Random notes

There is nothing which I would claim to be true (or even acceptable) here, so I should not be quoted on any of the following lines. I wrote them down just to reflect on some topics (personal identity, responsibility, obligations, existence of God, theology of atonement, actions, intentions, reasoning, having a concept etc.) in my spare time. I am not posting these thoughts here because they could be of any use to someone else. It is just that I do not see why I should refrain from posting them here for my own use.


My arguments (for the idea that it is reasonable to believe in God) were making use of concepts like responsibility and forgiveness. I do not think one could construct convincing arguments by talking about the meaning of like, justification of moral values (or epistemic values, for that matter), the dangers of relativism a.s.o.


Personal identity: think of cases when people would say ”he/she is not the same man/woman anymore”.

Or: ”She/he is not the woman/man she/he once was”. Old age, sickness, traumas etc. are involved. Different traits (psychological or even physical) change. Depending on the case, they count more or less. However, one would want to say that we are not interested in such cases when we are talking about personal identity. We are only interested in what makes one the same person. What does it mean to be the same person? Should we attempt to talk about this by leaving our familiar language games behind?

Also, some are tempted to think that by providing criteria for personal identity they are also indicating what it is to be a person. This is misleading. My genetic code could be used to identify me in most usual situations. It does not follow from this that I am a genetic code.

”How do I know she is the same person?” – Well, you do not. You are certain that she is (Wittgenstein style). You might come to say that she is not the women she once was and still treat her as the same person. Remember: ”She does not know who I am anymore, but I know who she is”.


”Why is philosophy as a conceptual proposal better than art (literature, for instance), religion, self-help books etc.?” – It is more intellectually satisfying.

”And why should it be?” – Granted, one might live a better life by accepting contradictory beliefs. However, if you accept inconsistent beliefs, what stops you from contradicting in your actions and your beliefs? But then, how could any beliefs you might accept guide your life?

”The contribution of philosophy does not simply consist in eliminating contradictions. It provides conceptual clarity”. – Then, even if conceptual clarity was not necessary, it cannot be a bad thing.


There is something unclear about responsibility. One could, perhaps, distinguish between:
(a) Being responsible for an action – accepting that you have performed it (or that ”you own” the event it consists in);
(b) Being responsible for an action in front of somebody – accepting that you should provide reasons for it, receive critiques from that person with respect to your action a.s.o.
(c) Being morally responsible for an action – accepting that your action has a moral value etc.
(d) Being responsible for something (what happens at a construction place, the education of a child etc.) – accepting duties/obligations with respect to a series of events, a larger process etc.
(e) Being responsible in front of someone for what you do with your life – a particular type of responsibility, including traits from all the above types etc.


What should I consider to be bad for me?

Whatever limits my possibilities of development/liberties, damages my self-respect or my personal identity (makes me unable to accept myself any longer), renders my life meaningless, destroys my values.

Suffering could be a symptom for such a loss, but does not constitute a loss in itself.
”But it (temporarily) limits my possibilities to enjoy myself”. – That is not among the possibilities to develop myself as a person.

(Ok, it is complicated. Also, something could perhaps be bad without being morally wrong)


The main concern: How do I bridge the gap between me (as a person, having a life composed of actions, which have a conceptual structure) and my environment (the realm of nature, causality etc.)? My idea of ”ownership” of natural events was not so great.

Another question: How do I bridge the gap between causal exclusion and conceptual opposition? What about that between causality and necessary/sufficient conditioning? Saying – like Mackie does – that a cause is a necessary condition for something which is sufficient for the effect to occur is an attempt to reduce causality to necessary/sufficient conditioning, but this does nothing to bridge that gap (even if it were true).

Still, why do I look at concepts and think of words. Suppose there is a switch with 2 positions: when the switch is in the first position, a fire is lit; when it is in the second one, the fire is put off. It is not that I could not create an intermediary position between the two for my switch. The problem is that the fire cannot be lit and put off (extinguished) at the same time. If the two positions were used for lighting to lamps, the intermediary position would work.

”making it so that there is a fire there” / ”making it so that there is no fire there” vs. ”making it so that the bucket is lifted on the rope” / ”making it so that the bucket is lowered on the rope” – in the second case an intermediary position would make sense – but not as ”making it so that the bucket is lifted and lowered at the same time on the rope” but as ”making it so that the bucket stays at the same height on the rope”; the intermediary position is possible without a description, but that means that the concept is somehow embedded directly by that position (in my action of placing the switch into that position, perhaps).

”Trying to force conceptual relations onto causal relations will not work like that.”

A ball is thrown towards an object. It hits it and moves it. Were that object glued to the desk, the ball hitting it would not have been sufficient to move it. The cause is not, simply, what is sufficient for the effect to occur.


X is an action only if X is performed with the intention to do A. Otherwise X is just unintentional behavior etc. But intentions as psychological states do not explain anything (see Wittgenstein, Anscombe etc.). Things are the same as in the case of meanings as psychological objects.

The intention that … must have some conceptual content. Why? I suppose this is due to the grammar of ”expressing an intention” (the constitutive rules for that speech act). In same respects, expressing an intention does resemble expressing a wish. One cannot express wishes without content. If I just say ”I have a wish”, I am understood as saying that I have a wish ”that something”, but I do no share the content of my wish.

