An interesting philosophical problem

Andrew Gelman points to a blog by philosopher Edouard Machery who presents the following problem

How do we think about the intentional nature of actions? And how do people with an impaired mindreading capacity think about it?

Consider the following probes:

The Free-Cup Case

Joe was feeling quite dehydrated, so he stopped by the local smoothie shop to buy the largest sized drink available. Before ordering, the cashier told him that if he bought a Mega-Sized Smoothie he would get it in a special commemorative cup. Joe replied, ‘I don’t care about a commemorative cup, I just want the biggest smoothie you have.’ Sure enough, Joe received the Mega-Sized Smoothie in a commemorative cup. Did Joe intentionally obtain the commemorative cup?

The Extra-Dollar Case

Joe was feeling quite dehydrated, so he stopped by the local smoothie shop to buy the largest sized drink available. Before ordering, the cashier told him that the Mega-Sized Smoothies were now one dollar more than they used to be. Joe replied, ‘I don’t care if I have to pay one dollar more, I just want the biggest smoothie you have.’ Sure enough, Joe received the Mega-Sized Smoothie and paid one dollar more for it. Did Joe intentionally pay one dollar more?



You surely think that paying an extra dollar was intentional, while getting the commemorative cup was not. [Indeed, I do–AG.] So do most people (Machery, 2008).

But Tiziana Zalla and I [Machery] have found that if you had Asperger Syndrome, a mild form of autism, your judgments would be very different: You would judge that paying an extra-dollar was not intentional, just like getting the commemorative cup.

So how do you see those cases and why?

———————————————-

update:

An interview by Joshua Knobe and  Edouard Machery on the topic of intentional action by Natasha Mitchell in her program All In Mind on the Australian radio ABC. (intentions really puzzle me!)

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8 thoughts on “An interesting philosophical problem

  1. Δεν καταλαβαίνω πού είναι το πρόβλημα. Και οι δύο πράξεις υποκειμενικά τελούνται εκ προθέσεως, και συγκεκριμένα με άμεσο δόλο β΄ βαθμού, δηλαδή ο Τζο δεν επιδιώκει μεν ούτε το αναμνηστικό ούτε να πληρώση ένα δολάριο παραπάνω, αλλά τα αναγνωρίζει αυτά ως αναγκαία συνέπεια των πράξεών του και τα αποδέχεται. Το ίδιο αν πυροβολούσε μια έγκυο, θα είχε άμεσο δόλο β΄ βαθμού ως προς τον θάνατο του εμβρύου (και α΄ βαθμού ως προς τον θάνατο της εγκύου).

    Είμαι αυτιστικός;

    • epanechnikov says:

      Καλώς ήρθες Αθανάσιε. Καταλαβαίνω την επιχειρηματολογία σου και θεωρώ πως είναι λογικά συνεπής σε σχέση με τον κώδικα κανόνων που χρησιμοποιείς. Ωστόσο είναι γεγονός πως διαφορετικά υποκείμενα χρησιμοποιούν υποσυνείδητα διαφορετικούς κανόνες. Οι τελευταίοι είναι εξαιρετικά δύσκολο να κωδικοποιηθούν. Το γεγονός βέβαια πως οι δικοί σου κανόνες είναι συγκεκριμένοι είναι μπορεί να έχει σχέση και με το γεγονός πως έχεις λάβει νομική εκπαίδευση και ασκείς για αρκετά χρόνια το επάγγελμα του νομικού. Αλήθεια η δική σου αξιολόγηση συμβαδίζει με τις παρορμήσεις σου ή θεωρείς πως είναι αντιδιαισθητική; Θα ένοιωθες άραγε το ίδιο αν από τη μία είχαμε cost-free δροσιστικό αεράκι από το ανοιχτό παράθυρο του καταστήματος (αντί για το αναμνηστικό) και από την άλλη smoothie αξίας 200 ευρώ; Νιώθεις επίσης πως οι Ιάπωνες εκτίθενται στη ραδιενέργεια εκ προθέσεως;

      Η αλήθεια είναι πως τα περισσότερα (μη-αυτιστικά) υποκείμενα υποστηρίζουν πως η αποδοχή του αναμνηστικού απλά τυχαίνει ενώ το δολάριο προϋποθέτει τη λήψη μιας απόφασης. Η υπόθεση της ενεργητικής/παθητικής πράξης θα μπορούσε αποτελέσει ενδεχομένως το κρίσιμο “demarcation criterion”. Ωστόσο ο Machery παρουσιάζει περιστατικά στα οποία και τα δύο σενάρια είναι παθητικά /ενεργητικά αλλά παρά ταύτα τα υποκείμενα αντιλαμβάνονται την ύπαρξη/απουσία αποβλεπτικότητας και στις δύο περιπτώσεις. Στο άρθρο του “The Folk Concept of Intentional Action: Philosophical and Experimental Issues,” ο Machery προτείνει την “trade-off hypothesis” την οποία προσπαθεί να θεμελιώσει πειραματικά. Υποστηρίζει ότι (οι περισσότεροι), οι άνθρωποι βλέπουν αποβλεπτικότητα στις περιπτώσεις που υπάρχει ένα trade-off μεταξύ κόστους και οφέλους. Στο παράδειγμα ελεύθερο κύπελλο δεν υπάρχει tradeoff (Joe παίρνει το κύπελλο και το μεγάλο smoothie του), οπότε δεν απαιτείται αίσθημα της πρόθεσης, ενώ στην περίπτωση extra-δολαρίου υπάρχει μια ανταλλαγή (Joe παίρνει το smoothie του, αλλά πρέπει να πληρώσει περισσότερα) και ως εκ τούτου υπάρχει το αίσθημα της πρόθεσης. Ωστόσο η αλήθεια είναι πως πολλά υποκείμενα νοιώθουν πως υπάρχει πρόθεση ακόμα και στη περίπτωση “one-dollar-less” (αντί για one-dollar-more) παρόλο που το trade-off απουσιάζει.

