Trying the impossible: reply to Adams


Kirk Ludwig




This paper defends the conjunction of the Simple View and the autonomy thesis against attacks by Fred Adams.  The Simple View (so-dubbed by Michael Bratman) holds that if one A's intentionally, then one intended to A.  The autonomy thesis holds that there is no belief requirement on intending, that one can intend to do something even though one believes that it is impossible.  (I have argued for both of these views in "Impossible Doings.")  Adams accepts the Simple View, but denies the autonomy thesis on the grounds that it cannot, but must, explain what makes a particular trying a trying for the aim it has in view.  Suppose the autonomy thesis were correct.  Then what is to prevent me, as I sit here and type at my keyboard, especially vigorously, from trying to fly across the Atlantic ocean?  If we deny the autonomy thesis, we have a simple answer to our question: I cannot be trying to fly across the Atlantic by typing because I believe it is impossible to do so merely by typing an abstract, even if it mentions the Atlantic ocean.  It may convey my thoughts there, but (sadly) my body remains at rest in Gainesville.  In response, I argue, first, by means of examples, that one clearly can try and intend to do what one believes to be impossible; and then I show how we can provide an answer to Adams's challenge even so.