In Sect. 2, I claimed that “Ordinary usage… provides some grounds for a significantly less restrictive view of intentions than Bumpus and Botterill advocate.” I made this claim before discussing Herdova 2016, but the remark replies to that article to. This claim of mine is among the claims tested in a Mechanical Turk study that Thomas Nadelhoffer and I conducted of lay usage of “intended” and “intentionally,” using two different cover stories. One cover story reported that we were interested in how the respondents use these words. The other took its lead from the bit in this article about the man who wanted to become a perfect speaker of English: we asked for help with Gunnar’s project of learning perfect English. The difference in cover stories did not have a significant effect on the results. So I lump the two sets of results together.
We used nine different vignettes (the same nine with each cover story) and presented participants with several statements about each vignette. Some of the statements were about whether something was intended or not, and some were about whether something was done intentionally or not. We also used attention checks to see whether respondents were paying attention. Below, I report only the results that are most pertinent to my concerns in the present article. Nadelhoffer and I plan to write a separate paper based on our findings.
The shared part of our cover story reads as follows:
Please read the following nine scenarios. Then, please tell us whether you disagree or agree with the statements that follow. A neutral response is available in case you neither agree nor disagree. The other options are: strongly agree, agree, somewhat agree, somewhat disagree, disagree, strongly disagree. For each scenario, you will have the opportunity to scroll back up and read the scenario while you’re responding to the statements. Once you’ve finished responding to the statements for a particular scenario, you will be able to advance to the next scenario.
Here are the vignettes that are most germane for present purposes.
Al. Today, like many days, Al drives to work, walks up the stairs to his office, unlocks the door, turns on his computer, and then starts checking his e-mail. When he starts checking e-mail, his computer crashes.
Beth. Beth is driving to work when a dog darts in front of her car. She slams on the brakes to avoid hitting the dog, and in the process her lunch falls off the front seat onto the floor.
Carlos. Carlos is a college student participating in a neuroscience experiment. There are two buttons in front of him, a blue one and an orange one. His task is to press whichever button he feels like pressing while scientists measure his brain waves. Carlos doesn’t know any more about brain waves than you do. This time, he presses the orange button and he produces a brain wave of type Q.
Debby. Debby is a college student participating in a neuroscience experiment. Her task is to watch a fast clock, press the Z key on a keyboard whenever she feels like it while scientists measure her brain waves, and then tell the scientists where the hand was on the clock when she pressed the key. Debby doesn’t know any more about brain waves than you do. Although Debby knows she has to press the Z key sooner or later, it is up to her when to do it. When she pressed the Z key, she produced a brain wave of type Q.
Filomena. Filomena is stopped at a red light in an old car that she has been driving for many years. When the light turns green, she presses down on her gas pedal. She doesn’t know it, but there’s a problem with her engine. By pressing on the gas pedal, Filomena releases a lot of exhaust fumes into the air and irritates the cyclist behind her.
The most directly relevant results are reported below. There were 202 respondents to each statement. 1 = strongly agree, 2 = agree, and 3 = somewhat agree on the participants’ 7-point scale.
When he unlocked his door, Al intended to do that.
When she slammed on her brakes, Beth intended to do that.
When he pressed the orange button, Carlos intended to do that.
When Debby pressed the Z key, she intended to do that.
When she pressed down on her gas pedal, Filomena intended to do that.
Here we have a sampling of actions that some proximal intention snubbers regard as not involving such intentions: Al’s and Filomena’s routine actions, Beth’s sudden emergency action, and actions by Carlos and Debby that seem to involve arbitrary picking (of a button to press in one case and of a moment for pressing in the other). Yet the overwhelming majority of respondents count these actions as intended—and proximally so. Ordinary usage seems not to support the snubbers. Of course, I have made it clear that I am not claiming that ordinary usage settles matters.22