intentional actions are intended under some description, Michael Bratman, among others, argues that not all intentional actions are intended. In this dissertation, we will defend the Simple View by appealing to Aristotle's theory of action as developed in his psychological and ethical works. In the first part of the dissertation, we argue that all intentional actions are intended under some description; however, we argue that distinctions between different types of intention are essential: specifically, the distinction between deliberate and non-deliberate intentions and the distinction between the intention of the end and the intention of the means. Our account centers on Aristotle's concept of prohairesis, which he identifies as the distinctly human principle of action. The term prohairesis in Aristotle's works seems to have at least three senses: 1) primarily, the deliberate intention with which a person acts, an `occurent' choice; 2) the habitual or `dispositional' choice or resolve of `decent' people; and 3) general purposes that men have which may encompass voluntary action as a whole. The first sense of the term is the primary one that properly signifies the concept. Prohairesis fits within the general framework of animal motion which Aristotle sets out in the De Anima and De Motu Animalium. For Aristotle, orexis or desire is the cause of all animal motion, including human motion. Prohairesis is a deliberate desire for the means to an end. It is a principle of action peculiar to mature human beings capable of deliberating, as it is the intention which is the result of deliberation. It marks off a narrow but important stretch of intentional action. Prohairesis is set off against other types of intention, like boulesis, which is an intention of the end, and epithumia (bodily appetite) and thumos (anger), which are non-deliberate intentions relating to non-rational appetites like lust and anger. Aristotle, in contrast to contemporary accounts of intentional action, is unusually specific in his designation of the different kinds of intention. Different orexeis differ not only with regard to specific objects but also with regard to time, planning, and detail. Aristotle traces both the causal and moral responsibility agents have for their actions to the action of these internal principles of desire. Moral assessment is linked to the operative internal principle of an act. This allows for an action to be voluntary and intentional, even if the agent does not fully understand or plan for the consequences of an action. Intention, for Aristotle, if we correctly understand it as orexis and what results from orexis, is not reducible to one mode but is irreducibly plural. Furthermore, each person's capacity for intentional action is shaped by his character, and each character has correspondingly different kinds of intention, both with respect to the objects of intention and in their relation to action. Finally, the scope of intention is not definite, and depending on the agent, can include those things which attend to the means of which he has cognizance, for instance, harmful side-effect consequences or other costs of his action. In the second part of the dissertation, we examine at length the objections to the Simple View, lodged by Bratman, Gilbert Harman, and Joshua Knobe. We give an overview of objections by Bratman, Harman, and Knobe which center on three cases and four objections. The cases are: 1) a hypothetical video game; 2) unexpected success; and 3) unintended consequences. The objections are: 1) with respect to the hypothetical video game, the Simple View ascribes an irrational intention to a gamer playing the game; 2) When agents are doubtful of the success of an action they undertake, the Simple View requires that they intend the act the perform rather than that they merely try to perform the act, which opponents argue that this is irrational and false; 3) The Simple View entails the rejection of the distinction between intention and foresight which itself entails that agents intend all the results of their actions, even when those results are merely foreseen and not intended; 4) The Simple View does not adequately explain ordinary language usage with respect to ascriptions of intention for side-effect consequences, and therefore does not reflect basic, commonly shared notions of intentional action. The first two objections center on cases where it seems irrational for an agent to intend the act he performs. In the case of the video game, the scenario is so set up that the player wins a prize for hitting either target but knows that he cannot hit both or the game will shut down. It seems irrational for him to intend to hit both if he cannot; however, in order to maximize his chance winning, it would be rational to aim at both. In the case of unexpected success, it seems that agents do not intend acts whose chances of success they doubt because intending seems to require the positive belief that one will succeed; rather, it is argued that agents merely try but do not intend the act they perform. Against these cases and objections, we argue that agents are capable of conditional and complex intentions, such that one may conditionally intend to hit whichever target is opportune, while aiming at both. Likewise, we argue that intending to act does not require the positive belief that one will succeed; only that it is possible for one to succeed. Furthermore, the distinction between trying and intending is specious. Finally, we respond to the third and fourth objections centering on the intentionality of side-effect consequences. It is argued by Bratman et al. that the Simple View entails the rejection of the distinction between intention and foresight, and that such a rejection further entails consequentialism. Likewise it is also argued that the Simple View fails to account for ordinary language ascriptions of intentionality for side-effect consequences. We agree that the Simple View entails rejecting the distinction between intention and foresight as it is currently applied, but deny that this entails consequentialism, i.e., the view that the consequences of an action are the primary basis for moral evaluation and not the agent's intentions. Likewise, we agree that the Simple View does not model ordinary language ascriptions of intention; however, this is not necessarily a defect since such ascriptions are inconsistent and imprecise. Furthermore, we argue that the Simple View might be used to more adequately explain such usage. We center our response to these objections on the Doctrine of Double Effect. We argue that the doctrine arises from a mistaken interpretation of St. Thomas Aquinas' treatment of defensive killing. We argue that Aquinas does not hold that the death of an attacker is a foreseen but not intended side-effect, as proponents of Double Effect and opponents of the Simple View hold; rather it is intended as a means to the end of self-defense. Therefore, the two effects are not the desired end and a side-effect but rather the intended end and the intended means. Furthermore, we argue that this does not entail doing evil for the sake of good because Aquinas' Aristotelian account of action specification incorporates circumstances as essential components of intentions which give an act its moral quality. Furthermore, the necessary references to an agent's intentions show how the rejection of the application of the distinction between intention and foresight does not entail consequentialism. Finally, we tackle the underlying assumptions about intention and desire which lead to the rejection of the Simple View. Opponents of the Simple View hold that intention is not a form of desire because then it would not have an essential role in the genesis of action or in rational deliberation. We, however, argue that the major objections to the Simple View are defeasible once one understands intention as a species of desire, i.e. a deliberate desire, whose scope includes consequences beyond acts performed and goals achieved. The paradoxes at the heart of the debate hinge on the ambiguity of the English word `intention' and its usage, as well as the inherent difficulty of examining psychological concepts. `Intention' has several senses unified by the purposiveness of the mental states to which the word is referred. These senses can often, but not always, be distinguished in English usage by the degree and kind of deliberation attendant to them.