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Summary What are the relationships between action and knowledge, between doing something and knowing what one is doing? What is special about the first-person perspective on one's actions, and about the way we know our actions as opposed to other things? Do we (always, or often, or normally) know our intentional actions "without observation", and if so then what does this mean, and how is it possible?
Key works Anscombe 1957, which introduces the concept of "non-observational knowledge" as a mark of intentional action, is the seminal text in the 20th-century Anglophone literature on this subject. For an important early criticism of Anscombe's argument, see Donnellan 1963. More recently, Anscombean positions have been explored by Falvey 2000, Gibbons 2010, Grunbaum 2009, Grünbaum 2011, Hursthouse 2000, Moran 2004, Paul 2009, Pickard 2004, Rödl 2007, Schwenkler 2011, Schwenkler 2012, Setiya 2008, Velleman 1989, and in many of the essays collected in Roessler & Eilan 2003 and Ford et al 2011.
Introductions For an opinionated survey of the recent literature on this topic, see Schwenkler 2012.
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  1. Chrisoula Andreou (2013). Agency and Awareness. Ratio 26 (2):117-133.
    I focus on the idea that if, as a result of lacking any conscious goal related to X-ing and any conscious anticipation or awareness of X-ing, one could sincerely reply to the question ‘Why are you X-ing?’ with ‘I didn't realize I was doing that,’ then one's X-ing is not intentional. My interest is in the idea interpreted as philosophically substantial (rather than merely stipulative) and as linked to the familiar view that there is a major difference, relative to the (...)
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  2. G. E. M. Anscombe (1957/2000). Intention. Harvard University Press.
    This is a welcome reprint of a book that continues to grow in importance.
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  3. G. E. M. Anscombe & Sidney Morgenbesser (1963). The Two Kinds of Error in Action. Journal of Philosophy 60 (14):393-401.
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  4. Olle Blomberg, Mutual Knowledge and Joint Action.
    Most reductive accounts of intentional joint action include a condition that agents must have common knowledge of each other's intentions. I argue that these accounts either fail to make sense of intentional joint action, or the requirement should be abandoned. If a kind of "participant's knowledge" is constitutive of intentional joint action, then the accounts fail, since they lack the resources to make sense of *why* the common knowledge condition is necessay. On the other hand, if such knowledge doesn’t play (...)
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  5. Michael E. Bratman (1991). Cognitivism About Practical Reason (Review of Practical Reflection, by J. David Velleman). [REVIEW] Ethics 102 (1):117-.
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  6. Frederick Broadie (1967). Knowing That I Am Doing. Philosophical Quarterly 17 (67):137-149.
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  7. Jan M. Broersen (2011). Making a Start with the Stit Logic Analysis of Intentional Action. Journal of Philosophical Logic 40 (4):499-530.
    This paper studies intentional action in stit logic. The formal logic study of intentional action appears to be new, since most logical studies of intention concern intention as a static mental state. In the formalization we distinguish three modes of acting: the objective level concerning the choices an agent objectively exercises, the subjective level concerning the choices an agent knows or believes to be exercising, and finally, the intentional level concerning the choices an agent intentionally exercises. Several axioms constraining the (...)
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  8. Michael Brownstein (2014). Rationalizing Flow: Agency in Skilled Unreflective Action. Philosophical Studies 168 (2):545-568.
    In recent work, Peter Railton, Julia Annas, and David Velleman aim to reconcile the phenomenon of “flow”—broadly understood as describing the “unreflective” aspect of skilled action—with one or another familiar conception of agency. While there are important differences between their arguments, Railton, Annas, and Velleman all make, or are committed to, at least one similar pivotal claim. Each argues, directly or indirectly, that agents who perform skilled unreflective actions can, in principle, accurately answer “Anscombean” questions—”what” and “why” questions— about what (...)
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  9. Peter Carruthers (2011). Action-Awareness and the Active Mind. Philosophical Papers 38 (2):133-156.
    In a pair of recent papers and his new book, Christopher Peacocke (2007, 2008a, 2008b) takes up and defends the claim that our awareness of our own actions is immediate and not perceptually based, and extends it into the domain of mental action.1 He aims to provide an account of action-awareness that will generalize to explain how we have immediate awareness of our own judgments, decisions, imaginings, and so forth. These claims form an important component in a much larger philosophical (...)
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  10. David Cunning (1999). Agency and Consciousness. Synthese 120 (2):271-294.
    In Intentionality and other works, John Searle establishes himself as a leading defender of the view that consciousness of what one is doing is always a component of one'€™s action. In this paper I focus on problems with Searle'€™s view to establish that there are actions in which the agent is not at all aware of what she is doing. I argue that any theory that misses this sort of action keeps us from important insights into autonomy, self-knowledge and responsibility.