However, if intentions cannot be psychological objects, then what do we do about their conceptual content? We have to say that actions have, in fact, conceptual content. This sounds a bit weird at first. What do I want to say with this?

Suppose I am using an artifact. A cup, for instance. I am pouring tea in it, drinking from it, washing it. This is, at least, what I would say when asked what I was doing. So I am able to describe my actions in this manner. However, suppose I do not do it. I do not say to myself ”now I am drinking from the cup” a.s.o.

What does it mean that my actions have a conceptual content? Well, they are the actions of drinking from a cup, washing it etc. I could not use the cup to write something or to phone home.

”So, in the same way in which using words is something which has conceptual content, because there are semantic rules for using linguistic objects (which could be considered some sort of artifacts), using an artifact has conceptual content because there are rules for using that artifact?”

Well, I think so.

Let us think of the following cases:

(i) S has the ”linguistic concept” of ”cup”. She can say what a cup is, talk about cups, distinguish between correct and incorrect uses of the word etc.

(ii) S has the ”practical concept” of ”cup”. She can use cups, distinguish them from objects which are not cups etc.

Now, one could say that (i) is not a completely different case. In fact, there is only one case. Were S a dog, it might be able only to fetch cups. A small child can drink from a cup, but cannot pour something into it. At first the child will learn only to recognize cups and say ”cup”, or to ask for a cup. These are also things we do with cups. Why not say that talking about cups is just another use of cups which the child learns latter in her life?

”But we use words, not cups.”

We do not use only cups, but words too. It is the same when we paint a cup. We use the cup to paint it, but we also use paint and a brush. When one learns to paint cups, she learns to use cups with other objects. There is nothing weird here.

”Right, but a being unable to speak could use objects. According to you, that being might be performing some actions which have conceptual content.”

In a sense, yes. The difference between that being and myself does not reside in the lack of a linguistic ability on the part of that being and my linguistic abilities. Neither does it reside in my being ”conscious of what I am doing”. If there is a difference, then it is made by my being responsible for what I am doing.

”Right, but the game of responsibility requires linguistic abilities. In order to be responsible you should be able to accept or reject descriptions of what you were doing, to provide reasons for what you were doing, to understand some evaluations of what you were doing and so on.”

Even responsibility could have some natural ancestors. Accepting a critique does resemble accepting defeat. Also, if we conceive responsibility in terms of obligations, and these, in turn, are conceived in terms of dispositions of behavior…

Of course, I would like to hold on to some ”higher” kind of responsibility. But I do not resent the idea that even this ”higher” kind of responsibility could be naturalized. The link between causality and responsibility could perhaps be found in the first years in the life of a child (or in our natural history). When I talk about bridging the gap between the two, however, I am interested in a conceptual matter.

Some ”higher” or ”strong” kind of responsibility seems to get out of the causal realm altogether. An example. Suppose I consider that I have the responsibility to answer certain questions asked by my child. The responsibility does not disappear if I die, although I cannot answer those questions anymore.

To this one could reply that responsible is, like soluble, a dispositional term. I am responsible to answer those questions asked by my child means. Where it the case that I was asked those questions, I should answer them. Thus, responsibility does not escape causality. It only ”escapes” the actual world.

I do not know how to think about this now.


Pure reason, one could claim, is involved only in arguments in which the content does not matter. Mice exist only if God is eternal. Mice exist. Therefore, God is eternal. By contrast, the following argument does not involve only pure reason:
The moment of time t1 is before the moment t2. t2 is present. Therefore, t1 is in the past.

One could, of course, point out that the second argument does not only involve pure reason because it has a hidden premise: Whenever a moment of time x1 is before another moment x2 and x2 is present, x1 is in the past.

But then, we could talk about this other hidden premise: If something general can be applyed to a particular case, what followed from the general principle can be considered to follow from the particular case.

It might be that there no pure reason. After all, the idea of some sort of pure reason might be incompatible with naturalism.


Are there any conditional actions? A conditional action seems impossible. Why is this so? Well, because and action must have a beginning and an end. The conditional seems to express only the idea of a link between two things (two events, let us say), but is not in itself an event. We could use conditionals in talking about a series of actions, as in ”if the teabag was put in the hot water, then the water was boiled etc.”, or as in ”he watered the plants only if they were dry”. We could also use a conditional in relation to an action like this: ”He moved the right side of the steering wheel upwards only if he moved the bottom part of the steering wheel to the right.”

One could break the steering wheel, such that somebody could move the right side and the bottom part of it independently. So the conditional seems to be true only about un unbreakable steering wheel. This is the nature of logical relations. A conditional saying that the probability of the bottom part going to the right, given that the right side is going upwards, is high could only be used in inductive reasoning.

General judgments of the type ”humans are animals” do have something in common with the conditional, indeed. They seem to express a conditional link between being A and being B. That, however, is a distinct trait. Their generality is another trait. We could have a conditional talking about something particular. But could we have a general (or universal) judgement which does not have a conditional (logical) structure?

One could use general terms as in classical logic – Animal(all x such as Human(x)). This, however, is only a matter of notation. Also, a negative universal does not have a conditional form. It simply says that there is nothing human and immortal. If we consider genocide as an action (a complex one, including all the actions in the series we call ”genocide”), it seems to have the same structure as a universal negative.

