Stanley’s insightful new book refines his earlier formulation of intellectualism. Indeed, it does a whole lot more, but leaves open some tough questions. He makes a powerful case for the view that knowing how to do something is to know, of a certain way, that one could do that thing in that way. But he says surprisingly little about what ways are, and how they might differ, depending on the kind of case. And he doesn't exclude the possibility that in (...) some cases what one knows in knowing-how is a way of doing something rather than a fact about a way of doing it. (shrink)
From a moral point of view we think of ourselves as capable of responsible actions. From a scientific point of view we think of ourselves as animals whose behavior, however highly evolved, conforms to natural scientific laws. Natural Agency argues that these different perspectives can be reconciled, despite the skepticism of many philosophers who have argued that "free will" is impossible under "scientific determinism." This skepticism is best overcome according to the author, by defending a causal theory of action, that (...) is by establishing that actions are constituted by behavioral events with the appropriate kind of mental causal history. He sets out a rich and subtle argument for such a theory and defends it against its critics. Thus the book demonstrates the importance of philosophical work in action theory for the central metaphysical task of understanding our place in nature. (shrink)
ABSTRACT: This paper serves two purposes: (i) it can be used by students as an introduction to chapters 1-5 of book iii of the NE; (ii) it suggests an answer to the unresolved question what overall objective this section of the NE has. The paper focuses primarily on Aristotle’s theory of what makes us responsible for our actions and character. After some preliminary observations about praise, blame and responsibility (Section 2), it sets out in detail how all the key notions (...) of NE iii 1-5 are interrelated (Sections 3-9). The setting-out of these interconnections makes it then possible to provide a comprehensive interpretation of the purpose of the passage. Its primary purpose is to explain how agents are responsible for their actions not just insofar as they are actions of this kind or that, but also insofar as they are noble or base: agents are responsible for their actions qua noble or base, because, typically via choice, their character dispositions are a causal factor of those actions (Section 10). The paper illustrates the different ways in which agents can be causes of their actions by means of Aristotle’s four basic types of agents (Section 11). A secondary purpose of NE iii 1-5 is to explain how agents can be held responsible for consequences of their actions (Section 12), in particular for their character dispositions insofar as these are noble or base, i.e. virtues or vices (Section 13). These two goals are not the only ones Aristotle pursues in the passage. But they are the ones Aristotle himself indicates in its first sentence and summarizes in its last paragraph; and the ones that give the passage a systematic unity. The paper also briefly consider the issues of freedom-to-do-otherwise, free choice and free-will in the contexts in which they occur (i.e. in the final paragraphs of Sections 6, 7, 12, 13). (shrink)
I present an alternative account of action centered around the notion of effort. I argue that effort has several unique features: it is attributed directly to agents; it is a causal power that each agent alone possesses and employs; it enables agents causally to initiate, sustain, and control their capacities during the performance of an action; and its presence comes in varying degrees of strength. After defending an effort-based account of action and criticizing what is known as the standard story (...) of action, I apply my account to situations in which an agent displays strength of will, such as when one struggles to perform an action while overcoming a persistent urge to do otherwise. I conclude by offering an explanation of mental action that demonstrates the extent of our powers of agency within the domain of the mental. (shrink)
An essay in descriptive metaphysics, this book offers a sketch of the concept of action embodied in pretheoretical, folk ways of speaking. It focuses on the points of view of the agent and spectator in the kind of action in which the question of what to do can arise for the agent. It explores the relations among such action, inanimate action, and the inanimate action of parts of the body on external objects, finding in them analogous roles for the notion (...) of attributability of effects. It contrasts the roles of theoretical and practical necessity in the accounts of action and causation found in Hume and Collingwood, in the course of suggesting that, over the whole range of the category of human doings for which there can be reasons, the existence of reasons is systematically expressed by use of the modal concepts. It has an analytical table of contents. The book was still caught up in the post-Wittgensteinian denial that the explanation of action in terms of the reasons for action was causal explanation. But that error consists in mistaking for a metaphysical claim a sound epistemological one, the claim that such causal explanations do not rest on inductive evidence of empirical regularities. Rather we are analogue computers of the motivation of others. At that time one thought of Collingwood’s re-enactment version of Verstehen in the philosophy of history; nowadays the idea becomes some version of simulation theory. (shrink)
