This book introduces readers to the topic of explanation. The insights of Plato, Aristotle, J.S. Mill and Carl Hempel are examined, and are used to argue against the view that explanation is merely a problem for the philosophy of science. Having established its importance for understanding knowledge in general, the book concludes with a bold and original explanation of explanation.
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)
A careful elaboration and defence of holism in the philosophy of the social sciences, with regard both to particulars and properties. The last chapter addresses the issue of the irreducibility of holistic explanation in the social sciences.
What constitutes numerically one and the same tradition diachronically, at different times? This question is the focus of often violent dispute in societies. Is it capable of a rational resolution? Many accounts attempt that resolution with a diagnosis of ambiguity of the disputed concept-Islam, Marxism, or democracy for example. The diagnosis offered is in terms of vagueness, namely the vague criteria for sameness or similarity of central beliefs and practices.
Metaphysically speaking, just what is trying? There appear to be two options: to place it on the side of the mind or on the side of the world. Volitionists, who think that to try is to engage in a mental act, perhaps identical to willing and perhaps not, take the mind-side option. The second, or world-side option identifies trying to do something with one of the more basic actions by which one tries to do that thing. The trying is then (...) said to be identical with the physical action. -/- After carefully stating the second, world-side view, I produce two arguments against it. The first relies on the fact that if a=b and b=c, then a=c, sometimes put colloquially as: if something is identical to two things, then the two things must be identical to one another. In the case of trying, one might try to do something by performing a plurality of simultaneous actions, a sure sign that the relation between the trying and the plurality of actions by which one tries must be some relation other than identity. -/- The second argument discusses two cases, recorded in William James’ The Principles of Psychology, of a patient who tries but who performs no action whatever. This is sometimes called ‘naked trying’. A recent attempt at denying that there can be such cases of naked trying is examined and dismissed. (shrink)
Are explanations contrastive? I argue that any contrastive argument and can be reduced to a non-contrastive one, and hence a theory of explanation need not treat them as an additional kind of explanation.
Book synopsis: David-Hillel Ruben's new book pursues some novel and unusual standpoints in the philosophy of action. He rejects, for example, the most widely held view about how to count actions, and argues for what he calls a 'prolific theory' of act individuation. He also describes and argues against the two leading theories of the nature of action, the causal theory and the agent causal theory. The causal theory cannot account for skilled activity, nor for mental action. The agent causalist (...) theory unnecessarily reifies causings. He identifies an assumption that they share, and that most action theorists have assumed to be unproblematic and uncontroversial, that an action is, or entails the existence of, an event. Several different meanings to that claim are disentangled and in the most interesting sense of that claim, Ruben denies that it is true. His own alternative is simple and unpretentious: nothing informative can be said about the nature of action that explicates action in any other terms. Ruben sketches a theory of causal explanation of action that eschews the requirement for laws or generalisations, and this effectively quashes one argument for the oft-repeated view that no explanations of action can be causal, on the grounds that there are no convincing cases of laws of human action. He addresses a number of questions about the knowledge an agent has of his own actions, looking particularly at examples of pathological cases of action in which, for one reason or another, the agent does not know what he is doing. Inspiring and enlightening in its challenge to received wisdom, and in its convincing defence of some unfashionable positions, Action and its Explanation will be required reading for anyone working in this field. (shrink)
Does 'Person P tried to A' entail that there is some particular, whether a mental act or a brain state or whatever, that is a trying? Most discussions of trying assume that this entailment holds. There is no good reason for holding that this is a valid inference. In particular, I examine one 'Davidsonian' argument that might be used to justify the validity of such an inference and argue that the argument is not sound. See: http://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/IxsuPqt7rvdzqMxpFiTv/full.
To what extend can genuinely mereological considerations apply to talk of wholes and parts in discussions of the relationship between individual persons and the social groups, etc. to which they belong?
Whether some condition is equivalent to a conjunction of some conditions has been a major issue in analytic philosophy. Examples include: knowledge, acting freely, causation, and justice. Philosophers have striven to offer analyses of these, and other concepts, by showing them equivalent to such a conjunction. Timothy Williamson offers a number of arguments for the idea that knowledge is ‘prime’, hence not equivalent to or composed by some such conjunction. I focus on one of his arguments: the requirement that such (...) conjuncts must be freely recombinable. Although there has been a great deal of discussion of Williamson's arguments, the flaw I describe has gone unnoticed. Williamson's argument is expressed in terms of conditions, and cases of the condition. Does the condition include specific information, or is the specific information only part of the case? His argument equivocates between more and less general specifications of the conditions. Once this distinction is clarified, his argument can be seen to be vitiated by this conflation. Neither option yields a sound argument for Williamson's desired conclusion. (shrink)
Many philosophers accept the view that, when one object constitutes a second, the two objects can be entirely in the same place at the same time. But what of two objects such that neither constitutes the other? Can they be collocated? If there can be such a pair of objects, they would have to share the same material constituents. To show that there are two collocated objects and not just one object at a specific time and place, one has to (...) show that one of the objects has some property that the other fails to have. I claim that the properties I use in my example are legitimate substitution instances in the Law of the Indiscernibility of Identicals. I offer a metaphysically possible example that illustrates such collocation, a possible case from ‘raw nature’, two trees. (shrink)
In virtue of what are later and an earlier group members of one and the numerically same tradition? Gallie was one of the few philosophers to have engaged with issues surrounding this question. My article is not a faithful exegesis of Gallie but develops a terminology in which to discuss issues surrounding the numerical identity of a tradition over time, based on some of his insights.
