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In defense of a strong persistence requirement on intention

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Abstract

An important recent debate in the philosophy of action has focused on whether there is a persistence requirement on intention and, if there is, what its proper formulation should be. At one extreme, Bratman has defended what I call Strong Persistence, according to which it’s irrational to abandon an intention except for an alternative that is better supported by one’s reasons. At the other extreme, Tenenbaum has argued that there isn’t a persistence requirement on intention at all. In the middle, philosophers like Broome, Ferrero, and Paul have defended persistence requirements with varying degrees of stringency while agreeing that Bratman’s proposed requirement is too strong. In this paper I side with Bratman in defending Strong Persistence. I argue, however, that Bratman’s own argument in favor of it is defective and an easy prey to the multiple objections that have been leveled against it. I thus offer in its place a “first-personally addressed constitutivist argument” whose aim is to show to the minimally reflective agent the kind of commitment involved in deciding and forming an intention in situations of incomparability—which are taken to be the litmus test for persistence requirements—and the persistence rational requirement governing it. Along the way I respond to the objections against Strong Persistence and explain why my argument represents an improvement over Bratman’s.
Synthese (2021) 198:10289–10312
https://doi.org/10.1007/s11229-020-02719-8
In defense of a strong persistence requirement on intention
Fernando Rudy-Hiller1
Received: 17 February 2020 / Accepted: 25 May 2020 / Published online: 4 June 2020
© Springer Nature B.V. 2020
Abstract
An important recent debate in the philosophy of action has focused on whether there
is a persistence requirement on intention and, if there is, what its proper formulation
should be. At one extreme, Bratman has defended what I call Strong Persistence,
according to which it’s irrational to abandon an intention except for an alternative that
is better supported by one’s reasons. At the other extreme, Tenenbaum has argued
that there isn’t a persistence requirement on intention at all. In the middle, philoso-
phers like Broome, Ferrero, and Paul have defended persistence requirements with
varying degrees of stringency while agreeing that Bratman’s proposed requirement is
too strong. In this paper I side with Bratman in defending Strong Persistence. I argue,
however, that Bratman’s own argument in favor of it is defective and an easy prey
to the multiple objections that have been leveled against it. I thus offer in its place
a “first-personally addressed constitutivist argument” whose aim is to show to the
minimally reflective agent the kind of commitment involved in deciding and forming
an intention in situations of incomparability—which are taken to be the litmus test
for persistence requirements—and the persistence rational requirement governing it.
Along the way I respond to the objections against Strong Persistence and explain why
my argument represents an improvement over Bratman’s.
Keywords Intention ·Rational requirements ·Persistence requirements ·
Incomparability ·Diachronic rationality
1 Introduction
There is a wide consensus that one of the central marks of rational agents is to act
on the balance of reasons. This means, roughly, that if in a certain situation there are
stronger reasons for doing X instead of Y, a rational agent ought to do X. Let’s call this
BFernando Rudy-Hiller
ferudy@alumni.stanford.edu
1Institute of Philosophical Research, National Autonomous University of Mexico, Circuito Mario de
la Cueva s/n, Ciudad Universitaria, CP 04510 Mexico City, Mexico
123
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Article
There are two well‐known formulations of the diachronic rational requirement of intention persistence, due to Michael Bratman and John Broome. I argue in this paper that both formulations face serious difficulties. Bratman’s formulation is unable to accommodate two different kinds of examples in which it is permissible to drop an intention even though one’s assessment of the adequacy of its reasons remains constant. Broome’s formulation is both too weak and too strong, unable to rule out the unlicensed reconsideration of intentions, while at the same time disallowing valuable spontaneous shifts in intentions. I propose a new formulation, Intention Persistence, that avoids these difficulties and has other advantages.
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