In this article, I challenge the dominant view of the importance of the debate over action-individuation. On the dominant view, it is held that the conclusions we reach about action-individuation make little or no difference for other debates in the philosophy of action, much less in other areas of philosophy. As a means of showing that the dominant view is mistaken, I consider the implications of accepting a given theory of action-individuation for thinking about doxastic agency. In particular, I am (...) interested in the implications for thinking about the variety of evaluative control we can exercise over the formation of our doxastic attitudes. I show that our assumptions about how to individuate actions matters for how we think about doxastic agency and, hence, the conclusions we reach about action-individuation are of greater significance than some have thought. (shrink)
Many philosophers of action afford intentions a central role in theorizing about action and its explanation. Furthermore, current orthodoxy in the philosophy of action has it that intentions play a causal role with respect to the etiology and explanation of action. But action theory is not without its heretics. Some philosophers have challenged the orthodox view. In this paper I examine and critique one such challenge. I consider David-Hillel Ruben's case against the need for intentions to play a causal role (...) in the etiology and explanation of mental actions. Contra Ruben, I defend the orthodox view that intentions play an indispensable causal and explanatory role with respect to mental actions. (shrink)
I examine Galen Strawson's recent work on mental action in his paper, 'Mental Ballistics or The Involuntariness of Spontaneity'. I argue that his account of mental action is too restrictive. I offer a means of testing tokens of mental activity types to determine if they are actional. The upshot is that a good deal more mental activity than Strawson admits is actional.
We reply to Andrew Sneddon’s recent criticism of the causal theory of action (CTA) and critically examine Sneddon’s preferred alternative, minimal causalism. We show that Sneddon’s criticism of CTA is problematic in several respects, and therefore his conclusion that “the prospects for CTA look poor” is unjustified. Moreover, we show that the minimal causalism that Sneddon advocates looks rather unpromising and its merits that Sneddon mentions are untenable.
It is normally assumed that there is only one kind of purposive action. This article argues that there are two kinds of purposive action, which require different models of explanation. One kind of action is done without awareness of reasons; another kind of action is done because the agent is aware of reasons for that action. The argument starts by noting that philosophers disagree about what explains action. Some claim that actions are explained by impersonal facts, such as facts about (...) how things should be or have been historically (e.g. Millikan, Stout). Others claim that actions are explained by mental states, such as beliefs and desires (e.g. Davidson, Velleman). These philosophers are usually regarded as offering conflicting accounts of one thing. However, they are best understood as giving accounts of different models of action-explanation. Neither model fits every case, so there are at least two kinds of purposive action. (shrink)
The Hypothesis of Extended Cognition (HEC)—that many cognitive processes are carried out by a hybrid coalition of neural, bodily and environmental factors—entails that the intentional states that are reasons for action might best be ascribed to wider entities of which individual persons are only parts. I look at different kinds of extended cognition and agency, exploring their consequences for concerns about the moral agency and personal responsibility of such extended entities. Can extended entities be moral agents and bear responsibility for (...) actions, in addition to or in place of the individuals typically held responsible? What does it mean to be autonomous when one’s cognition is influenced and supported by a milieu of environmental factors? To answer these questions, I explore strong parallels between HEC’s critique of individualism in cognition, and feminist critiques of individualist accounts of self, agency, and autonomy. This relational and social conception of autonomous agency, as scaffolded and supported (or undermined and impaired) by a milieu of social, relational, and normative factors, has important lessons for HEC. Drawing together these two visions of distributed and decentralized aspects of personhood highlights how cognition, action, and responsibility are inextricably linked. It also encourages a reconceptualization of all cognition and all concerns about responsibility for actions, not simply as sometimes extended around individuals, but as fundamentally communal, social, and normative, with individual cognition and individual moral responsibility being derivative special cases, not the paradigm examples. Individuals are merely one of many possible loci of cognition, action, and responsibility. (shrink)
In this paper, completed only months before his death, the author studies a number of concepts of importance for the analysis of intentional action. Four themes in particular are discussed: the intentionality of action, the practical syllogism, what the author terms "the practical causality of practical thinking", and the proximate cause of action. (K. S.).