A comparison of disjunctive theories of action and perception. The development of a theory of action that warrants the name, a disjunctive theory. On this theory, there is an exclusive disjunction: either an action or an event (in one sense). It follows that in that sense basic actions do not have events intrinsic to them.
There appear to be multifunctional artefacts of a type such that none of their functions can be attributed only to some proper part of the artefact. I use two examples of allegedly multifunctional artefacts of this kind in what follows, one due to Lynne Rudder Baker (aspirin) and another of my own (a spork). The two examples are meant to make the same point. I discuss her aspirin example, since its discussion has entered the literature, but without its being dealt (...) with satisfactorily. My example is, I believe, more intuitive than that of aspirin, which Baker introduced in her response to a challenge to her views, and so I will mostly rely on my example of a spork, especially at the end of the paper, to make my case. -/- I argue that in at least those two cases, if the standard arguments for distinguishing between an object and what constitutes it are sound, an argument showing that what we might have taken to be a single multifunctional object is in fact a case of multiple single-function artefacts which collocate. Or almost. There is one further assumption needed for these cases, beyond what the constitution cases require, and I produce reasons for accepting that assumption. (shrink)
The aim of this series is to bring together important recent writings in major areas of philosophical inquiry, selected from a variety of sources, mostly periodicals, which may not be conveniently available to the university student or the general reader. The editor of each volume contributes an introductory essay on the items chosen and on the questions with which they deal. A selective bibliography is appended as a guide to further reading. This volume presents a selection of the most important (...) recent writings on the nature of explanation. It covers a broad range of topics from the philosophy of science to the central philosophical terrain of the theory of knowledge. The distinguished contributors include Peter Achinstein, Wesley C. Salmon, Carl G. Hempel, Philip Kitcher, Bas C. van Fraassen, Jaegwon Kim, B. Brody, Timothy McCarthy, Peter Railton, David Lewis, Peter Lipton, James Woodward, and Robert J. Matthews. (shrink)
Argument that Marx has a realist ontology and a correspondence theory of truth. His views are compared to both Hegel's and Kant's. This interpretation departs from more Hegelian, 'idealist' interpretations that often rely on misunderstanding some of the work of the early Marx. There is also a discussion and partial defence of Lenin's Materialism and Empirio-Criticism.
In various of my writings, both in Philosophical Studies and elsewhere, I have argued that an account of trying sentences is available that does not require quantification over alleged attempts or tryings. In particular, adverbial modification in such sentences can be dealt with, without quantification over any such particulars. In ‘Attempts’, Jonathan D. Payton (Payton, 2021) has sought to dispute my claim. In this paper, I consider his claims and reply to them. I believe that my account withstands such scrutiny.
Book synopsis: This collection of previously unpublished essays presents the newest developments in the thought of international scholars working on the explanation of action. The contributions focus on a wide range of interlocking issues relating to agency, deliberation, motivation, mental causation, teleology, interprative explanation and the ontology of actions and their reasons. Challenging numerous current orthodoxies, and offering positive suggestions from a variety of different perspectives, this book provides essential reading for anyone interested in the explanation of action.
An analysis of the theses of social holism and individualism, and arguments for the metaphysical integrity and irreducibility of both social properties and social entities. The last chapter discusses explanation in social science.
The article argues that the famous debate on natural and positive law between Lon Fuller and HLA Hart rests on a dispute about whether or not that something is a law provides on its own a prima facie reason for doing something.
Lewis' counterfactual account of deterministic causation has no way in which to represent causal sufficiency. In the case in which the cause and effect actually occur, the conditional, c box-arrow e is trivially true, equivalent to the material conditional. Yet in deterministic causation, one needs a notion of causal sufficiency that is stronger than that.
If reduction of the social to the physical fail, what options remain for understanding their relationship? Two such options are supervenience and constructivism. Both are vitiated by a similar fault. So the choices are limited: reduction after all, or emergence.
Is the thought that having a reason for action can also be the cause of the action for which it is the reason coherent? This is an attempt to say exactly what is involved in such a thought, with special reference to the case of con-reasons, reasons that count against the action the agent eventually choses.
Are explanations in the social sciences fundamentally different from explanations in the natural sciences? Many philosophers think that they are, and I call such philosophers ‘difference theorists’. Many difference theorists locate that difference in the alleged fact that only in the natural sciences does explanation essentially include laws.
What might it mean to say that there is such a thing as a hermeneutic circle in the social sciences? A consideration of some remarks by Charles Taylor and others and an interpretive reconstruction, and assessment, of the idea of such a circle.