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Saturday, May 06, 2006

Voluntary Action and Knowledge

I’m trying to find a plausible principle concerning the relationship between voluntary actions and knowledge. There are three candidates:

(A) If S φs voluntarily, then S knew the relevant facts concerning φ-ing.
(B) If S φs voluntarily, then S would φ if S knew the relevant facts about φ-ing.
(C) If S would φ if S knew the relevant facts about φ-ing, then S φs voluntarily.

First, I thought that (A) is not correct, and thus should be revised as (B). (But now I’m not sure) The counterexample that I thought is the following:

Jack went to the zoo. He saw a building and was wondering what were inside. Thinking that there might be something interesting, he entered the building. But it turned out that the building displayed various kinds of snakes. Since Jack had been scared of snakes, he went out immediately and said, “I would never have entered the building if I had known that the snakes were inside.”

Let ‘φ’ be ‘entering the building’ and ‘p’ be ‘the snakes are around the building.’ It seems that Jack entered the building voluntarily, but he did not know that the snakes were around in the building. (Jack φs voluntarily, but did not know that p)

Someone pointed out that p is not a relevant fact for φ-ing, though. His point was: “let ‘ψ’ be ‘entering the snake house.’ P is a relevant fact for ψ-ing, but not a relevant fact for φ-ing. Thus, the above example is no good: Jack φs voluntarily, but p is not a relevant fact for φ-ing; p is a relevant fact for ψ-ing, but Jack does not ψ voluntarily.”

This objection makes me wonder: “Are φ and ψ are two different actions? Or, are they just different descriptions of one and the same action?” One may think that they are two different actions, and says: “We do not want to say that Oedipus killed his father voluntarily although we want to say that he voluntarily killed the obnoxious old man on the road. Oedipus’s killing his father and his killing the obnoxious old man must be two different actions, because if they are one and the same action, how could one action be voluntary and involuntary at the same time? In the same manner, φ and ψ are two different actions.”

However, it seems to me, intuitively, that φ and ψ are one and the same action. We’re just describing one action differently. About the Oedipus case, I think that it is okay to say that Oedipus killed his father voluntarily. Of course, he would not have killed the old man if he had known that the old man was his father. But still, at the time of killing, he was acting at his own will. Similarly, I think it is okay to say that Jack went to the snake house voluntarily.

So the question is this: let’s say that φ and ψ are one and the same action. Is p a relevant fact for that action (no matter how we describe it - i.e. whether we describe it as φ or as ψ)? (Similarly, in Oedipus case, is the fact that the old man was Oedipus’s father relevant for his action of killing (no matter how we describe it)?) Why or why not?

6 Comments:

  • At 6:14 PM, Blogger the metaphysician said…

    This--the problem of the individuation of actions--is a very tough problem. You should try posing this problem to the good folks at the Garden of Forking Paths:

    http://gfp.typepad.com/the_garden_of_forking_pat/

    Here's my quick comment. Suppose you are right that 'Oedipus kills the obnoxious old man' and 'Oedipus kills his father' are two descriptions of a single (self-same) action. (That is, suppose the problem of act individuation has been solved in your favor.) It still seems to me to be a further (and possibly open) question whether 'S voluntarily psi-ed' is a locution marking an intensional context. And I'm inclined to think that it does (assuming that 'S's voluntarily psi-ing' implies that S psi's willingly). For, intuitively, 'Oedipus voluntarily killed the obnoxious old man' seems true and even though 'Oedipus's killing the obnoxious old man is the same act as Oedipus's killing his father' is, I'm assuming, true as well, 'Oedipus voluntarily killed his father' seems to be false.

     
  • At 7:07 PM, Blogger douglys said…

    I agree with the metaphysician...in facts since 'S voluntarily psi-ed' seems to be understood intensionaly and the actions we are interested in are the voluntary ones, actions should be individuated intensionaly.

    Is there anything interesting between my raising my arm (with the intention to raise do so) and my andriod twin's raising his arm (lacking intentions to do anything)? Not really. Likewise it seems that me and my human twin who both raise our arms while having different intentions, are not performing acts of the same type.

    Similarly, if we imagine Oedipus (who doesn't know who the dude on the road is) and his twin in a nearby possible world who does know the dude is his father, perform quite differt act types.

    So I think the problem is assuming that phi and psi are the same act...but maybe you have some reason you want to say that????

    cheers.

     
  • At 10:42 PM, Blogger Huiyuhl Yi said…

    Thanks for the comments.

    About the Metaphysician’s Comment: I do not know what exactly you meant by ‘intensional context.’ But I guess that the part of the result is that: if we grant that the sentence of the form ‘S voluntarily ψs’ marks an intensional context (and you do grant that), then ‘Oedipus voluntarily killed his father’ must be regarded as being false. And I guess your view is, roughly, that the term ‘voluntarily’ is an intensional context marker.

    Let’s say the following:

    (P) ‘Voluntarily’ is an intensional context marker.

