Research and Publications

Luca Ferrero

Curriculum Vitae

Please refer to CV above for a current list of publications, while I'm working on updating it.

Publications     --     [abstracts available below]

Work in Progress




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Conditional Intentions

Although we often express our intentions in the categorical form 'I intend to φ' or 'I will φ', usually we do not mean to say that we intend to φ  no matter what. For most intentions there is at least a condition C such that the intention would be better described as the intention to φ if C. Despite the familiarity of conditional intentions (and the large literature on related issues―such as indicative conditionals and conditional obligations), conditional intentions have been surprisingly neglected in the philosophical literature. This neglect could be justified if accounting for conditional intentions were a straightforward matter. But this is so. Conditional intentions raise many puzzling questions. First, there are many different ways of interpreting the role of the condition in avowals of intentions. Does the condition qualify the acquisition, justification, or object of the intention? Second, are clauses such as 'if I can', 'if I do not change my mind', 'if I am alive' genuine conditions on intentions? Third, under which circumstances is a conditional intention to φ if C satisfied? Does the falsity of C count? What is the agent supposed to do if she has the ability and opportunity to influence the occurrence of C, while she holds the conditional intention to φ if C? Fourth, what is the relation between conditional intentions and contingency planning? Is a conditional intention a weaker kind of commitment than an unconditional one? In this paper, I sketch an account of the different kinds of conditional intentions that avoids some of the confusions generated by the conflation between what I will call external conditions, internal conditions, and necessary preconditions of an intention. I will then try to answer some of the questions raise above, with particular attention to what is distinctive of conditional intentions as planning attitudes with respect to other conditional attitudes and speech acts.

Noûs, 2009, 43.4

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Constitutivism and the Inescapability of Agency

Constitutivism argues that the source of the categorical force of the norms of rationality and morality lies in the constitutive features of agency. A systematic failure to be guided by these norms would amount to a loss or lack of agency. Since we cannot but be agents, we cannot but be unconditionally guided by these norms. The constitutivist strategy has been challenged by David Enoch. He argues that our participation in agency is optional and thus cannot be a source of categorical demands. In this paper, I defend the viability of constitutivism by showing that agency is indeed a special ‘inescapable’ enterprise. Agency has the largest jurisdiction (all ordinary enterprises fall under it), and it is closed under rational assessment (reflection about the nature and justification of agency is a manifestation of agency itself). This inescapability does not exempt constitutivism from raising the question whether agents have reason to be agents, but this question has to be taken up within agency. If this question is answered affirmatively, then—I argue—the criteria of practical correctness are self-ratifying in a non-circular way. This is sufficient to show the viability of the constitutivist strategy. Whether agents have conclusive reasons to be agents, however, is a matter to be addressed in the terms of particular versions of constitutivism.

in R. Shafer-Landau (ed.), Oxford Studies in Metaethics, 2009, IV: 303-333

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What Good is a Diachronic Will?

There are two standard conceptions of the functioning of and rationale for the diachronic will, i.e., for the agent’s capacity to settle on her future conduct in advance. According to the pragmatic-instrumentalist view, the diachronic will benefits us by increasing the long-term satisfaction of our rational preferences. According to the cognitive view, it benefits us by satisfying our standing desire for self-knowledge and self-understanding. Contrary to these views, I argue for a constitutive view of the diachronic will: the rationale for it that it makes possible to engage in activities with a radically novel temporal structure, activities that are not merely continuous over time, but temporally integrated and unitified. These activities are essential to our form of life and to our existence as temporally unified agents. The instrumental and cognitive benefits, if any, are merely secondary to the ontological ones.

