Intent-Foresight Distinction

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The debate over the intent-foresight distinction is whether foreseeing the consequences of one's actions means they intend for those consequences to occur.

For instance, suppose that SpaceX wants to embark on a risky mission to send people to space to colonize Mars, even when the rocket technology hasn't been proven adequately safe. In fact, they foresee that some astronauts will die on the mission. Did SpaceX intend for the deaths of those astronauts?

Those in favor of the intent-foresight distinction would argue that even though SpaceX foresaw the deaths of the astronauts, they did not intend them.

Those against the intent-foresight distinction would argue that since SpaceX foresaw the deaths of those astronauts, they must have intended them.

Debate Applications

The foresight distinction is commonly used in utilitarian frameworks to justify why consequentialist impacts should be relevant under intent-based frameworks, such as Kant. For instance, suppose that the utilitarian debater wins their link chain scenario that passing the affirmative will cause extinction. The negative will claim that extinction is not relevant since they did not intend extinction, but under a world where there is no intent-foresight distinction, the utilitarian debater would argue that the negative intended for extinction to happen, which would be bad under Kant.

Common Arguments

Intent-Foresight Distinction

[1] Contradiction – If I give somebody CPR but still foresee them dying, I am not intending for them to die – I am still intending them to live.

[2] Contradiction – If a pilot intends to bomb a weapons factory and foresees the bomb killing civilians, no IF-distinction would say the bomber intends to kill the civilians, BUT if the civilians end up surviving, the bomber clearly wouldn’t have made a mistake or failed to carry out their mission.

[3] Calc indicts take this out – people aren’t able to foresee perfectly in the future so they cannot form the basis of intention.

No Intent-Foresight Distinction

[1] If we foresee a consequence, then it becomes part of our deliberation which makes it intrinsic to our action since we intend it to happen. For example, if I drop my timer, I must intend for it to it to hit the table because I foresaw that consequence.