Blog Coordinator

« Self-governance Over Time | Main | Plan Rationality »



Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.


Yet another thought-provoking post, thanks! For now, I wanted to slightly modify your case (to more accurately reflect some of my own experience with respect to drinking and parties). Imagine, as you suggested, I intend to have just one drink since I expect diminishing utility for each additional drink. I enter the party with my intention intact. Yet, unexpectedly, the people throwing the party managed to select my very favorite beer (or scotch, bourbon, etc.)--a beer that is difficult to find and purchase. So, my original intention goes out the window in light of this new information. Now, I intend and plan to have several beers after all. How does this kind of updated choice architecture--based on new information--play into your account? It's not as if I had a second intention beforehand along the following lines: I will only drink one beer unless it happens to be my favorite beer. I had no reason to expect the hosts to provide my favorite beer. Yet, once it comes to my attention that my favorite beer is in supply, my intentions and preferences change. What do we say in this case about my change of plans? It is an instance of self-governance? Some may look at it as an instance in weakness of will. After all, I simply can't resist my favorite beer my reservations about drinking more than one to the contrary.

Many thanks, Thomas. Good question.

My comments about intention stability and diachronic self-governance (and related comments I will be making in my next post about diachronic rationality) are focused primarily on cases in which there is, as the agent sees it, no new and relevant information at the time of execution of the prior intention/plan/resolve. The case of temptation on which I am focusing is one in which the circumstances of execution of prior plan are as the agent had expected, and yet her evaluation shifts. Similarly about Sartre’s case: after the earlier decision to stay with mother the circumstances are as expected; and yet the non-comparability remains, and so there is a puzzle about shuffling to a new decision in favor of the Free French. And similarly about the toxin case.

In your case, however, you are faced with new, non-expected information. And I take it your prior intention is formed against a background of expectations that do not include this new information. As I discuss in my 1987 book, there are issues here about the costs of, and rationality of, reconsideration given new information. After all, reconsideration will have characteristic costs and risks to previously forged coordination, especially for resource limited agents like us. There may be grounds for saying that even given the new information it would be rational of you not to reconsider. (Richard Holton’s approach to willpower draws on this idea.) But if you do reconsider you rationally should be responsive to the new information: self-governance is not stubbornness. And given this new information, the kind of continuity with your prior intention to have only one drink that can be an element in your diachronic self-governance will not be available to you, since you are no longer in a position to continue to intend only one drink in circumstances as previously expected. In contrast, if this were a no-new-information case you would be in a position to persist with your intention and to see that one aspect of such willpower would be that it would in this respect cohere with your diachronic self-governance; and that would bring to bear your end of diachronic self-governance (assuming, for the reason discussed in my post, that you have this end). And that has the potential to re-shift your evaluation back in favor of one drink.

Two further complexities: (1) We can still ask whether in the case you describe your new decision in light of your new information was itself faulty in a way that would block synchronic self-governance. (2) You will normally have a complex web of other plans that do continue to apply to your somewhat unexpected situation since they are formulated against a background that allows for some such surprises (though not, presumably, all surprises). An example might be your plan, in the background, to work on your blog. And these other plans will then have relevance to your diachronic self-governance.


I hope it’s not to late to ask you some questions about this post.

First, how does the idea of an end of diachronic self-governance relate to some of your previous views about the role of anticipated future regret in the synchronic self-governance of the agent in cases of temptation? In particular, I’m thinking about your 2014 Inquiry paper. If I understood correctly, there you argued that anticipated future regret can sometimes change the agent’s standpoint in a way that favors sticking with her intention despite a shift in her judgment. Is this new explanation in term of an end of diachronic self-governance a refinement of your previous explanation in terms of anticipated regret?

Second, there seem to be cases where giving in to temptation is not incompatible with a concern for diachronic self-governance. For instance, imagine you face the temptation, not of having an extra drink, but of staying in bed having planned to go jogging as part of a two-month routine. It seems to me that staying in bed today does not immediately threaten your ability to govern yourself over time in any meaningful way. After all, if you manage to go jogging the rest of the days, we would think of you as a highly self-governed individual. Do you think the end of diachronic self-governance would still re-shift your standpoint so that it favors resisting temptation in this kind of case? Or are further resources needed here?

Many thanks Camilo.

You ask a very good question about the relation between what I say here and my 2014 discussion. I do see this appeal to an end of diachronic self-governance as a refinement, though one that makes some adjustment. In my 2014 paper I suggested that by virtue of being a planning agent one would have a concern with how things will look at plan’s end. But I noted (footnote 34) that more needs to be said to explain this. My appeal to an end of diachronic self-governance is an effort to provide some such explanation – though it involves the more limited claim that a planning agent with this end will have this concern. I do not say that it is essential to planning agency that one have this end; I only say that this end is essential to the general exercise of the capacity for a planning agent’s diachronic self-governance.

About your second question: if I understand the example, I would want to say that in giving in to temptation you are failing to be diachronically self-governing in this local/limited context. But that might be a small cost, and it need not bring with it a loss of a general capacity for such self-governance. A complication is that your policy of running each day may well have a built-in defeasibility such that an occasional failure to run would not be, strictly speaking, a violation.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Books about Agency

3QD Prize 2014: Marcus Arvan