Skill, luck, control, and intentional action

Philosophical Psychology 18 (3):341 – 352 (2005)
Abstract
On the surface, it seems intuitively plausible that if an agent luckily manages to perform a desired action (e.g., rolling a six with a fair die or winning the lottery), the performance of which is not the result of any relevant skill on her part, we should not say that she performed the action intentionally. This intuition suggests that our concept of intentional action is sensitive to considerations of skill, luck, and causal control. Indeed, some philosophers have claimed that in order for an action to be performed intentionally it must be performed with a relevant amount of skill or control - i.e., an intentional action cannot simply be the result of luck. On this view, skill and control are necessary conditions of our everyday concept of intentional action. In this essay, I discuss empirical evidence that challenges this claim. After briefly setting the stage, I examine Al Mele and Paul Moser's thorough analysis of intentional action - paying particular attention to some of the interesting scenarios they offer in support of their position. Next, I discuss the results of some simple psychological experiments that show that people's judgments concerning whether actions are intentional can often be affected by the moral features of these actions - features that may trump considerations of skill, luck, and control. Finally, I conclude that if this is correct, philosophers who claim that skill and control are necessary conditions of the folk concept of intentional action appear to be mistaken. One can test attempted philosophical analyses of intentional action partly by ascertaining whether what these analyses entail about particular actions is in line with what the majority of non-specialists would say about these actions if there is a widely shared concept of intentional action, such judgments provide evidence about what the concept is, and a philosophical analysis of intentional action that is wholly unconstrained by that concept runs the risk of having nothing more than a philosophical fiction as its subject matter. (Mele, 2001, p. 27).
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Joshua Knobe (2010). Person as Scientist, Person as Moralist. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 33 (4):315.

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