Here is a thesis that is discussed a bit these days: to intend, or to have formed the intention, to $\^H^Hφ is already to be φing. One sees it in, for instance, "Naïve Action Theory"; Korsgaard endorses it (and her argument for it in Self-Constitution is breezy in a way all too typical of that book), as do, apparently, Moran & Stone, each of K, M and S crediting Luca F/rrero (M & S citing a paper that apparently no longer exists in the form it did when it was cited, and which Luca has been saying he'll show me for over three years—so who knows if he thinks it). It is also occasionally attributed to Wilson.
I have opinions about this! In particular, I think that Thompson's argument is totally unconvincing and that the view's attribution to Wilson is incorrect; Wilson has a related, but different and much less implausible, position. (Actually I think the question of Thompson's commitment to it is less clearly decidable than one might guess, because of his extended analogy to different economic forms, but I'm not sure whether he means the analogy to work that way.) Thompson writes:
On the next page he states that "'anticipatory' uses of the progressive are really no different from … uses `in hiatus'". Now I think he is right about uses 'in hiatus', and that, as he has said elsewhere, "it is a mistake to look, at each moment, … for something in which the progress might be supposed to consist" (Wilson, IIRC, uses the spreading of a crack through freeze/thaw cycles as an example here). But it is still reasonable to insist that there be occasional events constituting progress, and if the gap between them is too large one will be inclined to think, not that the same process was ongoing all along, but that one stopped and another picked up where the previous left off. (One might think that in writing this post I am blogging again, not still.) And it is a fair question, one not answered by Thompson's claims about temporal designators, whether having made a decision is such an event, or whether it is a preliminary to such an event, or what.
The use of temporal designators in "I'm doing A tomorrow (or in a minute, or on Tuesday, or when Hector arrives" is subordinate to the imperfective aspect that is here reckoned as strictly present; it is no different from the use of temporal designators in "I want to do A tomorrow", and any contradiction to which it tends is the 'contradiction' present in "I want to do A, but I don't want to do it now". (p 140 of Life and Action, italics in original)
The claims about temporal designators are anyway quite strange: what sense could it possibly make to say that the aspect of a sentence is present? The dimensions of tense and aspect are orthogonal (something of which one would have thought Thompson was aware); in any case, the present tense of a sentence does not at all indicate that it is concerned with present time. Consider the following present-tense sentences, which discuss past time, present time, no time in particular, and future time:
- So it's last Tuesday, right, and I'm sitting there minding my own business when all of a sudden Mabel comes in and she's yammering on about god knows what, and now I can't concentrate anymore, so I get up and leave, and I'm just heading out the door when wham! she whacks me over the head with a table leg!
- I am sitting in a room.
- Potatoes are healthful.
- I will sit in that room tomorrow.
Since English has no future tense, it had better be possible to use some other tense it does have to talk about future time. And temporal adverbs are a way of doing that; we distinguish between what I'm doing today and what I'm doing tomorrow as statements about different times using the same tense. A statement about a present desire for a future action is comprehensible, since the desire is had now, and the future action is conceived as something that has not yet been begun but (it is desired) will commence in the future. As Thompson requires it to be understood, "I am doing A tomorrow" involves no such separation (and a statement such as "I'm doing A all day tomorrow, then on Thursday I'm going to the beach" threatens to become nearly incomprehensible—the question also arises what statement about the weather is made when I say "it's going to rain tomorrow").
Wilson does say some things that seem to amount to a Thompson-like position, in particular this:
Nothing he says here, however, requires that we interpret "intended to lead to her future φing" in such a way that Flannery's activity is already a part of the φing (giving "φing" something akin to a success reading: her having φed). Elsewhere he writes that "planning in connection with my possible future φing is also, as a rule, intended to promote that φing" (p 225) and speaks of the activity associated with intending as "intended to lead to φing" (p 222), which also do not compel a Thompson-like reading. Better, I think, to take Wilson to be suggesting that intending to φ is a process related to, and leading up to, a future φing, but not the same as that φing. (Landman, in his article "The Progressive", reaches a somewhat similar position, saying "I will allow the possibility that [actions] start with what could be called a planning stage, where the process hasn't properly started yet" (p 24).) Part of the idea is that there is no such thing as utterly pure intending, which has no overt manifestations at all; while Wilson will allow (anticipating Thompson's comments about silence in music) that "I may be intending to φ [n.b. not φing] throughout a period p while doing very little" and that "the period p may be almost as thin as one likes with φ-directed activity" (p 225), but it can't be empty. Otherwise one has, at best, an idle wish to φ.
[T]he thesis I wish to develop is this: if Flannery is intending to φ (i.e., Flannery intends to do φ), then Flannery is in the course of intending to φ. That is to say, Flannery is in the course ofa ctivity that is intended to φ where, finally, this means that Flannery is in the course of activity each step of which is, will, or would be intended to lead to her future φing. (p 224 of The Intentionality of Human Action, italics in original)
This is controverted: "What about plans for tomorrow that require no preparatory steps, as for instance, to blink at 3:00pm? Isn't some intending utterly pure, as Davidson thought?" But it is far from clear that a plan to blink at 3pm tomorrow requires no preparatory steps. Actually blinking at 3pm tomorrow does not, if it's just a fact that I do then blink; but if I intend to blink at 3pm tomorrow I had better be prepared to answer the question, "how?". Answers could be, for instance: "I set an alarm for 2:59 and wrote 'BLINK' on my hand"; "I'm just going to blink all day"; "I have an excellent memory and an excellent sense of time so I can just do these things". Even in the last case I think we must imagine that I will occasionally compare the time it is now to 3pm: my sense of time is something I will use, not something that will automatically cause me to blink; likewise the excellence of my memory means that I won't have to have written myself a note to keep myself on track. Well: I might indeed mean with the last claim something like "I just will blink then, given that I have formed the intention now"—a situation in which the eventual action, to steal a metaphor from Velleman (in "Deciding How To Decide"), stands to the intention-formation as the explosion of a bomb does to the lighting of its fuse. But we would still have a preparatory step: namely, the lighting of the fuse. Arguably, such lighting is all I intentionally do in this situation: likewise, I don't intentionally wake up when my alarm goes off, though I do intentionally set it so that I will wake up when it goes off. And setting the alarm was a necessary preliminary.