Revelatory Regret and the Standpoint of the Agent

Midwest Studies in Philosophy 41 (1):225-240 (2017)
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Because anticipated and retrospective regret play important roles in practical deliberation and motivation, better understanding them can illuminate the contours of human agency. However, the possibility of self-ignorance and the fact that we change over time can make regret—especially anticipatory regret—not only a poor predictor of where the agent will be in the future but also an unreliable indicator of where the agent stands. Granting these, this paper examines the way in which prospective and, particularly, retrospective regret can nevertheless yield important insight into the sorts of creatures we are, both generally and individually. The experience of retrospective regret can show a person she values something in a way she did not know or that she is (or was) a different person than she had thought, insights which can factor into forward-looking, or prospective, deliberation. Such instances of revelatory regret reveal something to the agent about herself as agent. I examine two cases of agential self-ignorance. In the first, the experience of regret reveals what the agent values, not only to others but even to the agent himself. In the second, the agent anticipates experiencing regret for an action but does not experience the regret, suggesting that the agent did not value the rejected alternative in the way she thought. Anticipatory regret is forward-looking and can play an important role in practical deliberation. But insofar as anticipatory regret flows from one’s imperfect judgment and prospection about oneself, retrospective regret can be an important corrective in helping the agent understand her own standpoint.

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Justin F. White
Brigham Young University


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