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Summary

Plausibly, trying is an essential component of agency. But what is trying? Philosophers of action differ on trying’s nature and its relation to agency more broadly (e.g., its relationship to the will, to intentional action, and more): nothing like a consensus view on trying exists. Some view trying as a special act of the will; others that trying is simply a functional component of action – trying is identical to the effects of an intentions’s normal causal work. In the 20th Century trying generated some conceptual puzzles for philosophers of action: so, one finds discussion of questions about whether an agent can intend to try, whether an agent can desire to try to A without desiring to A, and whether an agent can try to do what she believes to be impossible. More recently, some have focused on the psychology of trying – including the experience of trying to do things – and have thus connected trying to the growing literature on the phenomenology of agency.

Key works

Some key works are indicated in the 'introductions.' For discussion of whether trying can serve as the centerpiece of an answer to the problem of action (the problem of distinguishing actions from non-actions), see Armstrong 1973. For some interesting work on trying and its relationship to certain experiences of agency (i.e., the experience of effort), see Dewey 1897, Preston & Wegner 2009, Lafargue & Franck 2009. For work on some of the conceptual puzzles surrounding trying, see Adams 1994, Ludwig 1995, Mele 1989, Mele 1994.

Introductions For important treatments of the nature of trying and its relationship to volition, see O'Shaughnessy 1973, McCann 1974, McCann 1975, Adams & Mele 1992.
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  1. Frederick Adams (1995). Trying. Journal of Philosophical Research 20:549-561.
    Sue knows that, unaided, she cannot lift the 1,000 pound weight, but surely she can try. Can she not? For even if she believes it is impossible to succeed in lifting the weight, trying to lift the weight need not involve success. So surely, it would seem that nothing could be easier than for Sue to give lifting the weight a try. In this paper, I agrue that, appearances aside, it is not possible for someone to try to do what (...)
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  2. Frederick Adams (1994). Trying, Desire, and Desiring to Try. Canadian Journal of Philosophy 24 (4):613 - 626.
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  3. Frederick Adams (1991). He Doesn't Really Want to Try. Analysis 51 (2):109 - 112.
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  4. Frederick Adams & Alfred R. Mele (1992). The Intention/Volition Debate. Canadian Journal of Philosophy 22 (3):323-337.
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  5. D. M. Armstrong (1973). Acting and Trying. Philosophical Papers 2 (1):1-15.
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  6. Bruce Aune (1974). Prichard, Action, and Volition. Philosophical Studies 25 (2):97 - 116.
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  7. Myles Brand (1995). Hornsby on Trying. Journal of Philosophical Research 20:541-547.
    In “Reasons for Trying” (JPR, 1995), Jennifer Homsby rejects several views about trying, including the volitional account, which identifies trying with an ‘inner’ uniform mental occurrence leading to action and the instrumental view, which explicates trying as doing one thing in order to accomplish something else. She proffers, rather, an explication, which I label ‘the capacity view,’ that identifies trying with the agent doing all that she can to accomplish the goal. In this note, I argue, first, that Hornsby’s approach (...)
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  8. Frederick Broadie (1965). Trying and Doing. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 66:27 - 40.
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  9. Andrei A. Buckareff (2012). Mental Action. Edited by Lucy O'Brien and Matthew Soteriou. (Oxford UP, 2009. Pp. X + 286. Price £50.00). Philosophical Quarterly 62 (247):401-403.
  10. C. A. Campbell (1939). The Psychology of Effort of Will. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 40:49 - 74.
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  11. Candidus (1955). Can I Decide To Do Something Immediately Without Trying To Do It Immediately? Analysis 16 (1):3-4.
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  12. Timothy Cleveland (1992). Trying Without Willing. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 70 (3):324 – 342.
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  13. Michael Corrado (1983). Trying. American Philosophical Quarterly 20 (2):195 - 205.
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  14. Lawrence H. Davis (1979). Theory of Action. Prentice Hall.
  15. John Dewey (1897). The Psychology of Effort. Philosophical Review 6 (1):43-56.
  16. B. Ellis (1955). Can I Decide To Do Something Immediately Without Trying To Do It Immediately? Analysis 16 (1):1-3.
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  17. Ariel Furstenberg (2013). Proximal Intentions, Non-Executed Proximal Intentions and Change of Intentions. Topoi 33 (1):1-10.
    This paper investigates the conceptual and empirical possibility of non-executed, non-conscious proximal intentions, i.e., non-conscious proximal intentions to act that do not turn into a final act, but perhaps are vetoed or overcome by an alternative action. It constructs a conceptual framework in which such cases are justifiably considered ‘proximal intentions’. This is achieved by combining Alfred Mele’s notion of non-conscious proximal intentions together with the notion of trying or striving taken from Brian O’Shaughnessy’s model of action. With this framework (...)