    (Q) ‘O’s killing his father’ and ‘O’s killing the obnoxious old man’ are two different descriptions of one single action.

    I think that maybe you’re right in endorsing (P). But I think that (P) is not compatible with (Q). (I say this because I sensed that in your comment, you seemed to think that they may be compatible. But maybe I am wrong about this) Here’s the reason why I think so:

    Suppose (P) is true (as you do). Then, (R) ‘O voluntarily killed his father’ is false while (S) ‘O voluntarily killed the obnoxious old man’ is true. Now, if (Q) is true, then (R) and (S) should have the same truth value. But, as we have seen, (R) and (S) have different truth values given the truth of (P). Thus, if (P) is true, then (Q) is false.

    Thus, I think that once you grant the truth of (Q), then you can’t argue that (P) is true. In my original post, I asserted that (Q) is true (I didn’t give any argument, though). Since I (currently) have a strong intuition about the truth of (Q), I can’t grant the truth of (P). However, I think one can coherently hold that the truth of (P) at the expense of the falsity of (Q).

    P.S. While I’m writing this response, it occurred to me that maybe the underlined sentence in the above argument is false, so that (P) and (Q) might turn out to be compatible. If anybody can show that they are compatible, I’d be happy – because I want (P) to be true (although then, I’d have to withdraw my view of the incompatibility of (P) and (Q)).


    About Douglys’s comment: I guess that your position is that (P) is true, and (thus) (Q) is false. It seems to me that you’re giving some arguments for rejecting the truth of (Q) (rather than endorsing the truth of (P) and the incompatibility of (P) and (Q) and thereby rejecting (Q)), but I do not understand how exactly they work out.

    I think I can agree that Oedipus in the actual world and the twin Oedipus in a nearby possible world (did you mean Oedipus in a nearby possible world?) performed quite different act types. But how can that fact contribute to rejecting the truth of (Q)? For, when I talked about ψ-ing in the original post, I didn’t have in mind the case where Oedipus killed his father/the obnoxious old man (again, however we describe him) with the knowledge of his being his father.

    Maybe you presupposed the incompatibility of (P) and (Q), and also the truth of (P). But still I do not see the relevance of the arguments – are they, e.g., supposed to support the truth of (P) (which, I think seems not)?

     
  • At 10:47 PM, Blogger Huiyuhl Yi said…

    I realized that the underlined function didn't work in making comments. Here's the sentence that I meant by 'the underlined sentence.'

    if (Q) is true, then (R) and (S) should have the same truth value.

     
  • At 1:36 PM, Blogger Huiyuhl Yi said…

    (P) ‘Voluntarily’ is an intensional context marker.

    (Q) ‘O’s killing his father’ and ‘O’s killing the obnoxious old man’ are two different descriptions of one single action.

    Since I asserted that (Q) is true without any argument, now I think that I need to explain why I have a strong intuition for the truth of (Q). Suppose I just dropped a piece of chalk. How many actions did I just perform? I believe that the answer is: one action. You may say, “HY just dropped a piece of chalk.” Someone else may say, “The only Korean student at the UCSB Phil Dept just dropped chalk.” Or, if you name that chalk ‘George,’ you may say, “HY just dropped George.” Indeed, I think there are extremely many ways of describing the action that I have just performed. But does that fact mean that I just have performed extremely many actions? It seems not. I just performed one action, and I performed it voluntarily (no matter how you describe it). In the same manner, when Oedipus killed the man, one can describe the situation by saying that Oedipus killed his father, or by saying that Oedipus killed the obnoxious old man, etc. Now, at the time of killing, he performed just one action, and (no matter how you describe it) he performed it voluntarily.

    This was the reason why I said that it was okay to say that Oedipus killed his father voluntarily. But maybe this was not right. (i.e. Maybe it’s too much to say that ‘Oedipus voluntarily killed his father’ is true.) However, I think still it is plausible to say that (Q) is true (based on the thought in the preceding paragraph).

    So, again, I guess one important question is this: Are (P) and (Q) incompatible? For, if they turn out to be compatible, then we can explain why ‘Oedipus voluntarily killed his father’ is true even if we assume that (Q) is true. However, I think that even if they turn out to be compatible, it is further question whether (P) is true or not.

     
  • At 12:10 AM, Blogger jonny said…

    I think that Q is true, and for pretty much the reasons you give. I'm not sure why you think that P and Q are incompatible though. Just because P is true, it can be true that O's action of Aing can be his action of Bing, while it's true that he A'd voluntarily but not that he B'd voluntarily. (I'm taking 'voluntary' to be roughly equivalent to 'intentionally' here - is that Ok?) An intensional context just is one which doesn't permit the substitution of different descriptions or names of the same event or object or whatever within it. Compare: O believed that he killed his father and O believed that he killed an old man. There is good discussion of this point in the first few essays of Davidson's "Essays on Actions and Events".

     

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