However, actions which resemble in structure to a universal positive are also possible: the action by which God creates all humans could be such an example. Any action which could affect an indefinite number of members from a certain class could be conceived like this. I do not want to enter into details about this right now. What seems important is that if ”positive universal actions” are possible, but conditional actions are not, then it is weird to believe that the logical structure of a positive universal judgement is that of a conditional.

The conditional form seems to be most useful in stating rules (”One is permitted to drive a car only if one has a driving licence”) or in specifying algorithms (”If the water is boiling, pour it into the cup”).

In usual inferences we could leave the conditional forms aside by focusing on material inferences. Perhaps the same could be done with respect to actions.


One more try:

I intend to leave the room. In order to do this, I must walk to the door. Therefore, I walk to the door. Here the intention to leave the room (or the simulated action of leaving the room) has the role of the premise and walking to the door has the role of the conclusion. The premise, however, is not a proper action. Intending to leave the room is not the performance of some psychological act. The simulated action of leaving the room could be called a psychological act but even if we talk about such acts, they are not necessary.

What about my leaving the room? We have two versions:
(a) leaving the room = walking to the door, opening it and stepping outside the room – in this case, the action of leaving the room includes the action of walking to the door. Walking to the door follows from leaving the room, but only because leaving the room is a complex action which included (in this case) the action of walking to the door. All complex actions could be treated as premises, such that their component actions could be treated as conclusions, but we do not gain much from this.
(b) leaving the room = stepping outside the room – one cannot step outside a room through a wall or through a closed door, so in order to leave the room I had to open the door and also to walk to the door (since one cannot step through an open door from a distance); also, walking to the door was necessary in order to open the door (since one cannot open a regular door, which is not remote activated etc. from a distance. This does not seem to be very different from the way in which we reason we get from our aims to the means of achieving them. The fact that instead of talking about an aim (that I am outside of the room) and some means (what could get me outside) I talk about actions (stepping outside of the room = leaving the room) does not change things much.

Yet another way of talking about inferences between actions is possible (this is suggested in Foundations of illocutionary logic). By committing an action I can be committed to have performed other actions.

For instance, saying the all your co-workers are lazy commits you to saying that John, one of your co-workers, is lazy. It also commits you to saying that there are lazy people etc. Logical inference can be conceived like this – it does not transfer truth, but responsibility. Thus conceived, it can be easily applied to actions.

In this sense, my leaving the room makes me also responsible for having walked to the door. But it also makes me responsible for ending my conversation with you.

There are two problems here:
(1) The transfer of responsibility captures not only logical inferences, but also implicatures (at least conventional implicatures). The solution could be that in the case of a logical inference I cannot cancel the conclusion without canceling (taking back) the premise. My responsibility for the conclusion is such that if I want to give it up, then I have to give up the premise. In the case of a conventional implicature, I am responsible for what I imply by what I say, but if I want to take back what I have implied I only have to accept that what I have said was poorly expressed. I can reformulate and do not need to take back everything. Still, it is difficult to find something similar to the case of implicature in the case of non-communicative actions (what are the equivalents of ”even if” or ”although” there?)
(2) The transfer of responsibility in the case of actions seems to follow the path of a causal chain – I am responsible for the effects of my action (described, perhaps, as if I was producing those effects directly –  as in ”throwing a stone – breaking the window”). But how could logical inference follow the path of a causal chain? Sure, Davidson says that it does, but it still seems counter-intuitive to say so. Also, we do not talk about mental causation here (the acceptance of the premises causing me to accept the conclusion), but of proper causation.

However, if I keep in mind what I have said before, it must be so. Of course, responsibility is not only transferred along natural causal chains, but there should be a smooth transition from such cases to cases in which responsibility (or commitment) is transferred along logico-semantic (and other sort of use) rules chains. Rules are, after all, embedded in practices which are, in the end, part of all the other natural events (in the sense in which a monkey giving a banana to another in a specific context also constitutes a natural event).

What about the cases when somebody says ”Sure, that was the effect of my action, but I did not intend to set the house on fire.”? The lack of some ”psychological symptoms” to be called ”the intention to set the house on fire” is not enough to justify ”I did not intend to set the house on fire”, since similar symptoms could have been also missing when you fired a match, yet you do not say ”I did not intend to fire a match”.

Perhaps what you want to say is that at present you could provide a reason for lighting the match, which is different from ”to set the house on fire”.

In any case, being responsible for an event is different from being responsible for an actions of yours. A different concept of responsibility is involved in the two cases.
(a) I shoot X with the intention to kill him. I am responsible for killing X.
(b) I shoot X with the intention to kill him but I miss. However, the bullet hits a gas tank which explodes, causing the death of X. I did not perform the action of killing X, but I am responsible for his death. Here one could say that it is ”as if” I have killed X.

I could also say that my intention was not that X should die. That was, perhaps, my whish. My intention was to kill him. This only means that I am only willing to provide reasons for the action of killing him, performed by myself (even if I failed in performing that action). This is different from saying ”I wanted to kiss her, not that she would be kissed”. The point is that I cannot provide reasons for events happening. I can only provide reasons for my actions.