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  11. Arthur Danto (1963). What We Can Do. Journal of Philosophy 60 (15):435-445.
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  12. Arthur Coleman Danto (1973). Analytical Philosophy of Action. Cambridge, [Eng.]University Press.
    He is always prepared to venture novel ideas to stimulate further debate and research and the book as a whole is presented as an original contribution to a ...
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  13. Stephen Davey (2013). How to Respond to the Problem of Deviant Formal Causation. Philosophia 41 (3):703-717.
    Recently, a new problem has arisen for an Anscombean conception of intentional action. The claim is that the Anscombean’s emphasis on the formally causal character of practical knowledge precludes distinguishing between an aim and a merely foreseen side effect. I propose a solution to this problem: the difference between aim and side effect should be understood in terms of the familiar Anscombean distinction between acting intentionally and the intention with which one acts. I also argue that this solution has advantages (...)
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  14. Govert den Hartogh (2004). The Authority of Intention. Ethics 115 (1):6-34.
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  15. Ezio Di Nucci (2013). Mindlessness. Cambridge Scholars Publishing.
    Thinking is overrated: golfers perform best when distracted and under pressure; firefighters make the right calls without a clue as to why; and you are yourself ill advised to look at your steps as you go down the stairs, or to try and remember your pin number before typing it in. Just do it, mindlessly. Both empirical psychologists and the common man have long worked out that thinking is often a bad idea, but philosophers still hang on to an intellectualist (...)
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  16. Keith S. Donnellan (1963). Knowing What I Am Doing. Journal of Philosophy 60 (14):401-409.
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  17. Fabian Dorsch (2009). Judging and the Scope of Mental Agency. In Lucy O'Brien & Matthew Soteriou (eds.), Mental Actions. Oxford University Press. 38--71.
    What is the scope of our conscious mental agency, and how do we acquire self-knowledge of it? Both questions are addressed through an investigation of what best explains our inability to form judgemental thoughts in direct response to practical reasons. Contrary to what Williams and others have argued, it cannot be their subjection to a truth norm, given that our failure to adhere to such a norm need not undermine their status as judgemental. Instead, it is argued that we cannot (...)
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  18. Robert Dunn (1998). Knowing What I'm About to Do Without Evidence. International Journal of Philosophical Studies 6 (2):231 – 252.
    J. David Velleman casts foreknowledge of one's own next move as psychologically active. As agents, we form prior intentions about what we will do next. Such prior intentions are licensed self-fulfilling beliefs or directive cognitions. These cognitions differ from ordinary predictions in their psychological relation to the evidence, in that they precede that crucial part of the evidence which consists in the fact that they have been formed. However, once formed, these cognitions are epistemologically unremarkable: they are directly justified by (...)
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  19. Naomi M. Eilan & Johannes Roessler (2003). Agency and Self-Awareness: Mechanisms and Epistemology. In Johannes Roessler (ed.), Agency and Self-Awareness: Issues in Philosophy and Psychology. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  20. Kevin Falvey (2000). Knowledge in Intention. Philosophical Studies 99 (1):21-44.
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  21. C. Farrer, N. Franck, J. Paillard & M. Jeannerod (2003). The Role of Proprioception in Action Recognition. Consciousness and Cognition 12 (4):609-619.
    This study aimed at evaluating the role of proprioception in the process of matching the final position of one's limbs with an intentional movement. Two experiments were realised with the same paradigm of conscious recognition of one's own limb position from a distorted position. In the first experiment, 22 healthy subjects performed the task in an active and in a passive condition. In the latter condition, proprioception was the only available information since the central signals related to the motor command (...)
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  22. Anton Ford (2011). Action and Generality. In Anton Ford, Jennifer Hornsby & Frederick Stoutland (eds.), Essays on Anscombe's Intention. Harvard University Press.
  23. Anton Ford, Jennifer Hornsby & Frederick Stoutland (eds.) (2011). Essays on Anscombe's Intention. Harvard University Press.
    This collection of ten essays elucidates some of the more challenging aspects of Anscombe’s work and affirms her reputation as one of our most original ...
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  24. Danny Frederick (2012). Critique of an Argument for the Reality of Purpose. Prolegomena 11 (1):25-34.
    Schueler has argued, against the eliminativist, that human purposive action cannot be an illusion because the concept of purpose is not theoretical. He argues that the concept is known directly to be instantiated, through self-awareness; and that to maintain that the concept is theoretical involves an infinite regress. I show that Schueler’s argument fails because all our concepts are theoretical in the sense that we may be mistaken in applying them to our experience. As a consequence, it is conceivable that (...)
