Mental Self-Management as Attempted Negligence: Trying and Succeeding

Law and Philosophy 34 (5):551-579 (2015)
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‘Attempted negligence’ is a category of criminal offense that many jurists and philosophers have law have deemed conceptually incoherent. In his Attempts: In the Philosophy of Action and the Criminal Law, Gideon Yaffe challenges this dismissal, anchoring his argument in cases of what he calls ‘mental self-management’ in which agents plan to bring about that they perform unintentional actions at a later time. He plausibly argues that mental self-management-type attempted negligence is possible. However, his account raises the question whether such attempts can be successful: whether, in other words, attempts to perform unintentional actions at a later time could issue in actions that are, indeed, unintentional. Intuitively, at least, it would seem that we should answer in the affirmative. However, that answer poses problems for a plausible and widely-held account of intentional action. Al Mele, responding to Yaffe’s account, has pointed out this problem without, I think, providing a satisfactory resolution. I propose another way of vindicating the possibility of successful attempted negligence with small, if significant, revision to the standard view of intentional action. In these cases, I argue, agents fail to act intentionally because they render themselves, through their acts of self-management, unaware that they are successfully executing their intentions. Moreover, I argue that these agents’ intentions to bring about that they perform unintentional actions do not commit them to acting intentionally because of the nature of intentions to bring about actions. I offer an account of the intention to bring about that one A’s and defend it against some objections.

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Benjamin Rossi
Duke University


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