From this, we can distinguish between ”being responsible”, in the sense in which you accept the obligation to provide (you are committed to providing) reasons for your action (of course, this might depend on the person asking you for reasons for doing what you did, but this opens a different discussion), and ”being responsible”, in the sense in which you accept some other (social) obligations related to what happened – that you will have to provide a reparation, suffer a punishment etc. In a sens, the second type of ”being responsible” amounts to accepting the effects (socially mediated, in some cases, but not in all cases) produced by the effects of your actions (think about cases in which we say that someone acted irresponsibly – this is not to say that the person should have valued the effects as ”good” or ”right”, but only that she should have considered them; one could be responsible, in this sense, with respect to stealing by taking in consideration that one could be caught and go to jail, making all the preparations in advance for this potential outcome of her action of stealing and so on; this does not mean that the person in case assumes any moral responsibility for stealing).

Could one be morally responsible for the occurrence of an event? Suppose I say ”It was, indeed, wrong to try to kill X, because X died as a result of my attempt”. Or I could say ”It was wrong to try to kill X, not because X died, but because attempted murder is morally wrong too”. In the second case it is clear that I accept that what I did was wrong. Perhaps I was aware that I am doing something wrong from the very beginning, but I assumed that responsibility and I was prepared to consider myself responsible even if I failed etc. However, I seem to consider myself responsible for my actions only. In the first case it is as if I am saying ”the fact that he died makes me a killer”. It is not clear if I consider myself morally responsible for the attempted murder. I am responsible for what I did because what I did was the same as murdering X and I accept that it is wrong to murder people.

I will not continue with this now.

There might also be a basic level of responsibility – accepting an action (under some description) as your own, even if you do not think you have any obligation to provide reasons for it. It could be that you do not think anybody else has the right to ask you for reasons, but also it could be that the action in case could not be justified by talking about means and aims or of a series of actions etc. (it could have been a gratuitous act, or it could be performed as some sort of play etc.)

This could already distinguish responsibility for an action from responsibility for the occurrence of an event (or responsibility for the action of somebody else).


If A performs an action individually (not in cooperation with someone else), then nobody else than A can assume responsibility (accepting the respective action as her action, being committed to provide reasons for that action etc.) for that action. If my child breaks your window I cannot say that I broke your window too, although I can assume responsibility for the fact that your window was broken (I will pay you for the damage) and also for the fact that my child broke your window (I should have educated her better – my omission to do this is perhaps morally wrong). We could say that it is ”as if” I broke your window, but this only shows that I did not do it.

So how could Jesus atone for the sins of all humans? He did not cooperate with them in performing the respective sinful actions. He did not perform those actions, so it would have been unjust for Him to be punished for them. Sure, a parent can be punished for not having educated a child better, but this is not the case here. This is related to my thoughts about forgiveness. Anyone can do something unforgivable (something which the doer would or ought to believe is unforgivable). It is reasonable to believe that any such person still has a chance to be happy. It is, therefore, reasonable to believe that somebody could still forgive such a person. That somebody is supposed to be God. However, the only way in which I could conceive the removal of my responsibility for an unforgivable act was that in which somebody else somehow assumed that responsibility. Responsibility cannot simply disappear (I am tempted to say that I should still be responsible for my actions even if God made is so that I was never born to begin with). This, however, leads to the following puzzle. It would be unjust for God to assume responsibility for an unforgivable act. He did not perform the act and was not cooperating with me in doing it (unless we want to say that it was ”as if” He was cooperating with me; but we do not want to say that). Also, by assuming responsibility as a parent for the deeds of His child he should accept having done something wrong (not offering appropriate guidance), which does not seem OK for God. Moreover, even if he did, that would not be assuming responsibility for an unforgivable act (since not offering appropriate guidance is not by itself unforgivable, even if somebody does something unforgivable as a result). So it would not be just for God to accept responsibility for my unforgivable act. But God should not tolerate injustice.

”But a child could believe she did something unforgivable and still be forgiven, since she is a child and not fully responsible for her actions.”

Sure, but here the analogy between me and a child breaks. Unlike a child, I am fully responsible for my actions. God should have given me full responsibility.

Here the point is that without solving the puzzle I cannot claim that for someone who aims at moral and spiritual fulfillment it should be more reasonable to believe in God than not to believe in Him.

Anyway, I should think about this some other time.


A topic related to my interests could be atonement theology. However, that debate has a different aim (to agree on an interpretation of Christ’s atonement for the sins of believers a.s.o.).

My problem is different. Let me attempt to clarify what I think:

(1) There are actions such that the agents having performed them ought to consider that they are unforgivable (let us call them U, for short).
(2) Even a person who has performed such an action should be able to reach spiritual fulfillment (or some version of summum bonum).
(3) A person cannot reach spiritual fulfillment unless she/he is forgiven for the Us she/he is responsible for.
(4) Only God could forgive someone for an U.
(5) Forgiveness for an U can by granted only by removing responsibility for that U (it is not only the feeling of being responsible for an U that has to be removed).
(6) Responsibility does not disappear (if it is my responsibility to take care of my child, my responsibility does not disappear with my death or with the death of my child; being unable to fulfill your responsibility does not make your responsibility go away; if I am responsible for having done A, I will be always responsible for having done A).
(7) Responsibility removed from a person must be taken upon by another person (only a person can be responsible for something).
(8) It is unjust for God to take upon (himself/herself) a responsibility for an U.
(9) God is just.
(10) (1)-(9) cannot all hold.

It could be objected that (6) is too strong. Still, I do not want to give up (6). In any case, I do not want to give it up in order to solve this puzzle.