Studies of perception have focussed on sensation, though more recently the perception of action has, once more, become the subject of investigation. These studies have looked at acute experimental situations. The present paper discusses the subjective experience of those with either clinical syndromes of loss of movement or sensation (spinal cord injury, sensory neuronopathy syndrome or motor stroke), or with experimental paralysis or sensory loss. The differing phenomenology of these is explored and their effects on intention and agency discussed. It (...) is shown that sensory loss can have effects on the focussing of motor command and that for some a sense of agency can return despite paralysis. (shrink)
Recent empirical and conceptual research has shown that moral considerations have an influence on the way we use the adverb ‘intentionally’. Here we propose our own account of these phenomena, according to which they arise from the fact that the adverb ‘intentionally’ has three different meanings that are differently selected by contextual factors, including normative expectations. We argue that our hypotheses can account for most available data and present some new results that support this. We end by discussing the implications (...) of our account for folk psychology. (shrink)
In the past decade or so there has been a surge of monographs on the nature of ‘Buddhist Ethics.’ For the most part, authors are concerned with developing and defending explications of Buddhism as a normative ethical theory with an apparent aim of putting Buddhist thought directly in dialogue with contemporary Western philosophical debates in ethics. Despite disagreement among Buddhist ethicists concerning which contemporary normative ethical theory a Buddhist ethic would most closely resemble (if any), 1 it is arguable that (...) all Buddhist ethicists (like all Buddhists) embrace and endorse the Four Noble Truths as a framing assumption. That is, a Buddhist ethic will (1) typically assume that we fallible .. (shrink)
I begin by warmly thanking Professors Garfield and Hansen for participating in this dialogue. I greatly value the work of both and appreciate having the opportunity to engage in a dialogue with them. Aside from the many important insights I gain from their replies, I believe that both Garfield and Hansen misrepresent my position. In response, I shall clarify the argument contained in my preceding comment, and will consider the objections as they bear on this clarified position.Both Garfield and Hansen (...) characterize the central argument of my comment as presupposing a relatively mainstream Western account of action. They suggest that, with a mainstream Western account in hand, I challenge Classical Chinese and Indo .. (shrink)
John Searle’s “thesis of the Background” is an attempt to articulate the role of nonintentional capacities—know-how, skills, and abilities—in constituting intentional phenomena. This essay applies Searle’s notion of the Background to shed light on the Daoist notion of wú-wéi—“non-action” or non-intentional action—and to help clarify the sort of activity that might originally have inspired the wú-wéi ideal. I draw on Searle’s work and the original Chinese sources to develop a defensible conception of a wú-wéi-like state that may play an intrinsically (...) and instrumentally valuable role in the exercise of agency. At the same time, however, I argue that Searle’s view that “Intentionality rises to the level of the Background abilities” convincingly explains why the conception of wú-wéi presented in ancient texts is untenable. Wú-wéi-like states can generally occur only as components of an intentional flow of activity, and thus they are not fundamentally nonintentional. (shrink)
: This paper argues that pragmatists must be more cognizant of the concept of "power" and its consequences. To demonstrate this, I show how Foucault's analytics of power can be brought into Peirce's theory of signs. Central to both philosophers is the role of action. Using the concept of action, I explain that Foucault's conception of power, action on actions, can be understood as structuring Peircian habits, which are rules for action. From here I build out to Peirce's semiotics, illustrating (...) how power channels the meanings of signs in certain directions. The rest of the paper is dedicated to reconstructing in light of Foucault Peirce's claim that the subject is nothing more than the signs it uses. I argue that any understanding of the subject must account for the subject being distributed through a field of power. The paper concludes by proposing a new "philosophy of the subject" which seeks to reconcile Foucault's concerns with those of pragmatism. (shrink)
