Mental acts are conspicuously absent from philosophical debates over the nature of action. A typical protagonist of a typical scenario is far more likely to raise her arm or open the window than she is to perform a calculation in her head or talk to herself silently. One possible explanation for this omission is that the standard ‘causalist’ account of action, on which acts are analyzed in terms of mental states causing bodily movements, faces difficulties in accommodating some paradigmatic cases (...) of mental action – or so I argue. After drawing out these objections to causalism, I outline a more promising approach. Building on previous work, I show how the approach I favour, on which the attempt to analyze action is dispensed with, provides a unified account of both mental and physical action. (shrink)
Donald Davidson’s causal theory of actions states that actions must be rationalized and caused by a belief-desire-pair. One problem of such a causal theory are cases of deviant causal chains. In these cases, the rationalized action is not caused in the right way but via a deviant causal chain. It therefore intuitively seems to be no action while all conditions of the causal theory are met. I argue that the problem of deviant causal chains can be solved by adding a (...) teleofunctionalist condition. This condition requires that the belief-desire pair that rationalizes an action must cause that action in a selection-historically normal way. I try to show that this additional condition drops counterintuitive cases of deviant causal chains out of the class of actions while being flexible enough to classify such cases as actions in which causal detours are intuitively permissible. (shrink)
The statement that we are currently failing to address some of humanity’s greatest challenges seems uncontroversial—we are not doing enough to limit global warming to a maximum of 2 °C and we are exposing vulnerable people to preventable diseases when failing to produce herd immunity. But what singles out such failings from all the things we did not do when all are unintended? Unlike their individualist counterparts, collective inaction and omission have not yet received much attention in the literature. collective (...) inaction, I argue, can be attributed to a group of agents where a collective action x that the agents did not perform was collectively feasible at time t where each agent in that group had sufficient reason to contribute to performing x or others had a reasonable expectation that they would perform x. I show that, perhaps surprisingly, we can speak of collective inaction even where only one member of the group fails to act. However, where large and dispersed groups of agents are concerned, there is often no meaningful way of attributing collective failings. Still, I contend that the failure to close the global emissions gap and—in some cases—to generate herd immunity are indeed on us. (shrink)
According to the ‘standard story’ in the philosophy of action, actions are those movements of a creature’s body that are caused and rationalized by the creature’s mental states. The attractions of the causal condition have been widely discussed. The rationalization condition is nearly ubiquitous, but it is notoriously obscure, and its motivation has rarely been made explicit. This paper presents a new argument for including the rationalization condition in the causal theory of action, and sketches a broadly Davidsonian theory of (...) what rationalization is. (shrink)
The paper proposes a novel solution to the problem of the time of a killing (ToK), which persistently besets theories of act-individuation. The solution proposed claims to expose a crucial wrong-headed assumption in the debate, according to which ToK is essentially a problem of locating some event that corresponds to the killing. The alternative proposal put forward here turns on recognizing a separate category of dynamic occurents, viz. processes. The paper does not aim to mount a comprehensive defense of process (...) ontology, relying instead on extant defenses. The primary aim is rather to put process ontology to work in diagnosing the current state of play over ToK, and indeed in solving it. (shrink)
This paper presents a dilemma which it has been alleged by Kim Frost must be faced by any defender of the notion of a two-way power and offers a solution to the dilemma which is distinct from Frost’s own. The dilemma is as follows: assuming that powers are to be individuated by what they are powers to do or undergo, then either there is a unified description of the manifestation-type which individuates the power, or there is not. If there is, (...) then two-way powers are revealed really to be one-way powers, after all. If there is not, then it is difficult to explain why the two-way power does not simply dissolve into a mere combination of two one-way powers. The paper offers an account of what a two-way power is that is distinct from the one Frost takes for granted, and argues that this different conception is the key to avoiding the dilemma. It is also argued that this alternative conception has several further advantages over its rival and also that it has no less of a claim than Frost’s notion to be prefigured in Aristotle’s original discussion. (shrink)