Also, this could be used to say:

”It seems that nobody (not even God) can forgive herself/himself for an U. Were God to take upon herself/himself a responsibility for an U, He/She could never forgive herself/himself. This justifies (8). But then, if one accepts (2) and (3), it follows that (1) cannot hold.”

I do not want to give up (1) either. I have used to think, for instance, that an action which would irreversibly prevent someone from reaching spiritual fulfillment is unforgivable. From this seems to follow that eternal damnation is unforgivable, so God should not condemn anyone to eternal damnation. I will not insist on this now.

Perhaps an objection to (5) could be raised. If I can be forgiven for an U and still be responsible for that U, then my responsibility does not have to be removed. But how could I forgive myself if I am responsible for an U? The point of being forgiven is to be able to forgive yourself, is it not? Otherwise, how could one reach spiritual fulfillment (or anything similar)?

”But (3) makes a link between forgiveness, conceived in a way which is non-psychological, and something – spiritual fulfillment – the necessary condition of which is a psychological state. How can this not be problematic?”

Still there is a difference between considering yourself responsible and considering yourself forgiven. One could consider herself responsible for an action in the zero level and reasons providing manner without considering herself morally responsible for an action. Or, perhaps, one could even consider herself morally responsible for an action but at the same time consider herself forgiven for it. Suppose that I did steal something and I consider myself forgiven for it. I still think what I did was wrong, but I do not think it was unforgivable.

However, how could one consider herself forgiven for having done an U, which is an unforgivable action?

Suppose God told me ”Yes, it was an unforgivable action, but not to me, so I can give you forgiveness.”. Should I consider myself forgiven in such a case? I would tell myself ”Right, God must be able to forgive anything, but how could it be right for God to do that?”.

Perhaps it is right for God to forgive somebody for an U, given that that person never forgives herself/himself for that U and puts his/her trust in God for being forgiven.

This reminds my of the parent-child relation again. A child does something which she cannot forgive herself for. I am the parent. From my point of view, she can be forgiven for what she did. But if she can be forgiven, why should I forgive her only if she does not forgive herself for what she did for a very long time? Now it seems unjust to let her unable to get over what she did.

So, how can an action be forgivable, but only if its agent does not forgive herself for having done it? Well, it is not like the agent should never forgive herself. Life is not endless. In order to atone for what you did you must not forgive yourself until your life ends, without having any guarantee that you will ever be forgiven. Us are actions which create this situation – they are not in principle unforgivable.

Right, but now the way in which I conceive Us has changed. The possibility of forgiveness (by God) is part of their concept. Is this right?

I do not think I have a solution to this problem yet.


Perhaps I should also think more about forgiveness. Asking for forgiveness and granting forgiveness are some special kinds of speech acts. Considering their constitutive conditions should be interesting. For instance, can A forgive B if B does not ask A to forgive him? We should distinguish between forgiveness as some sort of psychological act and ”granting forgiveness” as a speech act.

Also, it usually seems that A cannot forgive B for an action if that action was not done ”against A” – this means either that A was the addressee of that action and the action was ”bad for A”, or that the action was bad for A (perhaps intended to be bad for A) even the action was not done to A (A was not its addressee). The second case is perhaps right (I can say something to Y meaning for Z to overhear my utterance). Other clarifications are perhaps needed, but the point is clear – in order for God to forgive me for an U it must appear that by doing that U I have done something bad to God. In this case, God must be the person one hurts whenever one hurts anybody else. In other words, a person with unlimited capacity of suffering for others which is also entitled to suffer for others.

According to the Bible, Jesus asks God to forgive those who torture and kill Him, the reason being that ”they do not know what they are doing”. Several interpretations are at hand:
– He (the human) could not forgive them, so He asked God to forgive them.
– A special reason was necessary for those people to be forgiven for killing the son of God (they did not know it was that what they were doing).
– Sinners do not really know what they are doing (i.e. they accept their actions under different descriptions etc.)



A model:

A person (P) performs an action (A) to the addressee (D). (some actions are such that they cannot be performed when (P) is the same with (D); P cannot lend money to P; however, it seems that P can forgive P in some cases (…); other actions are such that they can be performed only when (P) is the same with (D); attribution of responsibility might be an example)

It seems that (P) is ”zero-level” responsible for (A) in front of (D) IFF (P) does (A) to (D)

Thinking out loud / thinking for yourself – these are actions, but one could argue that they are not speech acts.

Should I say that P is ”zero-level” responsible for A only if P thinks for herself that she did A? Could one be ”zero-level” responsible for an action without some sort of act which could be described as ”assuming responsibility for A”? We do not need psychological acts for zero-level responsibility. Perhaps it would be enough to say that P must at least have the disposition to think for herself the she did A. Such a disposition, however, either is some sort of psychological ”stuff” (but not an act), or is reducible to some natural processes. Neither case seems satisfactory.

The second seems unsatisfactory because it makes the difference between being (zero-level) responsible for an action (i.e. having performed an action) and not being responsible (…) amount to the occurrence of some natural phenomena. The first makes the difference dependent on the occurrence of some psychological phenomena.

I have zero-level responsibility for everything I do. Children tend to assume zero-level responsibility for more than what they do. No condition needs to be fulfilled for this. They have to be taught that something was not in their control for them to give up their zero-level responsibility for that event.

