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Monday, November 19, 2012

Although I Meant to Call My Wife...

I called her accidentally.

Philosophers, at least analytical philosophers, love little puzzles like this, relating the ideas if "on purpose" and "accidentally" to intentions. What happened was this: I reached in my pocket to grab my phone and call my wife. But, it being a touch-screen smartphone, just picking it up can kick off various activities. And in this case, the activity it kicked off was calling my wife.

What interests philosophers here is that a first cut at defining what we mean by "on purpose" might be, "Well, one plans to do something, and then one does it." But here, although I meant to call my wife, and I did call her, I did not call her on purpose. And this points us to a refinement of our definition: "One plans to do something, and then one does it in accordance with the plan."

2 comments:

  1. Yeah there are some neat ones like this for "justified true belief" too.

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  2. About a month ago a woman came up to me and asked me to help her find her car, which she remembered parking by a fountain and some construction. I couldn't think of a fountain or any construction anywhere within several blocks, so finally, hopelessly, I pointed her in the direction of a courtyard where you could conceivably have put a fountain, but there was none I could recall. After sending her off, I realized that no only was there no fountain, but the courtyard was an enclosed pedestrian area with no place to park. I felt terrible for accidentally and stupidly misleading her.

    A week later, I was walking through the courtyard. And I noticed a fountain -- it had probably been there all along, but this was the first time I remembered it spurting. The far end of the courtyard was ripped up by construction. And at the far end of the construction there was...streetside parking.

    So: my *intention* was to give her accurate directions, but even as I gave directions I didn't think they could be right, and on *reflection* I was sure they were wrong. But they turned out to be right *in experience.* I felt like I'd walked into a Camus story.

    In fact, all I'd done was demonstrate the superiority of logical deduction over memory. Although I had no recollection of the fountain and didn't think of the courtyard as a parking area, my deduction that it was the only place nearby where you could have a fountain turned out to be accurate. Still, quite eerie.

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