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."


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

  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.