E was not in my control means ”nothing done by me (for which I am zero-level responsible) could be (or ”was”) causally connected to E. This is the point at which causal connections enter the matter. It is not that I first have to believe that I caused the event A and then I have to believe that something additional (my intention that A should occur) was present (unbeknownst to me, even) in order to accept that A was my action.

At first, everything is my action. Then, I accept that the events which I do not seem to be able to control are not my actions. (So there is no need for events ”ownership”).

”But how could have such an attitude been born in humans? Do animals have zero-level responsibility for their actions too?”

In this respect, turning from being a non-human animal to being a human person seems similar to switching from dreaming (I do not have zero-level responsibility for my actions during my regular dreams; in fact, I do not seem able to assume such a responsibility) to lucid dreaming (or being awake). An explanation should be possible.

”Right, but then the explanation will have to point out what was gained by humans. Even if you do not want to talk about intentions, mental acts, dispositions or natural processes, you still have to talk about something. What makes the transition from ”not being able to assume zero-level responsibility for any events” to ”being able to assume zero-level responsibility for all events”? Well?”

If we are talking about an ability, then talk about neurophysiological functions or processes is in order. There is no apparent difficulty in speaking about ”natural abilities”. Fishes have the natural ability to swim (although ”swimming is not an action, in their case, as it is in ours), humans have the natural ability to assume (zero-level) responsibility for events occurring in their environment. Such an ability must, of course, be related to the fact that their brain is more developed than the brain of any fish. This is OK.

”Right, but what does it mean to be able to assume zero-level responsibility for an event?”

It means that you could say (to yourself, at least) ”I did this”, if you would want to.

”So this ability is dependent, after all, on our linguistic abilities?”

That is not what I wanted to say. I was replying as if I were talking to someone who did not understand what I meant by the phrase ”ability to assume zero-level responsibility for an event”. Teaching someone the meaning of a phrase should be distinguished from giving a (theoretical) definition for a phrase.



”We realize very early that we cannot affect everything around us.” – What does it mean ”to realize” in this case?

Either ”to realize that…” is an act, or it is not. If it is, then it should be an act one could perform before having any linguistic abilities. But then, how could it be conceived as ”an action under a description”? Also, if it is an act, what is acted upon in such a case?

(The second is a more general problem concerning all rendering of supposedly passive mental events – hearing, seeing, perceiving, remembering, etc. – into acts. Such acts cannot fall in the category of ”productions”, since one who is perceiving does not produce ”perceptions”, but they do not seem to modify in any way their objects either. Or if they did, that would somehow diminish the ”objectivity” of their objects – see transcendental idealism.)

Can we speak of non-linguistic concepts? Sure. Then, perhaps, my idea of actions having conceptual content is different from what Anscombe says about ”actions under descriptions”. One does not have to think, at first, that intentions are some sort of propositional attitudes and then to reject them as psychological entities. Intentions as psychological entities can be rejected from the very beginning.

It is, indeed, a mistake to say that a small child toying with a toy hammer is ”hammering”, even if she did gestures similar to those of an adult who was hammering. The child did not start speaking, so she would not be able to perform an action under that description. She can, however, perform various actions with the toy hammer. We can guide her hand and teach her different gestures, which she might repeat by herself. Some patterns emerge, she can do some things and cannot do other things with the toy hammer. I would propose that we call such a set of patterns and their relations a ”conceptual structure”.

”Do you want to say that our conceptual framework is rooted in the causal structure of the world itself?”

I would not go that far. We cannot teach the little child to make the toy hammer float in the air, or to operate it from a distance, but we do not teach her all the possible gestures. A child could use her legs to paint something – some learn to do it – but we do not usually teach our children to use their legs like that.

Our conceptual structure emerges as we learn of the causal limitations imposed on our actions. Although we do not conceive them at first as causal limitations – one could even say that there is no act called ”realizing that you cannot affect X”, we just try to do stuff and fail; even this could be criticized, perhaps it would be better to say that we fail at some of the things which we attempt and there are also things which we never attempt to do.

”Right but you seem to want to say that either a small child believes that she can move objects without touching them and attempts to do it and fails, or the child never wants to move objects without touching them.”

Well, the child does not have beliefs with respect to what she can do and what she cannot.

”But then, what about your claim that we are born with the ability to regard any event as our action?”

Well, we are born with the ability to learn a language. That could be considered the ability to regard any object as a sign. This does not mean, of course, that we live at first in a world of signs, and only afterwards limit ourselves to considering only some physical objects (certain written marks and drawings, certain sounds etc.) as signs. We take as signs only those objects which are used as signs by those around us. It is the same with actions. We act as those around us. Having the ability in case does not mean that we are born in a world composed of our actions and only afterwards we learn to distinguish between our actions and natural events.

”This seems to be a step back from what you were saying previously.”

I do not see a problem here. The idea is that we do not need the psychological concept of ”intention” in order to explain how do we distinguish between actions and events (or unintentional behavior, for that matter). Neither do we need (psychological) intentions if we want to say that our actions have a conceptual content. We learn by taking part in preexistent practices (linguistic and non-linguistic, or communicative and non-communicative). Those practices have conceptual content (even the non-communicative ones) because they embed rules and all the rules (not only proper semantic rules) produce conceptual content. Children do not attempt to move objects from a distance, but not because they realize something about a causal chain – linking their attempts and the movements of those objects – being broken, but because it is a rule of most of our practices (but not all, since we use remote controlled toys, tv sets etc.) that we do not do that.