In the philosophy of action, agency manifests the capacity of the agent to act. An agent is one who acts voluntarily, consciously and intentionally. This article studies the relationship between virtues and agency to learn to what extent agency is conceptually and metaphysically dependent on moral or epistemic virtues; whether virtue is a necessary condition for action and agency, besides the belief, desire and intention? Or are virtues necessary merely for the moral or epistemic character of the agent and not (...) his agency? If virtues are constructive elements of personal identity, can we say that virtues are necessary for action and agency? If we accept that virtues play a role in agency, the principle of “Ought Implies Can” makes us face a new challenge; which we will discuss. After explaining the concept of action and agency, I will study the relationship between agency and virtues in the field of ethics and epistemology. Ultimately, I conclude that not only in theories of virtue but also in other ethical theories, virtue is independently necessary for the actualization of agency; even if, conceptually, there might not be any relation between the two. In many cases, virtue can also have a crucial role in prudential agency. agency, action, moral virtue, epistemic virtue, the principle of “Ought Implies Can”. * Ph.D., Professor. Department of Islamic Philosophy and Theology, University of Qom, Qom, Iran. ׀ [email protected]. (shrink)
Written against the background of her controversial opposition to the University of Oxford's awarding of an honorary degree to Harry S. Truman, Elizabeth Anscombe's /Intention/ laid the groundwork she thought necessary for a proper ethical evaluation of actions like the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The devoutly Catholic Anscombe thought that these actions made Truman a murderer, and thus unworthy of the university's honor — but that this verdict depended on an understanding of intentional action that had been widely rejected (...) in contemporary moral philosophy. /Intention/ was her attempt to work out that understanding and argue for its superiority over a conception of intention as an inner mental state. -/- Though recognized universally as one of the definitive works in analytic philosophy of action, Anscombe's book is often dismissed as unsystematic or obscure, and usually read through the lens of philosophical concerns very far from her own. Schwenkler's Guide offers a careful and critical presentation of Anscombe's main lines of argument at a level appropriate to advanced undergraduates but also capable of benefiting specialists in action theory, moral philosophy, and the history of analytic philosophy. Further, it situates /Intention/ in a context that emphasizes Anscombe's debts to Aristotle, Aquinas, and Wittgenstein, and her engagement with the work of contemporaries like Gilbert Ryle and R. M. Hare, inviting new avenues of engagement with the ideas of historically important philosophers. (shrink)
The paper discusses the category of one of the most fundamental expressions of agency, those movements of agents that are actions. There have been three dominant views of action since the 1960s: 1. the Causal Theory of Action, 2. the Tryings/Willings view, and 3. Agent Causation. These views claim that actions are: 1. events of bodily movements which have the right causes; 2. specific types of mental events causing events of bodily movements; 3. instances of the causal relationship between agents (...) and events of bodily movements. Among other arguments, a specific interpretation of the difference between transitive and intransitive verbs has been taken by defenders of the Tryings/Willings views and Agent Causation to support their main claims. The paper argues that these three views mischaracterise actions of bodily movements. It argues for this by highlighting some implausible claims and problems of the three views; by offering an interpretation of the difference between transitive and intransitive verbs that does not lend support to these views; and finally, by providing an alternative view of actions. This view is the Pluralist View according to which agents’ movements are the activations of agents’ abilities to move. (shrink)
In the tradition stemming from Aristotle through Aquinas, rational decision making is seen as a complex structure of distinct phases in which reasoning and will are interconnected. Intention, deliberation, and decision are regarded as the fundamental steps of the decision-making process, in which an end is chosen, the means are specified, and a decision to act is made. Based on this Aristotelian theoretical background, we show how the decision-making process can be modeled as a net of several patterns of reasoning, (...) involving the classification of an action or state of affairs, its evaluation, the deliberation about the means to carry it out, and the decision. It is shown how argumentation theory can contribute to our understanding of the mechanisms involved by formalizing the steps of reasoning using argumentation schemes, and setting out the value-based criteria underlying the evaluation of an action. Representing each phase of the decision-making process as a separate scheme allows one to identify implicit premises and bring the roots of ethical dilemma to light along with the means to resolve them. In particular, we will show the role of framing and classification in triggering value-based reasoning, and how argumentation theory can be used to represent and uproot the grounds of possible manipulations. (shrink)