Philosophical Studies, 2009, 144.3: 403-430

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Decisions, Diachronic Agency, and the Division of Deliberative Labor

The binding force of decisions on future conduct appears to be of a rational kind rather than of a merely causal one. It is thus often suggested that a decision to φ at f influences the agent at the time of action by giving her a novel and usually decisive reason to act as originally decided. This proposal faces a dilemma. On the one hand, decisions are supposed to make a difference to future conduct in a non-manipulative way, but a decision-based reason can secure the effectiveness of the decision only by introducing a potentially manipulative change in the future situation of choice. On the other hand, if the decision-based reason does not add to the original considerations in support of the action, the reason is dispensable, and the past decision ineffective. In this paper, I argue that the only way out of the dilemma is to think of decisions as tools for the intrapersonal division of deliberative labor over time. The agent’s memory of her past assessment that she ought to φ at f gives the agent at f an exclusionary reason to φ at that time. This reason is accepted by default. Hence, there is no need for a full redeliberation at the time of action. The exclusionary reason is not manipulative. For it does not add to the original merits of the case. It is rather a stand-in for them. The agent delegates to her past self the work of figuring out what she is to do in the future. Nonetheless, the past assessment merely facilitates the agent at the time of action in determining what she is to do then. When she accepts to act out of her past decision, the agent is still fully exercising her contemporaneous rational governance over a non-manipulated situation of choice. Hence, the rational distal authority of future-directed decisions respects the agent’s autonomy over time. But I conclude by showing that this authority, being only a tool for the division of deliberative labor over time, is in principle dispensable for the constitution of intentional diachronic agency.

Philosophers’ Imprint (to appear)

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An introductory survey of the contemporary philosophy of action.

in J. Shand (ed.), Central Issues in Philosophy, Blackwell, 2009: 137-151

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Three Ways of Spilling Ink Tomorrow

There are three ways to control our future conduct: by causing it, by manipulating our future selves, or by taking future-directed decisions. I show that the standard accounts of decisions fail to do justice to the distinctive nature of their role in intentional diachronic agency. These accounts divide in two groups. First, accounts that conflate the operation of decisions with the operation of devices for either physical constraint or manipulative self-management. Second, accounts that, although they acknowledge the non-manipulative nature of decisions, offer too restrictive a view of source of their distal influence. I argue that a comprehensive view of decisions must acknowledge that there is a variety of ways in which they can be effective, that range from the exercise of rational authority to the reliance on subagential psychological propensities. What keeps all of these mechanisms together as possible explanations of the role of decisions is that they operate under a common regulative ideal of diachronic agency, the agent’s reliance on the continuous sense of the stability of the choiceworthiness of the action, regardless of the decision to perform it. In light of this regulative ideal, the contribution of effective decisions to diachronic agency is only instrumental, not constitutive.

in E. Baccarini, S. Prijic-Samarzija (eds.), Rationality in Belief and Action, Filozofski fakultet, Rijeka, 2006: 95-127

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An Elusive Challenge to the Authorship Account of First-Person Authority

In "Elusive Reasons: A Problem for First-Person Authority" (Philosophical Psychology, 2003, 16.4), Krista Lawlor argues that social psychological studies present a challenge to the authorship account of first person authority. According to her, taking the deliberative stance does not guarantee that self-ascriptions are authoritative. For self-ascriptions might be based on elusive reasons and thus lack agential authority (i.e., they are no guide to the subject’s future conduct). I argue that Lawlor’s challenge is not successful. I claim that we can make sense of the nature and importance of agential authority only within the framework of the authorship account. Agential authority is part of the regulative ideal of the deliberative ve stance, but its absence does not undermine the first-person authority of self-ascriptions, since first-person authority is primarily a matter of deliberative, rather than agential authorship.

Philosophical Psychology, 2003, Dec 16.4: 565-577

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The Difference Principle: Equality or Incentives?

