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,
Concerning Future Contingents and Intentional Action

Petros D. Stamatis


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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