For as long as there has been anything called “the philosophy of action,” its practitioners have accounted for action in terms of an associated kind of explanation. The alternative to this approach was noticed, but not adopted, by G. E. M. Anscombe. Anscombe observed that a series of answers to the reason-requesting question “Why?” may be read in reverse order as a series of answers to the question “How?” Unlike answers to the question “Why?”, answers to the question “How?” are (...) not explanatory of what they are about: they reveal, not reasons for doing something, but ways of doing something, and they have the form of what Aristotle called a practical syllogism. The alternative to theorizing action in terms of explanation, is, thus, to theorize it in terms calculation. In exploring this alternative, I argue for three main theses: first, that (pace Anscombe) it is not a matter of indifference whether we theorize action in terms of the question “Why?” or in terms of the question “How?”; second, that the question “Why?” is a question for an observer of action (the agent already knows the answer and can learn nothing from the inquiry), whereas the question “How?” is a question for the agent—and moreover, one that the agent must answer in order to achieve any end whatsoever—so that part of what is at stake is the standpoint from which action is to be theorized; and finally, that the standpoint of the agent, revealed by the question “How?”, is prior to that of an observer. (shrink)
In this paper I am going to argue that we should take actions to be prime. This will involve clarifying what it means to claim that actions are prime. I will consider Williamson's construal of actions as prime in a way that parallels his treatment of knowledge. I will argue that we need to be careful about treating our actions in the way suggested because of an internal relation between the success condition of an action and the action itself; a (...) parallel relation does not hold for most cases of knowledge. (shrink)
Wayne Wu argues that attention is necessary for action: since action requires a solution to the ‘Many–Many Problem’, and since only attention can solve the Many–Many Problem, attention is necessary for action. We question the first of these two steps and argue that it is based on an oversimplified distinction between actions and reflexes. We argue for a more complex typology of behaviours where one important category is action that does not require a solution to the Many–Many Problem, and so (...) does not require attention. (shrink)
Many theistic philosophers conceive of God’s activity in agent-causal terms. That is, they view divine action as an instance of (perhaps the paradigm case of) substance causation. At the same time, many theists endorse the claim that God acts for reasons, and not merely wantonly. It is the aim of this paper to show that a commitment to both theses gives rise to a dilemma. I present the dilemma and then spend the bulk of the paper defending its premises. I (...) conclude with some suggestions for how one might carve out an alternative model of divine action. (shrink)
What I shall do in this paper is to propose an analysis of ‘Agent P tries to A’ in terms of a subjunctive conditional, that avoids some of the problems that beset most alternative accounts of trying, which I call ‘referential views’. They are so-named because on these alternative accounts, ‘P tries to A’ entails that there is a trying to A by P, and therefore the expression ‘P’s trying to A’ can occur in the subject of a sentence and (...) be used to refer to a particular, namely an act or event of trying. A conditional account such as mine avoids having to answer questions about those alleged particulars, for example their location and their causal relation to physical actions, or alternatively their identity to physical actions. In brief, the analysis I propose eschews any need to quantify over any sort of trying particulars. I both clarify the proposal and deal with five possible objections to it: metaphysically impossible actions: cases of finking and reverse-cycle finking; the empirical emptiness of preventers and blockers; proximate intentions and trying; and alleged explanatory loss. (shrink)
This thesis concerns the question of what it is for a subject to act. It answers this question in three steps. The first step is taken by arguing that any satisfactory answer must build on the idea that an action is something predicable of the acting subject. The second step is taken by arguing in support of an answer which does build on this idea, and does so by introducing the idea that acting is doing something which is an exercise (...) of a particular kind of disposition on the part of the acting subject. The third step is taken by arguing that the disposition in question must be of a kind which is exercised in conditions in which the acting subject thinks they are acting. From this vantage point the thesis develops many further commitments: That action is constitutively subject to a mode of explanation that mentions the kind of disposition just mentioned; that any case of acting requires a veridical representation of a means by which the action is performed; and that a problem about the underspecified nature of desire ascriptions can be solved by appeal to the conceptual materials made available by these investigations. The thesis finally develops several objections to the account it gives, both substantive and methodological, and explains why these objections ought to be rejected. (shrink)
Ce compte-rendu résume les quatre dimensions de la philosophie de l’ action défendue dans Action, Knowledge and Will : physique, éthique, psychologique et intellectuel. Cela dit, les deux contributions principales du livre recensé relèvent de liens entre les différentes dimensions de l’ action. Il s’agit d’une distinction et d’une connexion. Premièrement, Hyman croit qu’il faut distinguer la dimension éthique et la dimension physique de l’ action. Plus précisément, il pense que le concept de volonté et le concept de volontaire doivent (...) être différenciés du concept d’ action ou de celui d’agencité, et d’actif. Deuxièmement, Hyman nous propose de connecter la dimension intellectuelle de l’ action avec la connaissance en avançant une théorie de la connaissance comme étant l’habileté d’être guidé par des faits. (shrink)
