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I was reading some literature (Palinuro de México) and found an interesting example. One of the characters shoots empty bottles for fun and he is 100% accurate (he says: "I'll hit this bottle", and then he shoots and always hits); when asked how can he be so accurate, he says that his trick is to always aim for the bottle next to the one he wants to hit.

The question here is if someone can be said to act intentionally even though, when he acts, he is trying to do something else, his attempt is unsuccessful. and this failure causes the result he wants.

What if he 'misses' his shot and hits the bottle he's aiming at, did he intentionally hit that bottle? If someone tries to G and he succeeds, you seem to have enough reasons to say that he G'ed intentionally, but if you answer yes to the first question, you have to say that this is not enough. This seems to imply that intending and trying are only contingently connected, but this sounds really weird.

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  • I've edited your question based on your comments. It's not my area of expertise but there's an entire book on this topic called Intention by GEM Anscombe. (See this entry at the SEP plato.stanford.edu/entries/anscombe )
    – virmaior
    Jul 14, 2015 at 2:13
  • I'm already familiar with most classics of action theory, but thank you.
    – rds
    Jul 14, 2015 at 2:19
  • If memory serves, Anscombe's text addresses several quite similar examples and accounts for them pretty well. What do you think distinguishes the example you're working from versus her well known poison well example?
    – virmaior
    Jul 14, 2015 at 3:10
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    I recall an intentional paradox, where an agent intends to kill a particular individual, gets drunk; goes driving and kills someone unintentionally. That someone turns out to be the particular individual the agent originally intended to kill. Is this what you have in mind? Your example sounds like a cross wind compensation or a sight calibration issue- for me the shooter is acting intentionally. Jul 14, 2015 at 3:43
  • I've gone through the poison example again and there are some useful remarks at the end, when Anscombe discusses if someone's account of her own actions can give us insight about his intentions; but I still can't figure out a solution. @jimpliciter Those are cases of wayward causal chains; in this example, the causal connection is weird, but regular enough. You can of course re describe this example as a case of 'calibration issues'; the question is then if there is any need to do so.
    – rds
    Jul 14, 2015 at 20:08

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You're overthinking this. He wants to hit the bottle. He does some stuff. He hits the bottle. Yes, it's intentional. That's what intention means.

We don't care that the "some stuff" was aiming at a different bottle, or singing the Star Spangled Banner, or using a carefully-calibrated laser sight, or praying to the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or anything else. That's an implementation detail; the important bit is that he knows something that works to achieve his aims, and does what he needs to to achieve his aims.

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    You're right that "aiming at a different bottle" can count as just a mean to achieve his end. The issue, I think, is that the character can tell you that it is not enough for him to just 'aim' at a different bottle; he has to try to hit it, to intend to hit it; even to forget momentarily which bottle he's supposed to hit. But if hitting the bottle he wasn't aiming at counts as intentionally hitting it, there must be something wrong here, for if this person 'really' intends to hit an object, hitting a different one must count as failure. So where did his description go wrong?
    – rds
    Jul 14, 2015 at 17:55
  • @rds - His description is fine: to hit A, aim at B. You can have more than one level of intent.
    – Rex Kerr
    Jul 15, 2015 at 1:35
  • @ Rex Kerr Are you aware of any academic literature that discusses this different levels of intent? It'd be really helpful.
    – rds
    Jul 15, 2015 at 15:52
  • @rds - Unfortunately not. That we are able to do this is endlessly demonstrated by e.g. acting, giving self-rewards, taking breaks or vacation to recharge so you can work more effectively, and so on; none of this works if you can't intend to intend something else and then act accordingly. I'm not aware of what studies have been done on the topic, however.
    – Rex Kerr
    Jul 15, 2015 at 19:10

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