”Now it seems that you do not need to talk about causal relations at all. This cannot be right.”

Indeed. You cannot have causal relations (not even broken causal chains) without a concept of causality. This, like all our other concepts, must be rooted in our social practices, which embed rules.

Imagine a child tries to do something an adult does and fails. The child has a ”primitive” concept of that action. She knows that ”that” is something which could be done. Her failure to do it does not render ”that” into a natural event.

Also, suppose a child does not attempt to do something in particular. She just toys with some objects. While doing that, she might fail (but not as in ”attempting to do X and failing”) to combine those objects in a particular way. She might give that up or try again. If no adult shows her ”how it is done”, any outcome is possible.

”Could she not invent an action by herself?”

I do not think the private language arguments apply only to sensations (or other mental objects). The point is not that ”those” are in principle inaccessible to anyone else. The point is that one cannot invent a practice _with respect to anything_ without having taken part in some preexistent practices. Inventing a practice is itself a practice. But this is not the whole argument. When my son takes some empty plastic bottles, puts them in the middle of the room and circles them, _we_ say that he invented a new game. In other words, we integrate what he does into our existent practices. In the long run, were he to keep doing that, by interacting with him as if what he did was a game, we might make it a game. It would not become a game if we did nothing.

”Ok, but how did we start to have practices?”

I do not know. What should I explain that?

”You do not have to explain it. Still, you can think about the concepts such an explanation could use.”

Ok. The explanation could start by describing interactions between human beings which are not practices. At some point something must be added to describe similar interactions in terms of practices. To take an example there are fights in the animal world. Humans also fight. This first case could be conceived as that of an interaction which is not a practice. The second could be conceived as the case of a practice. Human fights could be thus described as competitions for some social status, which are held according to some rules. Animal fights, on the other hand, might be described by talking about how they compete for limited resources (”to compete”, in this case, will have a different meaning, similar to that in which ”two water currents compete for setting the temperature in a certain area”). In short, competing phenomena are causally cancelling each other, while competing actions are opposing actions (in my sense).

”Leaving aside the circularity of this distinction, how do you get a practice-competition from a natural-competition? Are you not facing the same dilemma – crossing from one vocabulary to the other – only in different words?”

Well, nothing prevents us from saying that animals have practices. Only their practices are different from ours, in spite of the similarities between some of them. The distinction between the two might not reside in the presence (or the absence) of a certain ingredient, but in the complexity of the system of practices (this could be called a holistic approach). We do not attribute practice-competition to water currents because we do not see their interactions on the background of a complex range of other interactions. We could attribute practice-competition to monkeys if we regard their competitions on the background of a complex pattern of interactions between them. This is, indeed something we do (see ”intentional stance”). There was no moment in our natural history when some interactions have become practices. Our abilities have developed gradually. It is the same with our interactions. At first they were only interactions (in the case of our non-organic ancestors this is clear). After becoming more and more complex, they could be called practices. In any case, we had practices before being able to call them practices. We were able to teach one another some practices before being able to call them practices as well (passing on a certain type of interaction is not necessarily ”teaching” so no, this cannot be the missing magical ingredient). By then we could have had a system of signals, but not a language. At some point we could have had a language (i. e. a complex and articulated system of ”speech acts” intertwined with other practices) without being able to make assertions (pace Brandom). We were also able to ”make inferences”, at some point, without being able to call them inferences. Making inferences is a late addition to our practices. Conceptualizing that practice as we do (as the practice of ”making inferences”) is an even latter addition.

”Is it your point that we have started, at some point, to ”make inferences” (conceived as a way in which one would get from a – perhaps simulated – speech act to another) with our actions (conceived as a way of getting from one action to another), but it is only now that we can conceptualize that practice as such?”

Perhaps. I am also tempted to think of actions in a logical space, in the same way in which sentences are regarded in Tractatus. However, I think I have to resist that temptation.

”So, how would you describe the practice of making inferences with actions?”

This is an example. My younger son does not speak yet. He does remove an obstacle in order to do something. He uncovers the Wii console (which we did cover with a pillow) in order to push a button on it (which he did several times before, when no obstacle was present). When the obstacle is present he does A (pushing the button) only if B (the obstacle is removed). So he proceeds from the conclusion, so to speak (removal of the pillow) to the premise (pushing the button). The inference in case could be called an enthymeme or a material inference:
(1) B – remove the pillow
(2) A – push the button
(3) A only if B (the ”missing premise”)

”Still, why would you call the succession of the actions A and B an inference? Also, what does (3) actually say and why would he actually believe it?”

Why should he believe it? I do not think that my cat has the belief ”I can eat the food in the bathroom only if I push the door open with my paw”. Yet the cat can get from pushing open the door to eating the food in the bathroom.

”So your cat also makes inferences?”

In a sense, why not?

”In what sense?”

Well, it all depends on whether we attribute to the cat practices and actions. If we say, for instance, ”well, she is not opening the door in the same way in which we open a door, but she does something…”, it is not yet clear what do we attribute to the cat. (…)

”Also, why would you call getting from a conclusion to a premise ”an inference”? Was it not the other way around?”