      Η δική μου ερμηνεία είναι πως τα περισσότερα υποκείμενα (μεταξύ των οποίων και εγώ) νοιώθουν πως υπάρχει πρόθεση στη περίπτωση που η πράξη συνοδεύεται με τη μεταβολή της χρησιμότητας που απολαμβάνουν ενώ δεν υπάρχει στην αντίθετη περίπτωση. Βέβαια η αλήθεια είναι πως ο Joe ισχυρίζεται πως “I don’t care if I have to pay one dollar more” το οποίο θα μπορούσε να σημαίνει (το αντιδιαισθητικό) πως η πληρωμή του extra δολαρίου δεν μεταβάλλει τη χρησιμότητα που απολαμβάνει. Ωστόσο αυτό συμβαίνει μόνο αν θεωρήσουμε πως η “επιφανειακή γλώσσα” αποτελεί ένα τέλειο όχημα επικοινωνίας που περιγράφει πλήρως τις προθέσεις (φαντάζομαι πως συμφωνείς πως αυτό δεν συμβαίνει για αυτό υπάρχουν και τα “void contracts”) .

  2. thinks says:

    This is quite interesting, especially when seen through the exact phraseology of the questions.

    “Did Joe intentionally obtain the commemorative cup?” is not exactly the same as asking “Did Joe intend to receive a commemorative cup after receiving the information from the cashier” which, again is not exactly the same as asking “Did Joe assign any value to receiving a commemorative cup”

    same with:

    “Did Joe intentionally pay one dollar more?”, which is not exactly the same as asking “Did Joe, after the cashier’s explanation, expect to pay one dollar more than he originally expected when he entered the store” which, again is not exactly the same as asking “Did Joe assign any value to the extra dollar which would affect the degree of utility of the mega-sized smoothie”

    The key in the questions is that Joe chose the expression “I don’t care” to describe his thoughts/feelings on both issues. The underlying principle of the exercise is to highlight how a person suffering from the particular syndrome would not have made enough of a connection between needing the smoothie and evaluating altered circumstances surrounding the purchase. But to determine whether the person answering the questions suffers or not from this syndrome we would probably have to ask the second of the paraphrased questions I wrote above in the first case, and the third question I wrote in the second case?

    • epanechnikov says:

      Hi thinks. I will come back to your message later. Meanwhile I recommend you listening the interesting interview of Knobe and Machery…

    • epanechnikov says:

      Dimitris I agree with you that the problem has to do with language and definitions. However I believe that what is more interesting here is the following two questions

      (i) under what conditions can we say that an action was intentional? (ii) what mental (physical or not) processes are activated when we make intentional action judgments?

      Answering those two questions is a pretty hard problem…

      • thinks says:

        Point well taken, but,

        (i) under what conditions can we say that an action was intentional?
        Was it intentional to get the commemorative cup? He declared he did not care, therefore the consideration was irrelevant to him, hence his intention was to assign no importance to the issue.
        Was it intentional to pay one dollar more? He declared he did not care, therefore, he decided to pay it.
        In both cases, our question is whether he assigned no importance to each issue after careful albeit momentary consideration, or as a result of a brain malfunction. His words and actions contain no information to help us decide which.

        (ii) what mental (physical or not) processes are activated when we make intentional action judgments?
        The information that would allow us to decide on this question is not, in my opinion contained in the phrasing of the example. Even if he were to reach into his pocket and find that he was one dollar short, this may be because he did not remember how much money he had on him, not necessarily because he did not make a connection between the information on the higher price and the money in his pocket.

        Of course each person works on different processes and priorities, but where is the thin red line within the variety of priorities and motivations that separates the “normal” form the “abnormal” thought process? Obviously there are ways by which to determine where that line is drawn, but a) this could be on a case by case basis, and, b) unless I am missing something important, I do not see where in the phrasing of the questions we can find the necessary information by which to pass such a judgment.

        The only information we have is that in one case he would spend no more money than he was expecting, and in the second case he would spend one dollar more. He may have well decided that he can afford it, in a perfectly clear state of mind. We would get a better understanding of his thinking if we knew how rich or poor the man is. It is one think deciding to spend 2 instead of 1 dollar when we have 3 dollars in our pocket, and quite another when we have 300 dollars in our pocket.

      • epanechnikov says:

        i) You are right to say that the question “is whether he assigned no importance to each issue after careful albeit momentary consideration”. Now lets say we observe 1000 equally thirsty people reacting exactly the same way when offered those options. Can we answer this question?

        ii) This question can not indeed be answered with the information presented here. However I am wondering (as there is no definite answer yet!) whether we can we find a general answer to the problem by studying peoples’ assessments (with regards to intentionality of actions) and by (simultaneously) observing what areas of their brain are activated.

  3. […] to my previous blog post about intentions I thought I should present another version of the same problem (the Knobe‘s […]

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