In very general terms, an agent is a being with the capacity to act, and 'agency' denotes the exercise or manifestation of this capacity. The philosophy of action provides us with a standard conception and a standard theory of action. The former construes action in terms of intentionality, the latter explains the intentionality of action in terms of causation by the agent’s mental states and events. From this, we obtain a standard conception and a standard theory of agency. There are (...) alternative conceptions of agency, and it has been argued that the standard theory fails to capture agency. Further, it seems that genuine agency can be exhibited by beings that are not capable of intentional action, and it has been argued that agency can and should be explained without reference to causally efficacious mental states and events. Debates about the nature of agency have flourished over the past few decades in philosophy and in other areas of research. In philosophy, the nature of agency is an important issue in the philosophy of mind, the philosophy of psychology, the debates on free will and moral responsibility, in ethics, meta-ethics, and in the debates on the nature of reasons and practical rationality. For the most part, this entry focuses on conceptual and metaphysical questions concerning the nature of agency. In the final sections, it provides an overview of empirically informed accounts of the sense of agency and of various empirical challenges to the commonsense assumption that our reasons and our conscious intentions make a real difference to how we act. (shrink)
This paper considers and criticises what appears to be a suggestion by Hart and Honore in 'Causation in the Law' that there is a category of basic doings, which ought not themselves to be regarded as causings. It argues instead that all actions are causings by the agent.
In Intention, Anscombe characterises intentional actions as “the actions to which a certain sense of the question ‘Why?’ is given application”. Some philosophers have seen Anscombe's reference to “Why?”, and to other workings of language, as heuristic devices only. I argue that, on the contrary, we should see the enquiry-and-response dialogue, and related dialogues, as essential foci of the sort of investigation Anscombe is undertaking, one which looks to a certain kind of language-game and the human purpose or purposes which (...) lie behind it. This approach can be fruitfully extended to other questions in the philosophy of action and of mind. (shrink)
The paper motivates a novel research programme in the philosophy of action parallel to the ‘Knowledge First’ programme in epistemology. It is argued that much of the grounds for abandoning the quest for a reductive analysis of knowledge in favour of the Knowledge First alternative is mirrored in the case of intentional action, inviting the hypothesis that intentional action is also, like knowledge, metaphysically basic. The paper goes on to demonstrate the sort of explanatory contribution that intentional action can make (...) once it is no longer taken to be a target for reductive analysis, in explaining other, non-intentional kinds of action and voluntariness. (shrink)
This chapter examines whether, and in what sense, one can speak of agentive mental events. An adequate characterization of mental acts should respond to three main worries. First, mental acts cannot have pre-specified goal contents. For example, one cannot prespecify the content of a judgment or of a deliberation. Second, mental acts seem to depend crucially on receptive attitudes. Third, it does not seem that intentions play any role in mental actions. Given these three constraints, mental and bodily actions appear (...) to have a significantly different structure. A careful analysis of the role of normative requirements, distinguishing them from instrumental reasons, allows the distinction between mental and bodily forms of action to be clarified. Two kinds of motives must be present for a mental act to develop. The first kind is instrumental: a mental act is performed because of some basic informational need, such as the need to "remember the name of that play". The second kind is normative: given the specific type of mental action performed, there is a specific epistemic norm relevant to that act. These two motives actually correspond to different phases of a single mental act. The first motivates the mental act, i.e. makes salient the corresponding goal. The second offers an evaluation of the feasibility of the act, on the basis of its constitutive normative requirement. Conceived in this way, a characterization of mental acts avoids the three difficulties mentioned above. The possibility of pre-specifying the outcome of epistemic mental acts is blocked by the fact that such acts are constituted by strict normative requirements. That mental acts include receptive features is shown to be a necessary architectural constraint for mental agents to be sensitive to epistemic requirements. Finally, the phenomenology of intending is shown to be absent in most mental acts; the motivational structure of mental acts is, rather, associated with error- signals and self-directed doubtings. Mental acts need to be recognized as a natural kind of action meant to normatively control and enhance cognitive efficiency according to current processing needs. (shrink)
Here it is argued that in order for something someone “does” to count as a genuine action, the person needn’t have been able to refrain from doing it. If this is right, then two recent defenses of the principle of alternative possibilities, a version of which says that a person is morally responsible for what he has done only if he could have refrained from doing it, are unsuccessful.