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  25. Martin F. Fricke (2013). First Person Authority and Knowledge of One's Own Actions. Crítica. Revista Hispanoamericana de Filosofía 45 (134):3-16.
    What is the relation between first person authority and knowledge of one’s own actions? On one view, it is because we know the reasons for which we act that we know what we do and, analogously, it is because we know the reasons for which we avow a belief that we know what we believe. Carlos Moya (2006) attributes some such theory to Richard Moran (2001) and criticises it on the grounds of circularity. In this paper, I examine the view (...)
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  26. Chris Frith (2005). The Self in Action: Lessons From Delusions of Control. Consciousness and Cognition 14 (4):752-770.
  27. John Gibbons (2010). Seeing What You're Doing. In T. Szabo Gendler & J. Hawthorne (eds.), Oxford Studies in Epistemology. Oxford University Press.
    Do we have privileged access to what we’re intentionally doing? Well, that probably depends on what privileged access is. One way to think about privileged access is to try to identify a true formal principle. One thing you’ll need to do when identifying the formal principle is to specify the relevant range of propositions to which you have privileged access. These ranges are usually specified by subject matter: propositions about your own current, conscious propositional attitudes, propositions about your own sensations, (...)
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  28. John Gibbons (2001). Knowledge in Action. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 62 (3):579-600.
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  29. Thor Grünbaum (2011). Perception and Non-Inferential Knowledge of Action. Philosophical Explorations 14 (2):153 - 167.
    I present an account of how agents can know what they are doing when they intentionally execute object-oriented actions. When an agent executes an object-oriented intentional action, she uses perception in such a way that it can fulfil a justificatory role for her knowledge of her own action and it can fulfil this justificatory role without being inferentially linked to the cognitive states that it justifies. I argue for this proposal by meeting two challenges: in an agent's knowledge of her (...)
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  30. Thor Grunbaum (2009). Anscombe and Practical Knowledge of What Is Happening. Grazer Philosophische Studien 78 (1):41-67.
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  31. Thor Grunbaum (2008). The Body in Action. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 7 (2):243-261.
    This article is about how to describe an agent’s awareness of her bodily movements when she is aware of executing an action for a reason. Against current orthodoxy, I want to defend the claim that the agent’s experience of moving has an epistemic place in the agent’s awareness of her own intentional action. In “The problem,” I describe why this should be thought to be problematic. In “Motives for denying epistemic role,” I state some of the main motives for denying (...)
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  32. P. M. S. Hacker (2005). Thought and Action: A Tribute to Stuart Hampshire. Philosophy 80 (2):175-197.
    The paper is a tribute to the late Stuart Hampshire's investigations of the ramifying role of intention in our conceptual scheme. It surveys the central argument of Thought and Action and the third chapter of Freedom of the Individual. Emphasis is placed upon Hampshire's constructive account of human agency and consequent description of the manner in which perception and action are interwoven. His analysis of the character of intentional action, self-knowledge and autonomy is described. Various lacunae in Hampshire's account are (...)
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  33. Adrian Haddock (2011). The Knowledge That a Man has of His Intentional Actions. In Anton Ford, Jennifer Hornsby & Frederick Stoutland (eds.), Essays on Anscombe's Intention. Harvard University Press.
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  34. Andy Hamilton (2008). Intention and the Authority of Avowals. Philosophical Explorations 11 (1):23 – 37.
    There is a common assumption that intention is a complex behavioural disposition, or a motivational state underlying such a disposition. Associated with this position is the apparently commonsense view that an avowal of intention is a direct report of an inner motivational state, and indirectly an expression of a belief that it is likely that one will A. A central claim of this article is that the dispositional or motivational model is mistaken since it cannot acknowledge either the future-direction of (...)
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  35. Stuart Hampshire (1983). Thought and Action. University of Notre Dame Press.
  36. Stephen Hetherington (2013). Skeptical Challenges and Knowing Actions. Philosophical Issues 23 (1):18-39.
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  37. Jennifer Hornsby (2013). Basic Activity. Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volume 87 (1):1-18.
    I present a view of activity, taking it that an agent is engaged in activity so long as an action of hers is occurring. I suggest that this view (a) helps in understanding what goes wrong in an argument in Thompson (2008) known sometimes as the ‘initial segment argument’, and (b) enables us to see that there could be an intelligible conception of what is basic when agents' knowledge is allowed into an account of that.
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  38. Jennifer Hornsby & Jason Stanley (2005). I-Paper by Jennifer Hornsby. Semantic Knowledge and Practical Knowledge. Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volume 79 (1):107–130.
