From whence come intentions, and how is compatibilism any better in this regard?

This post aims to address how unchosen intentions can be rational and person-relevant from a compatibilist perspective but not from a libertarian perspective. Even though morally significant intentions are formed within the agent, they are not formed by the agent, being caused from without the agent. Secondly, it touches upon how libertarian freedom would undermine moral accountability.

An unhappy choice for libertarians, infinite regress or ex nihilo:

The will is the faculty of choice, or that by which the mind chooses. If the will forms intentions to act, then intentions are a result of the mind choosing. We may add that if an intention to act is produced by the will, then it would have to be a result of a previous intention because definitionally the will cannot produce an unintended act. Yet if the mind chooses intentions intentionally (according to a preceding intention), then intentions would be a product of the will ad infinitum, as argued here. There would be what I’ll call a regress conundrum.

How can libertarian philosophy avoid regress, other than by agent causation? In agent causation the willing agent becomes the first cause. Pure spontaneity of intention saves freedom and moral responsibility, or so it’s said. Yet such autonomous independence would detach influence, reason, and relevant history from intentions and willed actions. We’re asked to believe by implication that the agent rises above all influences, wherefrom a posture of equilibrium forms intentions from a functionally blank past. In other words, given the liberty of indifference that agent causation contemplates, choices would be unmapped to personal history, entailing a radical break from the person doing the choosing.

Libertarianism’s dead end:

So, libertarianism is a project that entails acts of the will that bring into existence intentions – while simultaneously denying chosen intentions because of the regress conundrum. The libertarian commitment to the causal contingency of agent causation leaves libertarianism with unintended intentions mysteriously formed by the will, an internally inconsistent notion for libertarianism that would render unintelligible a libertarian claim on moral responsibility based upon ultimate sourcehood and regulative control.

A challenge to Christian compatibilists:

Augustinians should acknowledge that intentions are not chosen. Contingent beings neither choose nor cause the intentions of the will. However, with that acknowledgment comes significant challenge. What makes intentions any more rational and morally relevant from an Augustinian perspective? In other words, what’s the relevant difference between a conception of an intention that springs from nothing and an Augustinian conception that posits that intentions are caused by unwilled states of affairs that are the consequence of causal influences that don’t originate with us and are outside our regulative control? As the title of this post asks, “From whence come intentions, and how is compatibilism any better in this regard?” After all, neither philosophy adequately accounts for agent willed intentions, though only libertarians try to do so. (*Libertarians need it for moral responsibility. Compatibilists do not!)

What makes unintended intentions sensible?

If you’re Augustinian I would suggest you not read on until you feel the weight of the philosophical problem from the previous paragraph.

Nobody rationally determines intentions in a libertarian construct. There’d be no reason to guard the heart for we’d be able to kick bad habits spontaneously, according to a will that’s impervious to causal influences. Such radical spontaneity would result in pure randomness of choice, destroying moral relevance by detaching choice from person. In a split moment we should expect to see saints behaving like devils, and devils like saints. The implications of pure contingency of choice demand it! And any libertarian appeal to will formation doesn’t comport with the metaphysical contingency of libertarianism. Libertarians may not have their cake and eat it too.

The Augustinian solution:

The problem restated: If we don’t sovereignly instantiate our intentions but rather they are formed in us, then how can intentions be morally relevant to the person?

Although intentions are formed in us, they are not formed by us. Notwithstanding, our intentions are rationally relevant because when God maps the cause of our intentions to providential states of affairs, he determines that our resultant intentions remain consistent with our person. They fall out naturally and by design, even with our approval! This uniformity is not a guarantee for libertarianism since it would not be normative that intentions have any relevance to the person given the contingency entailed by libertarian freedom. So, if the life practicing thief finds a billfold loaded with cash, from an Augustinian perspective the formed intention will likely result in a free act of ditching the wallet and pocketing the cash. However, God could also trigger a childhood memory resulting in an intention to freely do right given identical circumstances. Unlike with the implications of libertarian spontaneity, from an Augustinian standpoint either intention would be causally relevant to the thief’s past. Also, both outcomes could be actualized by God, which is not the case with Molinism and profoundly undermines the contingency of CCFs that Molinism seeks on the basis of indeterminism, in turn exposing Molinism for the brute fact necessity of all CCFs, as argued here.

*For Augustinianism, moral responsibility is sufficiently obtained by other factors whereby agent-willed intentions are unnecessary (not to mention, philosophically inexplicable). As long as intentions are formed within the agent, even though they are are not formed by the agent, they are morally relevant. They are morally relevant because they are the agent’s intentions.

2 thoughts on “From whence come intentions, and how is compatibilism any better in this regard?

Comments are closed.