The objective of this essay is to provide the beginning of a principled classification of some of the ways space is intelligently used. Studies of planning have typically focused on the temporal ordering of action, leaving as unaddressed questions of where to lay down instruments, ingredients, work-in-progress, and the like. But, in having a body, we are spatially located creatures: we must always be facing some direction, have only certain objects in view, be within reach of certain others. How we (...) manage the spatial arrangement of items around us is not an afterthought: it is an integral part of the way we think, plan, and behave. The proposed classification has three main categories: spatial arrangements that simplify choice; spatial arrangements that simplify perception; and spatial dynamics that simplify internal computation. The data for such a classification is drawn from videos of cooking, assembly and packing, everyday observations in supermarkets, workshops and playrooms, and experimental studies of subjects playing Tetris, the computer game. This study, therefore, focuses on interactive processes in the medium and short term: on how agents set up their workplace for particular tasks, and how they continuously manage that workplace. (shrink)
It has sometimes been suggested that people represent the structure of action in terms of an action tree. A question now arises about the relationship between this action tree representation and people’s moral judgments. A natural hypothesis would be that people first construct a representation of the action tree and then go on to use this representation in making moral judgments. The present paper argues for a more complex view. Specifically, the paper reports a series of experimental studies that appear (...) to show that people’s moral judgments can actually impact their representations of the action tree itself. (shrink)
Fiery Cushman and Alfred Mele recently proposed a ‘two-and-a-half rules’ theory of folk intentionality. They suggested that laypersons attribute intentionality employing: one rule based on desire, one based on belief, and another principle based on moral judgment, which may either reflect a folk concept (and so count as a third rule) or a bias (and so not count as a rule proper) and which they provisionally count as ‘half a rule’. In this article, I discuss some cases in which an (...) agent is judged as having neither belief nor desire to bring about an action, and yet laypersons find the agent’s action to be intentional. Many lay responses apparently follow a rule, but many other seem biased. The contribution of this study is two-fold: by addressing actions performed without desire or belief, it expands Mele and Cushman’s account; it also helps discriminate between a two-rules and a three-rules theory. As a conclusion, I argue in favor of a three-and-a-half concepts theory. (shrink)
Joshua Knobe found that people are more likely to describe an action as intentional if it has had a bad outcome than a good outcome, and to blame a bad outcome than to praise a good one. These asymmetries raised numerous questions about lay moral judgement. Frank Hindriks recently proposed that one acts intentionally if one fails to comply with a normative reason against performing the action, that moral praise requires appropriate motivation, whereas moral blame does not, and that these (...) asymmetries are normal features of a theory of intentional action, not anomalies. I present two empirical studies revealing asymmetries in lay judgements of intentionality and moral blameworthiness; these cannot be explained by Hindriks' theory of intentional action. (shrink)
The standard philosophical and folk-psychological accounts of cognition and action credit us with too much spontaneity in our activities and projects. We are taken to be fundamentally active rather than reactive, to project our needs and aims and deploy our full supporting arsenal of cognitive instruments upon an essentially passive environment. The corrected point of view presented here balances this image of active agency with an appreciation of how we are also continually responding to the world, that is, to the (...) pragmatic situations that effectively select subsets of our cognitive resources to be at our disposal in generating responses. The result is a superseding of the standard Cognitive Integrationist picture by a model of a structurally divided mind, comprising a multiplicity of diverse and sometimes-conflicting standpoints, personas, and wills whose elicitation is a complex function of agent intentions and plans, the encountered environment, past experience, and temporal sequence. According to this model, the manifold stored representations constituting a person’s cognitive endowment do not form a single integrated network all equally ready for use. Cognition at any given moment is limited to drawing upon only a subset of one’s perspective, the perspect that is activated in accordance with the specific mental task or situation (the pragmatic context) that one perceives oneself to be facing. The system enlists the environmental context as trigger for practical and theoretical activity, based upon the agent’s prior experience. Though susceptible to certain kinds of error, and not inherently inclined toward innovative thinking, it enables the generally efficient use of our enormous cognitive endowments in conducting our lives in real time. (shrink)
