Conflicting intentions: Rectifying the consistency requirements

Hein Duijf*, Jan Broersen, John Jules Ch Meyer

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Many philosophers are convinced that rationality dictates that one’s overall set of intentions be consistent. The starting point and inspiration for our study is Bratman’s planning theory of intentions. According to this theory, one needs to appeal to the fulfilment of characteristic planning roles to justify norms that apply to our intentions. Our main objective is to demonstrate that one can be rational despite having mutually inconsistent intentions. Conversely, it is also shown that one can be irrational despite having a consistent overall set of intentions. To overcome this paradox, we argue that it is essential for a successful planning system that one’s intentions are practically consistent rather than being consistent or applying an aggregation procedure. Our arguments suggest that a new type of norm is needed: whereas the consistency requirement focuses on rendering the contents of one’s intentions consistent, our new practical consistency requirement demands that one’s intentions be able to simultaneously and unconditionally guide one’s action. We observe that for intentions that conform to the ‘own-action condition’, the practical consistency requirement is equivalent to the traditional consistency requirement. This implies that the consistency requirement only needs to be amended in scenarios of choice under uncertainty.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1097-1118
Number of pages22
JournalPhilosophical Studies
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 15 Apr 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Bratman
  • Consistency requirements
  • Intention
  • Norms of rationality


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