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  18. Carl Ginet (2004). Trying to Act. In Joseph Keim Campbell, Michael O'Rourke & David Shier (eds.), Freedom and Determinism. MIT Press.
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  19. Michael Gorr (1979). Willing, Trying and Doing. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 57 (3):237 – 250.
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  20. O. H. Green (1994). Toe Wiggling and Starting Cars: A Re-Examination of Trying. Philosophia 23 (1-4):171-191.
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  21. Meghan Griffith (2007). Freedom and Trying: Understanding Agent-Causal Exertions. [REVIEW] Acta Analytica 22 (1):16-28.
    In this paper, I argue that trying is the locus of freedom and moral responsibility. Thus, any plausible view of free and responsible action must accommodate and account for free tryings. I then consider a version of agent causation whereby the agent directly causes her tryings. On this view, the agent is afforded direct control over her efforts and there is no need to posit—as other agent-causal theorists do—an uncaused event. I discuss the potential advantages of this sort of view, (...)
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  22. Thor Grünbaum (2008). Trying and the Arguments From Total Failure. Philosophia 36 (1):67-86.
    New Volitionalism is a name for certain widespread conception of the nature of intentional action. Some of the standard arguments for New Volitionalism, the so-called arguments from total failure, have even acquired the status of basic assumptions for many other kinds of philosophers. It is therefore of singular interest to investigate some of the most important arguments from total failure. This is what I propose to do in this paper. My aim is not be to demonstrate that these arguments are (...)
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  23. Don F. Gustafson (1964). Discussions:Hampshire on Trying. Theoria 30 (1):31-38.
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  24. Peter Heath & Peter Winch (1971). Trying and Attempting. Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volume 45:193 - 227.
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  25. Charles Hermes (2006). Does Attempting to Try to A Imply Trying to A? Southwest Philosophy Review 22 (2):63-70.
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  26. David Hitchcock (2011). Arguing as Trying to Show That a Target-Claim is Correct. Theoria 26 (3):301-309.
    ABSTRACT: In Giving Reasons, Bermejo-Luque rightly claims that a normative model of the speech act of argumentation is more defensible if it rests on an internal aim that is constitutive of the act of arguing than if it rests, as she claims existing normative models do, on an aim that one need not pursue when one argues. She rightly identifies arguing with trying to justify something. But it is not so clear that she has correctly identified the internal aim of (...)
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  27. Jennifer Hornsby (1995). Reasons for Trying. Journal of Philosophical Research 20:525-539.
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  28. Jennifer Hornsby (1980). Actions. Routledge and Kegan Paul.
    This book presents an events-based view of human action somewhat different from that of what is known as "standard story". A thesis about trying-to-do-something is distinguished from various volitionist theses. It is argued then that given a correct conception of action's antecedents, actions will be identified not with bodily movements but with causes of such movements.
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  29. J. F. M. Hunter (1987). Trying. Philosophical Quarterly 37 (149):392-401.
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  30. Frank Jackson (1982). I. Acting, Trying, and Essentialism. Inquiry 25 (2):255 – 262.
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  31. O. R. Jones (1983). Trying. Mind 92 (367):368-385.
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  32. Gilles Lafargue & Nicolas Franck (2009). Effort Awareness and Sense of Volition in Schizophrenia. Consciousness and Cognition 18 (1):277-289.
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  33. Reza Lahroodi (2006). Evaluational Internalism, Epistemic Virtues, and the Significance of Trying. Journal of Philosophical Research 31:1-20.
    While there is general agreement about the list of epistemic virtues, there has been much controversy over what it is to be an epistemic virtue. Three competing theories have been offered: evaluational externalism, evaluational internalism, and mixed theories. A major problem with internalism, the focus of this paper, is that it disconnects the value of epistemic virtue from actual success in the real world (the Disconnection Problem). Relying on a novel thesis about the relation of “trying” and “exercise of virtue,” (...)
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  34. John Lemos (2011). Wanting, Willing, Trying and Kane's Theory of Free Will. Dialectica 65 (1):31-48.
    Robert Kane's event-causal libertarian theory of free will has been subjected to a variety of criticisms. In response to the luck objection, he has provided an ambiguous answer which results in additional criticisms that are avoidable. I explain Kane's theory, the luck objection and Kane's reply to the problem of luck. I note that in some places he suggests that the dual wantings of agents engaged in self-forming actions (SFAs) provides the key to answering the luck objection, whereas in other (...)
