In my previous post, I argued that there are state-given reasons not to believe certain propositions. In this post, I shall argue that there are also state-given reasons both for and against intending.
Suppose that you are in a situation in which (a) it is possible for you to φ, and (b) if you were to φ, that would be a really wonderful thing. Indeed, let us suppose that on every major conception of reasons for action, there are compelling reasons for you to φ: your φ-ing would exemplify important values to a higher degree than any alternative; it would satisfy your most deeply-held desires; it would give you great pleasure; and so on. However, although it is possible for you to φ in this case, it is not possible for you to φ as a result of intending to φ. In fact, you will almost certainly φ if you do not intend to; but if you intended to φ, your intention would prevent you from φ-ing.
Suppose that you are perfectly well aware about how counter-productive it will be to have an intention to φ. In this case, it seems clear that it would be irrational for you to intend to φ. What explains why it is irrational for you to φ in this case?
The reason for this, it seems, is not because of the intrinsic character of φ-ing itself: after all, this is a case in which there are compelling reasons for you to φ. The problem is not with φ-ing, but with intending to φ. The trouble is that if you did intend to φ, your intention would prevent you from φ-ing as you intend. So the reason against intending to φ depends not on the nature of φ-ing itself, but on what things would be like if you intended to φ.
So here we have a reason against intending to φ, which seems to be a reason of the “right kind”, but which (according to the definition that I gave in my last post) counts as a “state-given” reason.
Moreover, it now seems plausible that for every time t, if there are compelling reasons for you to intend at t to φ, at least part of what makes it the case that there are such compelling reasons for this intention is the fact that if you at t intended to φ, then there is at least a good chance of your φ-ing as you intend to.
In short, there are not just reasons against having an intention that will frustrate its own realization; there are compelling reasons for having an intention only if having that intention will facilitate its own realization. So, whenever there are compelling reasons for you to have an intention, these reasons include a state-given reason.
The conclusion that we should draw is that Mark Schroeder was right to claim (in “The Ubiquity of State-Given Reasons”) that state-given reasons for (and against) intending are indeed ubiquitous. The dogma that state-given reasons are invariably reasons of the “wrong kind” seems to be profoundly mistaken.