Decisions, Diachronic Autonomy, and the Division of Deliberative Labor

Philosophers' Imprint (forthcoming)
Abstract
1.1 A distinctive feature of our agency is the ability to bind our future conduct by making future-directed decisions. The bond of decisions is not one of mere physical constraint. A decision is not the trigger of some mechanism that takes control of the agent at the future time f and physically forces her to φ. When the agent φ’s out of her past decision to do so, she is in rational control of her conduct at the time of action.1 Decisions appear to have rational authority over the agent’s future conduct. When the time of action comes, the agent is normally guided by no other rational consideration but her past decision. She is guided, not goaded, by it.2 Unlike manipulative forms of distal self-control such as precommitments, decisions do not seem to alter the future situation of choice by introducing features extraneous to the original merits of the case.3 Decisions appear nonetheless to make some kind of difference at the time of action. Were it not so, they would not be effective at influencing future conduct. A successful theory of future-directed decisions must account for the distinctive rational guidance of decisions and show how they can be effective without being manipulative.4 A theory of this kind does not deny that decisions might play a causal role in the agent’s psychology and that their effectiveness is in part a causal matter. But it rejects the suggestion that genuine future-directed decisions operate as mere time-delay devices such as lit-fuses, that is, by way of mechanisms of brute, non-rational..
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