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  35. Kirk Ludwig, Trying the Impossible: Reply to Adams.
    This paper defends the autonomy thesis, which holds that one can intend to do something even though one believes it to be impossible, against attacks by Fred Adams. Adams denies the autonomy thesis on the grounds that it cannot, but must, explain what makes a particular trying, a trying for the aim it has in view. If the autonomy thesis were true, it seems that I could try to fly across the Atlantic ocean merely by typing out this abstract, a (...)
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  36. Kirk Ludwig (2003). Causing Actions. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 81 (2):295 – 297.
    Critical Notice of Causing Actions by Paul Pietroski,.
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  37. Kirk A. Ludwig (1995). Trying the Impossible. Journal of Philosophical Research 20:563-570.
    This paper defends the autonomy thesis, which holds that one can intend to do something even though one believes it to be impossible, against attacks by Fred Adams. Adams denies the autonomy thesis on the grounds that it cannot, but must, explain what makes a particular trying, a trying for the aim it has in view. If the autonomy thesis were true, it seems that I could try to fly across the Atlantic ocean merely by typing out this abstract, a (...)
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  38. Christy Mag Uidhir (2010). Failed-Art and Failed Art-Theory. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 88 (3):381-400.
    An object being non-art appears only trivially informative. Some non-art objects, however, could be saliently 'almost' art, and therefore objects for which being non-art is non-trivially informative. I call these kinds of non-art objects 'failed-art' objects—non-art objects aetiologically similar to art-objects, diverging only in virtue of some relevant failure. I take failed-art to be the right sort of thing, to result from the right sort of action, and to have the right sort of history required to be art, but to (...)
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  39. Chauncey Maher (2008). Trying. Southwest Philosophy Review 24 (2):55-69.
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  40. D. S. Mannison (1970). Armstrong on Trying and Intending. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 48 (2):252 – 255.
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  41. Olivier Massin (2014). Quand Vouloir, c'est Faire [How to Do Things with Wants]. In R. Clot-Goudard (Dir.), L'Explication de L'Action. Analyses Contemporaines, Recherches Sur la Philosophie Et le Langage N°30, Paris, Vrin 30.
    This paper defends the action-theory of the Will, according to which willing G is doing F (F≠G) in order to make G happen. In a nutshell, willing something is doing something else in order to bring about what we want. -/- I argue that only the action-theory can reconcile two essential features of the Will. (i) its EFFECTIVITY: willing is closer to acting than desiring. (ii) its FALLIBILITY: one might want something in vain. The action-theory of the will explains EFFECTIVITY (...)
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  42. Hugh McCann (1975). Trying, Paralysis, and Volition. Review of Metaphysics 28 (3):423-442.
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  43. Hugh J. McCann (1974). Volition and Basic Action. Philosophical Review 83 (4):451-473.
    The purpose of this paper is to defend the view that the bodily actions of men typicaly involve a mental action of voliton or willing, and that such mental acts are, in at least one important sense, the basic actions we perform when we do things like raise an arm, move a finger, or flex a muscle.
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  44. Hugh J. McCann (1972). Is Raising One's Arm a Basic Action? Journal of Philosophy 64 (9):235-249.
    I hold no view as to what actions are basic, but I shall attempt to show in what follows that actions like raising an arm never are. My contention is that these actions involve actions of physical exertion on the part of the agent, the involvement being of a sort generally taken to be excluded by an actions being basic.
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  45. Suzanne McCormick & Irving Thalberg (1967). Trying. Dialogue 6 (01):29-46.
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  46. Peter K. Mcinerney (2006). Pollock on Rational Choice and Trying. Philosophical Studies 129 (2):253 - 261.
    In everyday life people frequently recognize that a person at a time may be more or less strongly motivated to carry out an intentional action and that “trying harder” frequently affects the successful completion of an intentional action. In “Rational Choice and Action Omnipotence,” John Pollock provides an original account of rational choice in which “trying to do an action” is a basic factor. This paper argues that Pollock’s “expected-utility optimality prescription” is deficient because it lacks a parameter for intensity (...)
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  47. Alfred Mele (2003). Intending and Trying: Tuomela Vs. Bratman at the Video Arcade. In Matti Sintonen, Petri Ylikoski & Kaarlo Miller (eds.), Realism in Action. Kluwer.
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  48. Alfred R. Mele (ed.) (1997). The Philosophy of Action. Oxford University Press.
    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 (...)
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  49. Alfred R. Mele (1997). Agency and Mental Action. Philosophical Perspectives 11 (s11):231-249.
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  50. Alfred R. Mele (1994). Desiring to Try: Reply to Adams. Canadian Journal of Philosophy 24 (4):627 - 636.
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