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
symbols indicate the comparison of their two input streams and generate
a difference measure as an output. Copyright (2008), with permission from
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
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.