In this paper, I argue for a novel interpretation of the argument in support of Rawls’ difference principle (DP). First, I reject G.A. Cohen's claim that the argument for DP is consistent only in so far as the DP mandates a strictly egalitarian distribution. The problem with Cohen's thesis is that an egalitarian distribution could be as efficient as the one required by DP only if the citizens are forced to fill jobs and positions contrary to their preferences. This is unacceptable for Rawls because it violates the constraints imposed by the priority of liberty. Second, I show that the incentives offered by DP are only needed to attract the citizens to fill socially useful positions (rather than to defray educational and training expenses). This is true even when there is an equal distribution of natural endowments and talents. Incentives are ultimately required to compensate for the misfit between the citizens’ preferences about their occupations and the requirement of efficient social cooperation. Lastly, I introduce a novel argument for DP that forestalls some of the traditional objections and makes apparent its connection with the principle of reciprocity. DP is usually formulated as mandating the maximization of the index of primary goods enjoyed by the worst-off. This formulation invites the objection that DP legitimates the imposition of th e least advantaged over the most talented. I suggest that DP is better understood as requiring the maximization of an equal share of primary goods, i.e., an equal share of the surplus that the talented citizens produce by taking up socially productive jobs. It follows that there is no reason for a citizen to identify herself as a member of the group of either the most or the least advantaged. Each citizen bargains only for her own incentive, not in coalition with any other citizens. The other citizens are rather trying to maximize their equal share of the increase in productivity. The worst-off are those citizens who, at the end of this bargaining process, are not offered any incentive to occupy socially useful positions. They receive an equal share of the surplus of the more efficient division of labor, but no incentive. Yet the bargaining process guarantees the maximization of their index of primary goods, as required by DP. I argue that this presentation of the working of DP makes clear to what extent this principle can be said to be an egalitarian one.

This is a longer of a paper originally published in Italian as "Il Principio di Differenza: Incentivi o Uguaglianza?", Filosofia e Questioni Pubbliche, 1995, I: 47-63

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Intending, Acting, and Doing

It is customary to draw a distinction between intentions in action and future‑directed intentions. The former are contemporaneous with the action, since they initiate and guide it. The latter, instead, are directed at actions that take place in the distant future. To have a future directed intention is usually taken to be different from actually doing something, let alone doing what one intends to do. Contrary to this view, in this paper I argue that intending to φ at a future time f is already to be engaged in φ-ing even before the timef. Hence, there is a sense in which all intentions are in (extended) actions. Intending to φ and φ-ing are just stages of courses of action. I contend that the distinction between intending and doing only reflects a context-relative measurement of the intensity of the agent’s involvement in a particular pursuit, but it does not map on some hard and fast metaphysical divide between a non-actional intending and an active doing.

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Practical Reason and the Possibility of Failure


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Identification: Transparency vs. Hierarchy

According to the hierarchical model, a subject identifies with a mental state when she is unreflectively satisfied with a second order desire to have that state. For the transparency model, instead, identification is a matter of the mental state's responsiveness to the subject's judgment that the state is supported by good enough reasons. I argue that there are two interpretation of the hierarchical model, both unsatisfactory. On the one hand, the first order level can be taken to be that of raw psychic material. If so, the model applies only to non-judgment sensitive attitudes. On the other hand, if the first order comprises judgment-sensitive attitudes, the hierarchy needed for identification can be shown to collapse. The transparency model avoids both problems and it is thus to be preferred. But it needs to be integrated to account for the role of reflection in identification, which is a major reason for casting identification in hierarchical terms. I argue that there are forms of non-hierarchical reflection that can be succesfully used by the transparency model to give a full account of identification.

presented at Nijemegen Conference, May 07

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Conditional Requirements and Detachment

J.Dancy has recently presented a novel argument for a generalized ban on the detachment of ‘one ought to q’, Oq, from the combination of a wide-scope conditional requirements O(p→q) and the fact that p. Dancy contends that the problem with detachment becomes apparent when we direct our attention to the detachment from O(¬q→¬p), the contraposition of the original wide-scope conditional requirement. By detaching from O(¬q→¬p) we can derive claims of the form (¬q→O¬p) that, according to Dancy, are either false or senseless. I argue that Dancy’s argument is unpersuasive. When applied to the most interesting sorts of conditional requirements, those in which both p and q are actions or attitudes under the agent’s control, Dancy’s argument is question begging. Dancy is right, however, that claims of the following form (¬q→O¬p)are senseless when applied to scenarios in which the agent does not control p. However, the problem in these cases is not with detachment. The problem is with the failure to distinguish the variables that stand for circumstances under the agent’s control from those that stand for circumstances outside of the agent’s control. These two kinds of variables behave differently under a deontic operator and this explain why (¬q →O¬p) is senseless. The problem therefore does not arise because of detachment, as shown by the fact that the failure to distinguish between the variables appears to make even the wide-scope deontic requirement O(¬q→¬p) senseless.

presented at Central APA 2005

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