MoL-2009-05: Going for a Walk on a Fine Summer's Day While a Sea-battle is Taking Place, or Concerning Future Contingents and Intentional Action

MoL-2009-05: Stamatis, Petros D. (2009) Going for a Walk on a Fine Summer's Day While a Sea-battle is Taking Place, or Concerning Future Contingents and Intentional Action. [Report]

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Going for a Walk on a Fine Summer’s Day While a Sea-battle is Taking Place, or Concerning Future Contingents and Intentional Action Petros D. Stamatis Abstract: This thesis, as its title makes clear, is about future contingency and intentional action. It was prompted by a genuine anxiety about what the future holds, and the (overdue) realization that things do not always go as planned. Some of the things that we take for granted in this investigation are that human beings cannot, due to their nature, have definite knowledge of the future, and that, despite that fact, they continue to make plans and act in relation to desired goals. Interested with the possibility of intentional action within an indeterminate world, we focus on the work of two philosophers that agree on these two presuppositions; Aristotle and Ludwig Wittgenstein. More specifically we center our attention to two of Aristotle’s most celebrated and studied texts – On Interpretation (O.I.) and the Nicomachean Ethics (N.E.) – and with Wittgenstein’s later take on philosophy –mainly his worries in On Certainty (O.C.) and peripheral texts. In line with our worries, both men seem to preoccupy themselves with the everyday way people interact with each other, opting for a down to earth approach instead of assuming a scientific or a purely theoretical analysis to address the issue of everyday coping with reality. Central to their approach is a conception of human beings as intrinsically social creatures, identified as part of a structured environment that is typical of their nature. It is within that environment that people are considered free to act and express their intentions by doing so. As part of their everyday interaction, and in relation with the future realm, people have a habit of making promises, of giving their “word” to each other that certain things will come to be, despite the fact that nothing from the part of factual reality supports their doing so. More precisely: If it is not now determined whether we will go for coffee tomorrow, can an assertion that we will go be true? If an assertion that we will go for coffee tomorrow is now true, is the fact of us going for coffee tomorrow determined? These two questions have to do with the notion of truth, and the concept of determination that we work with. Surely saying it doesn’t make it true, but still, if we arrange to go for coffee tomorrow, then surely we have determined something, i.e. our shared intention to do so. Whether this shared intention is something that makes the assertion true, or whether it is only the fact of us actually sharing a coffee tomorrow that which makes the assertion turn out to be true, is what will trouble us in the following. In the first part of this thesis we are concerned with Aristotle. In chapter 9 of O.I. (O.I. 9), Aristotle is addressing the issue of determinism, and it is at first surprising that such a short piece of text can receive such a wide range of controversial interpretations, while still managing to keep commentators perplexed as to its original motivation and message. For that reason three different accounts of the chapter are presented, that in turn represent three different ways of approaching the Ancient text. The main question we are called upon to answer is whether assuming the truth of an assertion concerning a future event, necessarily implies an absolutely deterministic world. Our first commentator, Hintikka, considers this question unrelated with Aristotle’s true worries. Anscombe, our second commentator, urges us to speak nothing of the future since we cannot be absolutely definite to anything we might have to say. Our third commentator, Frede, is the one who takes Aristotle as seriously considering an alternative mode of truth that facilitates promises and oaths as indispensable tools for deliberation and planning. This points us to our second favored Aristotelian text, the N.E., where the concepts of deliberation and planning are thoroughly mapped out. Our investigation of the N.E. focuses on three of Aristotle technical terms – “φρόνησις” (practical wisdom, henceforth phronesis), “προαίρεσις”(commitment, henceforth prohairesis) and “δεινότητα” (comfortable certainty, henceforth deinotita) – with the help of which successful descriptions of situations having to do with intentional human agency are made possible. More to the point, we end up with a definition of an ideal moral agent who is so defined as to be able to procure a value of truth different from the one provided by a direct correspondence between propositions and states of affairs. Aware of Wittgenstein’s “philosophical” turn, in the second part we describe his later views concerning language use, in an attempt to better understand the role that the social setting plays in the way people act. We are most interested in the distinctions between knowledge, certainty and religious belief and in the exact nature of the normative character that a typically human attitude towards reality affects in our everyday life. We consequently provide our reading of the semantic consequences of Wittgenstein’s distinctions, acknowledging a form of conditional determinism expressed by our intentional participation in social practices, as part of our civilized form of life. In the final part, we attempt to forge a connection between some of Aristotle’s descriptive terms with the later Wittgenstein’s account. The normative force of a religious/ethical belief is related to the force of Aristotle’s term of prohairesis, while the expert coping with social life and it’s demands is compared with deinotita, a practical executive ability that describes the feeling of security an adult member of a society exhibits in his interactions with other community members. Having acquired a better overall understanding of the Aristotelian position concerning human agency as embellished with Wittgenstein’s observations on human everyday attitude, we will then return to our initial discussion of O.I. 9, see if our investigation supports our favored reading of the chapter, and finally examine a proposed solution as able to disarticulate the tension between the occurrence of intentional actions in an indeterminate world.

Item Type: Report
Report Nr: MoL-2009-05
Series Name: Master of Logic Thesis (MoL) Series
Year: 2009
Date Deposited: 12 Oct 2016 14:38
Last Modified: 12 Oct 2016 14:38

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