On Anscombe's view, intentional actions are characterized by a specific type of knowledge (practical knowledge) possessed by the agents that perform them. Recently, interest in Anscombean action theory has been renewed. Sarah Paul argues that Anscombean action theory faces a serious problem: It fails to discriminate between an action’s intended aim or purpose and its foreseen side effects. Since Anscombeans conceive practical knowledge as the formal cause of intentional actions, Paul dubs this a problem of “deviant formal causation.” In this (...) paper I will show that Anscombean action theory can escape Paul’s critique by employing a sufficiently developed conception of practical knowledge. It will turn out that Anscombeans can precisely capture the difference between intended aim and foreseen side effect in terms of differences in the agent’s knowledge. (shrink)
Understanding human beings and their distinctive rational and volitional capacities requires a clear account of such things as reasons, desires, emotions, and motives, and how they combine to produce and explain human behaviour. Maria Alvarez presents a fresh and incisive study of these concepts, centred on reasons and their role in human agency.
The article re-examines the Aristotelian backdrop of Arendt’s notion of action. On the one hand, Backman takes up Arendt’s critique of the hierarchy of human activities in Aristotle, according to which Aristotle subordinates action (praxis) to production (poiesis) and contemplation (theoria). Backman argues that this is not the case since Aristotle conceives theoria as the most perfect form of praxis. On the other hand, Backman stresses that Arendt’s notion of action is in fact very different from Aristotle’s praxis, to the (...) extent that Arendt thinks of action as an external to the means-ends scheme, whereas Aristotle ultimately remains caught in this scheme proper to poiesis in thinking of praxis as its own end. According to Backman, Arendt’s concept of action can therefore be understood as a critique, rather than as a rehabilitation, of Aristotelian praxis. (shrink)
This paper presents a typology of human actions, based on Aristotle’s kinesis–energeia dichotomy and on a formal elaboration (with some refinement) of the Vendler–Kenny classificatory schemes for action types (or action verbs). The types introduced are defined throughout by inferential criteria, in terms of what here are referred to as “modal-temporal expressions” (‘MT-terms’). Examples of familiar categories analysed in this way are production and maintenance, but the procedure is meant to offer a basis for defining various other commonsense categories. Among (...) the more theoretical categories introduced are “Aristotelian projects”, i.e. actions defined in terms of Aristotle’s conceptions of movement/change, as well as “abstract projects”, in which the agent ensures that something changes from not being a fact to being a fact, and “conditional agency”, which involves actions that are to be performed when/if certain conditions come to be fulfilled. A category like “starting an action” is itself inferentially defined here in MT-terms, and so, inter alia, are proceeding with, finishing, stopping and interrupting an action. There is also a demonstration of how actions of one type may be converted into those of other types, where this is a matter of the way they are “seen” or described. There is also an implication to the effect that some of these distinctions may be useful for formulating certain critical insights regarding modern life. (shrink)
The three essays which make up this symposium engage with some of the most important issues in the theory of action and agency today. Among the topics which are considered at length are the possibility of practical knowledge, the relationship between knowledge how versus knowledge that, the constitution of intentions, the importance of knowledge without observation, the difference between genuine actions versus mere bodily movements, the role of making sense in action and valuing, the nature of valuing and of values, (...) the relationship between being an actor and acting, the objectivity of values, the alleged existence of formal coherence requirements like non-contradiction, closure, and means-end coherence, the aim of belief and intention, the instrumental value of formal requirements, and the availability of an error theory for such requirements. My hope is that this symposium will help foster continued interest in these and other related issues about agency and action. In what follows I offer a brief overview of each paper. (shrink)