I argue (1) that it is not philosophically significant whether causation is linguistically represented by a predicate or by a sentence connective; (2) that there is no philosophically significant distinction between event- and states-of-affairs-causation; (3) that there is indeed a philosophically significant distinction between agent- and event-causation, and that event-causation must be regarded as an analog of agent-causation. Developing this point, I argue that event-causation's being in the image of agent-causation requires, mainly, (a) that the cause is temporally prior to (...) the effect, (b) that the cause necessitates (is sufficient with necessity) for the effect. Causal necessity is explained as a derivative of nomological necessity, and finally, via a definition of the causal sentence connective, the logic of event-causation is shown to be a part of temporal modal logic. (shrink)
Abstract: Recently, the experimental philosopher Joshua Knobe has shown that the folk are more inclined to describe side effects as intentional actions when they bring about bad results. Edouard Machery has offered an intriguing new explanation of Knobe's work—the 'trade-off hypothesis'—which denies that moral considerations explain folk applications of the concept of intentional action. We critique Machery's hypothesis and offer empirical evidence against it. We also evaluate the current state of the debate concerning the concept of intentionality, and argue that, (...) given the number of variables at play, any parsimonious account of the relevant data is implausible. (shrink)
Counterexamples are constructed for the theory of rational choice that results from a direct application of classical decision theory to ordinary actions. These counterexamples turn on the fact that an agent may be unable to perform an action, and may even be unable to try to perform an action. An alternative theory of rational choice is proposed that evaluates actions using a more complex measure, and then it is shown that this is equivalent to applying classical decision theory to "conditional (...) policies" rather than ordinary actions. (shrink)
I explain what teleological reasons are, distinguish between direct and indirect teleological reasons, and discuss both whether all practical reasons are teleological and whether all teleological reasons are direct.
The Agent-Causal Theory of Action claims that an event counts as an action when, and only when, it is caused by an agent. The central difference between the Causal Theory of Action (CTA) and the Agent-Causal view comes down to a disagreement about what sort of item (or items) occupies the left-hand position in the causal relation. For CTA, the left-hand position is occupied by mental items within the agent, typically construed in terms of mental events (e.g., belief/desire pairs or (...) intentions). For the agent-causal theory, it is the agent herself (that is, a substance) which does the causing. Agent-causal theorists generally concede that some intentional actions involve causal relations that are best understood in eventcausal terms. Such intentional actions are "nonbasic," meaning that the agent does them by doing something else. But for any "basic" intentional action—behavior that, according to the agent-causal theorist, is caused directly by the agent—there is a causal relation between the agent, on the one hand, and the action, on the other, which is (i) primitive (not permitting of analysis) and (ii) irreducible to any other relation (including, importantly, the event-causal relation). -/- . (shrink)
Most philosophers concede that one can properly be held morally responsible for intentionally omitting to do something. If one maintains that omissions are actions (negative actions, perhaps), then assuming the requisite conditions regarding voluntariness are met, one can tell a familiar story about how/why this is. In particular, causal theorists can explain the etiology of an intentional omission in causal terms. However, if one denies that omissions are actions of any kind, then the familiar story is no longer available. Some (...) have suggested that this poses a special problem for causal theorists of action. I argue that it does not and, even more interestingly, that it renders a more nuanced understanding of voluntariness (since it no longer applies strictly to actions) and moral responsibility (since you might be to blame, but not for anything you’ve done). (shrink)
John Searle's forthcoming book 'Rationality in Action' presents a sophisticated and innovative account of the rationality of action. In the book Searle argues against what he calls the classical model of rationality. In the debate that follows Barry Smith challenges some implications of Searle's account. In particular, Smith suggests that Searle's distinction between observer-relative and observer-independent facts of the world is ill suited to accommodate moral concepts. Leo Zaibert takes on Searle's notion of the gap. The gap exists between the (...) reasons that we have for acting and our actions. According to Searle, whenever there is no gap, our actions exhibit irrationality. Zaibert points out a certain obscurity in Searle's treatment of the gap, particularly in connection with Searle's notion of 'recognitional rationality'. Finally, Josef Moural examines the interactions between Searle's theory of institutions and his theory of rationality, with emphasis on the connections between intentionality and Searle's notion of the 'background'. (shrink)