I do not want to be picky with the terms. If one wishes to distinguish between getting from premises to conclusion and getting from conclusion to premises, different words could be used for these cases. An example of a ”proper inference” could still be produced:

(4) I eat only if I make my mouth accessible to feeding.
(5) I prevent my mouth from being accessible to feeding.
(6) I do not eat (I stop eating, prevent myself from eating etc.).

”So the cat playing dead because she does not want to be taken outside for a walk is also making an inference? This is ludicrous.”

I propose that we leave cats aside for now. In any case, if we were talking about inference as a logical relation between premises and conclusion, the order in which the premise and conclusion are uttered should not matter. We are, however, talking about ”the practice of making inferences”. What I am trying to do is to think of cases which resemble those considered paradigmatic for such a practice (producing an argument, a demonstration or an explanation are such cases), cases in which we do not communicate, but perform other kinds of actions. Getting from a conclusion to its premises is usual in the case of explanations – consider this:
(7) The vase is laying on one side on the table. (I notice this)
(8) The vase was knocked down (I say this; it could be that I am saying it to myself)
(9) The vase could be laying on one side only if it was knocked down (I do not say or think this, although I could say it if pressed to provide my reason for believing (8) when noticing (7); that would be a different inference, however:  I believe that (8) (a regulative condition for performing an assertive with it; this is what I say when asked to provide a reason) because (7) ( I say that I have noticed that 7) and (9) (which now I utter); there is also a missing premise: if I (say that I) notice that (7) and say that (9), then I (can/am entitled to say that I) believe that (8); this is a bit complicated, but the idea is clear – the so called missing premise in the first inference is ”appearing” only in a different inference which has, in its turn, another ”missing premise”).

”Right but you did not notice that the vase was laying on one side with the intention to say that it was knocked down. The child in your previous example removed the obstacle with the intention to push the button. So the cases are not similar.”

Sometimes we state the conclusion with the intention to state the premises – see inference to the best explanation.

”So you want to say that when your kid removed the pillow in order to push the button on your Wii console he mad an inference similar to an inference to the best explanation?”

No, I do not want to say that. An analogy does not have to be perfect.

”I does not. But you want to show me similar practices. The examples you have provided are not enough. Similarity between practices does not hold on logical structures (invented or not) only. How could you find something similar to explaining when your dealing with non-communicative actions?”

Right. Pushing a button does not resemble explaining anything. One could, however, explain something by performing an action. I can, for instance, ”explain” why I did some move in a game of chess by making my next move. Pushing the button explains, in a sense, why the pillow was removed.

”Perhaps for you, but not for the child. Also, your next move in the game of chess is an explanation of your previous move only if I think of it as an explanation.”

Is this not the same with regular explanations?

”Even if it was, to explain is the sole purpose of stating the premises after stating the conclusion in an explanation. To explain is never the sole purpose of making a move in a game of chess or of pushing a button on a Wii console.”

Saying that the vase was knocked down could also have other purposes – making somebody confess that she or he did knock down the vase, for instance. We do not produce explanations in our daily lives with the only purpose of explaining things. Neither the child, nor the chess player are scientists, but the need not be.

”Ok, but how could preventing someone from feeding you be similar to convincing someone to stop feeding you (or demonstrating to someone that she should stop feeding you)? Your attempt to talk about inferences in actions erases the distinction between the use of reason and the use of physical force. This cannot be all right.”

What I am trying to say only amounts, at most, to saying that the distinction is one of degree. This is not to say that we should not prefer to rely on communicative practices in our interactions. However, we would not rely on them, were it that case that we did not know that saying ”you should stop doing X” to someone could prevent that person from doing X.

”Is that the knowledge of a causal relation or the knowledge of a rule?”

We have rules like that – that is, we have practices (not all of them are like this) which strongly embed the rule that one should stop doing X when told (with arguments or by a person with deontic authority, etc.) or prevented in other (specified) ways from doing X. Those practices could also be considered as natural interactions between humans. Talking either of knowledge or rules, or of knowledge of how things are depends on the context in which you are talking. Philosophy makes things difficult because it is done both in a theoretical context and an everyday (personal) context (Wittgenstein would perhaps say that it lacks a context, but I disagree – philosophers have to blueprint, beta-test and hack concepts for both theoretical and everyday use, that is all).


refraining from crying vs. refraining from caressing a child – these are completely different kinds of actions;


So what is the conclusion? What makes something an action is being part of a practice (or of a series of complex enough interactions). One could still ask what makes a series of interactions a practice (since a complex enough series of interactions could be imagined such that it would be obvious that no practice is involved in the respective interactions). A different question could be: what is that which can be viewed as a practice and also as a series of interactions? A drawing could be viewed either as depicting a duck, or as a rabbit. What can be seen either as a duck, or as a rabbit? – The drawing. Should it not be something which can be viewed either as a practice, or as a natural (complex) interaction? So, what is that?

The answer could be that ”that” does not have to be a thing (or something at all). The interactions are seen as a practice (when one engages into the practice) and the practice is seen as a series of interactions (when one theorizes about the practice). When someone talks about interactions she might think about the underlying ontology, but this is not the case when one engages into a practice.

The question ”What is that which… etc.” is theoretical. Engagement into a practice (one could not engage herself into a series of interactions, but only take part in that series) renders the question pointless. ”What is that which i use as a keyboard right now?” While using the keyboard I cannot ask the question (see Heidegger about ready-to-hand and present-at-hand).