If a person's head moves, she may or may not have moved her head, and, if she did move it, she may have actively performed the movement of her head or merely, by doing something else, caused a passive movement. And, if she performed the movement, she might have done so intentionally or not. This short array of contrasts (and others like them) has motivated questions about the nature, variety, and identity of action. Beyond the matter of her moving, when (...) the person moves her head, she may be indicating agreement or shaking an insect off her ear. Should we think of the consequences, conventional or causal, of physical behavior as constituents of an action distinct from but ‘generated by’ the movement? Or should we think that there is a single action describable in a host of ways? Also, actions, in even the most minimal sense, seem to be essentially ‘active’. But, how can we explain what this property amounts to and defend our wavering intuitions about which events fall in the category of the ‘active’ and which do not? (shrink)
Philosophical interest in intentional action has flourished in recent decades. Typically, action theorists propose necessary and sufficient conditions for a movement's being an action, conditions derived from a conceptual analysis of folk psychological action ascriptions. However, several key doctrinal and methodological features of contemporary action theory are troubling, in particular (i) the insistence that folk psychological kinds like beliefs and desires have neurophysiological correlates, (ii) the assumption that the concept of action is "classical" in structure (making it amenable to definition (...) in terms of necessary and sufficient conditions for its proper application), and (iii) the assumption that deferring to intuitions about the application of the concept of action amidst the context of fantastical thought experiments furnishes an effective method for judging the adequacy of proposed analyses. After consideration of these problems it is argued that action theory needs to be reoriented in a more naturalistic direction, the methods and aims of which are continuous with those of the empirical sciences. The paper concludes with a sketch (and defense) of the methodological foundations of a naturalistic approach to intentional action. (shrink)
One of the most exciting developments in philosophy in the last fifty years is the resurgence in the philosophy of action. The concept of action now occupies a central place in ethics, metaphysics and jurisprudence. This collection of original essays, by some of the most astute and influential philosophers working in this area, covers the entire range of the philosophy of action. Topics covered include the nature of actions themselves; how the concepts of act, agent, cause and event are related (...) to each other; self-knowledge, emotion, autonomy and freedom in human life; and the place of the concept of action in criminal law. The volume concludes with a major essay by one of America's leading authorities in the philosophy of law on 'the 3.5 billion dollar question': was the destruction of the World Trade Center one event or two? (shrink)
Introduction à quelques problèmes de philosophie de l'action: la nature de l'action, l'individuation de l'action, la théorie causale, les raisons et les causes, les chaînes causales déviantes, la notion d'intention, la "simple view", les raisonnements pratiques.
Contemporary Action Theory, Volume I is concerned with topics in philosophical action theory such as reasons and causes of action, intentions, freedom of will and of action, omissions and norms in legal and ethical contexts, as well as activity, passivity and competence from medical points of view. Cognitive trying, freedom of the will and agent causation are challenges in the discussion on computers in action. The Volume consists of contributions by leading experts in the field written specifically for this volume. (...) No comparable volume currently exists. (shrink)
The latest offering in the highly successful Oxford Readings in Philosophy series, The Philosophy of Action features contributions from twelve leading figures in the field, including: Robert Audi, Michael Bratman, Donald Davidson, Wayne Davis, Harry Frankfurt, Carl Ginet, Gilbert Harman, Jennifer Hornsby, Jaegwon Kim, Hugh McCann, Paul Moser, and Brian O'Shaughnessy. Alfred Mele provides an introductory essay on the topics chosen and the questions they deal with. Topics addressed include intention, reasons for action, and the nature and explanation of internal (...) action. A selective bibliography is included as a guide to further reading. Comprehensive and up-to-date, this collection provides an accessible and stimulating introduction for readers interested in the philosophy of action, the philosophy of mind, and moral philosophy. (shrink)
Mind in Action challenges the dominant view in contemporary philosophy that human action is driven by thoughts and desires much as a machine is made to function by the operation of physical causes. Bede Rundle rejects the materialist view of mind and the causal theory of action; his alternative approach elucidates such key concepts as thought, belief, desire, intention, and freedom to give a fresh view of human behavior.