Emerging action perspectives on psychopathology depict individuals as actively shaping those environmental conditions that then impact on their risk for psychopathology, resilience in the face of it, and successful recovery from it. This view, although having important implications for research and clinical practice, has yet to be articulated in terms of its underlying philosophical framework. To begin to address this challenge, we situate action theory in the context of the writings of Deleuze and Guattari, who, in their seemingly anti-psychiatric series (...) entitled Capitalism and Schizophrenia, argue for the central role of human agency as a fundamentally active force in determining subjective life. Within this context, they propose an alternative approach to the current deficit focus of much psychopathology research, replacing the notion of deficit with a fundamentally productive notion of desire (what they call “desiring-production”). After our exposition of this philosophical perspective on human agency, implications of this approach for action-informed research and clinical practice are discussed. (shrink)
The paper explores the relation between reason and action as it emerges from the texts of Äyurveda. Life or Ayus (commonly understood as life-span) is primary subject matter of Ayurveda. Life is a locus of experience, action and disposition. Experiences and actions are differentially determined by dispositions that characterize the organism; otherwise all living organisms will be identical. Ayus of each living being is uniquely individual and remains constant between birth and death. In this journey, upkeep of ayus is the (...) purpose of Äyurveda or science of life. Ayurveda is a science of experienced matter as well as of experienced body. The living body is critically dependent on the influx of matter for its upkeep. Äyurveda offers a conceptual system to reason about balance and imbalances of the system and the causal role of the material flux through the system. This sensate matter is causally open and makes room for definite causal role for the individual and the effective insertion of the felt-purpose of action. Some of the strengths of Ayurveda are brought forth in the paper such as (a) reasoning out the compatibility between the bodily processes and the selection of the natural products for diet and drug, (b) role for heuristics in medical diagnosis, which takes into cognizance the particularity of each living body and the teleology evident in the very act of diagnostic reasoning. The paper shows that Äyurvedic theory is built on experiential datum whereas scientific medical theory is built on experience-independent datum. Äyurveda explores causal efficacy of âsecondary qualitiesâ whereas scientific medicine explores causal efficacy of âprimary qualitiesâ. The actionable experiential reasoning is at the foundations of Äyurveda whereas modern medical science is ab initio saddled with difficult âhiatus theoreticusâ between theory and practice. For Ayurveda it is experience of qualities that discloses behavior of matter. The types of qualities that appear in experience have a special significance for theorizing about the actions of matter with the help of qualities. The paper explores the relation between experience of qualities and the method of science. It shows how efficacy of medical practice is based on the foundational stance of experiential realism in theory. To bring the point home, the paper borrows Aristotalian concepts to show how the relation between phantasm and phronesis is honored in the very theory of Äyurveda. (shrink)
The research methodologies of grounded theory and grounded action are framed by a systems perspective, from which they contribute their own unique properties and processes to the evolution of systems thinking. The author provides definitions for systems, theory, grounded theory, grounded action, and systems thinking, and explores the relationships between theory, grounded theory/grounded action, and systems thinking with regard to purpose, context, and usefulness for the resolution of social concerns and systemic change.
The concept of intentional action occupies a central place in commonsense or folk psychological thought. Philosophers of action, psychologists and moral philosophers all have taken an interest in understanding this important concept. One issue that has been discussed by philosophers is whether the concept of intentional action is purely ‘naturalistic’, that is, whether it is entirely a descriptive concept that can be used to explain and predict behavior. (Of course, judgments using such a concept could be used to support moral (...) or evaluative judgments about responsibility, praise and blame.) A related question is whether speakers’ views about moral and evaluative issues at least affect their judgments about intentionality, even if their explicit concept of intentional action is not itself evaluative. (shrink)