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"Rational Scientific Theories from Theism"


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Previous: 5.3 Physical derivative dispositions Up: 5. Multiple Generative Levels Next: 5.5 Analysis of generative sequences

5.4 Psychological derivative dispositions

There are many examples of apparent derivative dispositions in everyday life, in psychology, and in particular in cognitive processes. Such dispositions are involved whenever the accomplishment of a given disposition requires the operation of successive steps and where these are of kinds different from the overall step. The original disposition on its operation generates the ‘derived dispositions’ for the intermediate steps which are means to the end. An original ‘disposition to learn’, for example, can generate the derived ‘disposition to read books’, which can generate further ‘dispositions to search for books’. These dispositions would then generate dispositions to move one’s body, which in turn would lead ultimately to one’s limbs having (physical) dispositions to move. These successively generated dispositions are all derived from the original disposition to learn, varying according to the specific situations.

Another example of sequential and derivative dispositions is the ability to learn. To say that someone is easy to teach or that they are musical, for example, does not mean that there is any specific action that they are capable of doing. Rather, it means that they well disposed to learn new skills (whether of a musical or of a general kind) and that it is these new skills which are the dispositions that lead to specific actions.

In this I follow the observations first in (Broad, 1925, Ch. 10) and then in (Broad, 1933, Ch. 2), where he argues

We must begin by distinguishing between dispositions of various orders. A disposition to think of a certain object may be called a disposition “of the first order”. A disposition to form a disposition of the first order may be called a disposition “of the second order” And so on. No baby is born with the power to talk. But practically all babies are born with the power to acquire the power to talk.
This is the beginning of the theory of multiple levels or orders of causal influence. We might allow that particular dispositions or intentions are best regarded not as the most fundamental causes but as ‘intermediate stages’ in the operation of more persistent desires and motivations. The intention to find a book, for example, could be the product or derivative of some more persistent ‘desire for reading’ and need only be produced in the appropriate circumstances. We may say that the derived dispositions were the realization of the underlying dispositions. These are called ‘levels’ rather than simply ‘sequences’ because the underlying motivation still exists during the production of later levels. It operates simultaneously with the derivative dispositions. It is not the case that desire for reading ceases during the act of reading, for it is rather then at its strongest and in fulfillment.

Figure 5.1: The intentional cascade of distal (D) intentions for deliberation and planning; proximal (P) intentions adapted to the present situation, and motor (M) intentions for following through with controlled movements, from (Pacherie, Fig. 1. Copyright (2008), with permission from Elsevier.)

Figure 5.2: A hierarchical model of action specification, as proposed by Pacherie (Fig. 2), with the three levels of intention and control. The $\bigotimes $ symbols indicate the comparison of their two input streams and generate a difference measure as an output. Copyright (2008), with permission from Elsevier.

Such ideas have been advocated by Bratman (1987), who distinguishes a sequence consisting of ‘future-directed’ intentions, ‘present-directed’ intentions, and ‘motor’ intentions, such that a fully human action involves a progressive sequence of these three levels of intentions. Pacherie (2008) sees the first two kinds more generally as ‘distal’ and ‘proximate intentions. She conceives their relation as “not merely one of co-existence”, but as one where “they form an intentional cascade, with distal intentions causally generating proximate intentions and proximate intentions causally generating in turn motor intentions,” as shown in Fig. 5.1. The important idea here is that of an ‘intentional cascade’ as describing the relation between the levels.5.1 In all cases the cascade mainly proceeds ‘downstream’, but there are still some ‘feedback’ processes that allow upstream desires to be influenced by downstream circumstances such as whether the outcomes are as desired or are in error. Furthermore, she notes that “intentions at each level were assigned a specific role in, respectively, the rational, situational and motor guidance and control of the action. This implies that a D-intention does not cease to exist and play a role once it has given rise to a corresponding P-intention and similarly a P-intention does not go away once the corresponding M-intention has been generated. Rather, all three levels of intentions coexist, each exerting its own form of control over the action." Fig. 5.2 sketches in more detail some of the various initiation, monitoring, comparison and control processes that must be present for multi-level actions.

We want to understand and explain how all these kinds of influences exist and function in practice, and we claim that this is best modeled in terms of the simultaneous operation of multiple levels of intention and control.

Previous: 5.3 Physical derivative dispositions Up: 5. Multiple Generative Levels Next: 5.5 Analysis of generative sequences

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