The import of human action

In Jesus Aguilar & Andrei Buckareff (eds.), Philosophy of Action. Automatic Press/Vip. pp. 89--100 (2009)

Bennett W. Helm
Franklin and Marshall College
My central philosophical concern for many years has been with what it is to be a person. Of course, we persons are agents, indeed agents of a special sort, so understanding personhood has of course led me to think about that special sort of agency. Yet my background in the philosophy of mind leads me to think that any account of this special sort of agency must appeal to psychological capacities that are themselves grounded in an account of the relation between the mind and the body. Here I have in mind not the thought that we must provide a compatibilist account of free will (though I do think that is true) but rather the thought that it is all to easy for philosophers of action to make what turn out to be false presuppositions about the nature of psychological capacities like belief and desire and the role they play in motivation. Conversely, I think, philosophers of mind, focused too narrowly on worries about intentionality and consciousness, have offered accounts of various psychological capacities that are inadequate to understanding the sort of agency characteristic of us persons. Before I begin, I need to acknowledge my general orientation in philosophy of mind. Mental states and capacities are to be understood in terms of their place within an explanatory framework. Psychological explanation, however, I take to be fundamentally normative, a matter of locating particular phenomena within a broader pattern of rationality. This is a broadly Davidsonian or Dennettian orientation to the mind, according to which, as Davidson says, rationality is the constitutive ideal of the mental.1 In..
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