    [Jennifer Hornsby] The central claim is that the semantic knowledge exercised by people when they speak is practical knowledge. The relevant idea of practical knowledge is explicated, applied to the case of speaking, and connected with an idea of agents' knowledge. Some defence of the claim is provided. /// [Jason Stanley] The central claim is that Hornsby's argument that semantic knowledge is practical knowledge is based upon a false premise. I argue, contra Hornsby, that speakers do not voice their thoughts (...)
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  39. Keith Hossack (2003). Consciousness in Act and Action. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 2 (3):187-203.
    This paper develops an account of consciousness in action. Both consciousness and action are related to knowledge. A voluntary action is defined as a volition, or something intentionally effected by means of such volitions. Volitions are conscious mental acts whose proper function is to make their content true. A mental act is the exercise of a power of mind and a conscious mental act is identical with knowledge of its own phenomenal character. This set of definitions elucidates the relations between (...)
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  40. David Hunter (2012). Guidance and Belief. In , Belief and Agency. Calgary University Press. 63-90.
  41. Rosalind Hursthouse (2000). Intention. Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplement 46:83-.
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  42. John Hyman (2013). Voluntariness and Choice. Philosophical Quarterly 63 (253):683-708.
    Philosophers have shown little interest in the concept of voluntariness during the last fifty years, mainly because Anscombe's book Intention persuaded us that it plays a relatively minor role in thought about human action, compared to the concept of acting intentionally or acting for a reason, and does not raise any interesting problems of its own, once the nature of intentional action has been explained. But this seems to be wrong. The nature of voluntariness, and its relationship with guilt, coercion, (...)
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  43. R. I. Ingalalli (1992). Knowledge of Action: Logico-Epistemological Analysis. Sri Satguru Publications.
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  44. Yukio Irie (2008). 'Our' Practical Knowledge. Proceedings of the Xxii World Congress of Philosophy 33:21-26.
    When I am asked “What are you doing?”, I answer e.g. “I am making coffee”. Anscombe called the knowledge that this kind of answer involves “practical knowledge”. Practical knowledge is knowledge not involving observation and inference. In this presentation I would like to apply this concept to the collectiveaction of many persons. Given that we are playing soccer if someone comes here and asks “What are you doing now?”, we can answer immediately “We are playing soccer”. I would like to (...)
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  45. John W. Krakauer Jason Stanley (2013). Motor Skill Depends on Knowledge of Facts. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 7.
    Those in 20th century philosophy, psychology, and neuroscience who have discussed the nature of skilled action have, for the most part, accepted the view that being skilled at an activity is independent of knowing facts about that activity, i.e. that skill is independent of knowledge of facts. In this paper we question this view of motor skill. We begin by situating the notion of skill in historical and philosophical context. We use the discussion to explain and motivate the view that (...)
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  46. Marc Jeannerod (2003). Consciousness of Action and Self-Consciousness: A Cognitive Neuroscience Approach. In Johannes Roessler & Naomi Eilan (eds.), Agency and Self-Awareness: Issues in Philosophy and Psychology. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  47. Helen Johnson & Patrick Haggard (2005). Motor Awareness Without Perceptual Awareness. Neuropsychologia. Special Issue 43 (2):227-237.
    The control of action has traditionally been described as "automatic". In particular, movement control may occur without conscious awareness, in contrast to normal visual perception. Studies on rapid visuomotor adjustment of reaching movements following a target shift have played a large part in introducing such distinctions. We suggest that previous studies of the relation between motor performance and perceptual awareness have confounded two separate dissociations. These are: (a) the distinction between motoric and perceptual representations, and (b) an orthogonal distinction between (...)
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  48. O. R. Jones (1960). Things Known Without Observation. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 61:129 - 150.
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  49. Paul Katsafanas (2012). Nietzsche on Agency and Self-Ignorance. Journal of Nietzsche Studies 43 (1):5-17.
    Nietzsche frequently claims that agents are in some sense ignorant of their own actions. In this conference paper, I ask two questions: what exactly does Nietzsche mean by this claim, and how would the truth of this claim affect philosophical models of agency? I argue that Nietzsche's claim about self-ignorance is intended to draw attention to the fact that there are influences upon reflective episodes of choice that have three features. First, these influences are pervasive, occurring in every episode of (...)
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  50. Rae Langton (2004). Intention as Faith. In H. Steward & J. Hyman (eds.), Agency and Action. Cambridge University Press Press. 243-258.
    What, if anything, has faith to do with intention?1 By ‘faith’ I have in mind the attitude described by William James: Suppose...that I am climbing in the Alps, and have had the ill-luck to work myself into a position from which the only escape is by a terrible leap. Being without similar experience, I have no evidence of my ability to perform it successfully; but hope and confidence in myself make me sure I shall not miss my aim, and nerve (...)
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