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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. Larry Alexander (2013). Yaffe on Attempts. Legal Theory 19 (2):124-135.
    Gideon Yaffe's Attempts is a masterfully executed philosophical investigation of what it means to attempt something. Yaffe is obviously motivated by the fact that the criminal law punishes attempted crimes, and he believes that his philosophical analysis can shed light on and be used to criticize the law's understanding of those crimes. I focus exclusively on the relevance of Yaffe's philosophical analysis of attempts to the criminal law of attempts. I assume that Yaffe's account of what it is to attempt (...)
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  6. Lawrence Alexander (2013). Yaffe on Attempts. Legal Theory 2014:13-113.
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  7. D. M. Armstrong (1973). Acting and Trying. Philosophical Papers 2 (1):1-15.
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  8. Bruce Aune (1974). Prichard, Action, and Volition. Philosophical Studies 25 (2):97 - 116.
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  9. Tim Bayne (2011). The Sense of Agency. In Fiona Macpherson (ed.), The Senses: Classic and Contemporary Philosophical Perspectives.
    Where in cognitive architecture do experiences of agency lie? This chapter defends the claim that such states qualify as a species of perception. Reference to ‘the sense of agency’ should not be taken as a mere façon de parler but picks out a genuinely perceptual system. The chapter begins by outlining the perceptual model of agentive experience before turning to its two main rivals: the doxastic model, according to which agentive experience is really a species of belief, and the telic (...)
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  10. J. Bishop (2001). McCANN, HJ-The Works of Agency. Philosophical Books 42 (3):232-232.
  11. Karin E. Boxer (2013). Assessing the Argument for Agency Incompatibilism. Inquiry 56 (6):583-596.
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  12. 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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  13. Michael E. Bratman (2013). Yaffe on Criminal Attempts. Legal Theory 19 (2):101-113.
    Central to Gideon Yaffe's powerful theory of the legitimate criminalization of unsuccessful attempts is his according to which, I argue that this principle, taken together with Yaffe's theory of the nature of attempts, threatens to lead to a normatively problematic conclusion in support of the legitimate criminalization of attempts that are merely a matter of thinking and do not involve action in the public space. And I argue that Yaffe's efforts to block this conclusion are themselves problematic. This leads to (...)
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  14. David O. Brink (2013). First Acts, Last Acts, and Abandonment. Legal Theory 19 (2):114-123.
    This contribution reconstructs and assesses Gideon Yaffe’s claims in his book Attempts about what constitutes an attempt, what can count as evidence that an attempt has been made, whether abandonment is a genuine defense, and whether attempts should be punished less severely than completed crimes. I contrast Yaffe’s account of being motivated by an intention and the completion of an attempt in terms of the truth of the completion counterfactual with an alternative picture of attempts as temporally extended decision trees (...)
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  15. Frederick Broadie (1965). Trying and Doing. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 66:27 - 40.
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  16. 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.
  17. C. A. Campbell (1939). The Psychology of Effort of Will. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 40:49 - 74.
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  18. R. B. Candidus & Alonso Church (1955). Can I Decide To Do Something Immediately Without Trying To Do It Immediately? Analysis 16 (1):3-4.
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  19. Timothy Cleveland (1992). Trying Without Willing. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 70 (3):324 – 342.
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  20. Michael Corrado (1983). Trying. American Philosophical Quarterly 20 (2):195 - 205.
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  21. Lawrence H. Davis (1979). Theory of Action. Prentice Hall.
  22. John Dewey (1897). The Psychology of Effort. Philosophical Review 6 (1):43-56.
  23. R. A. Duff (2012). Guiding Commitments and Criminal Liability for Attempts. Criminal Law and Philosophy 6 (3):411-427.
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  24. 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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  25. Paul Faulkner (2013). Really Trying or Merely Trying. Journal of the Philosophy of Sport 41 (3):363-380.
    We enjoy first-person authority with respect to a certain class of actions: for these actions, we know what we are doing just because we are doing it. This paper first formulates an epistemological principle that captures this authority in terms of trying to act in a way that one has the capacity to act. It then considers a case of effortful action – running a middle distance race – that threatens this principle. And proposes the solution of changing the metaphysics (...)
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  26. Jeffrey P. Fry (2011). On the Supposed Duty to Try One's Hardest in Sports. Philosophy in the Contemporary World 18 (2):1-10.
    It is a common refrain in sports discourse that one should try one's hardest in sports, or some other variation on this theme. In this paper I argue that there is no generalized duty to try one's hardest in sports, and that the claim that one should do so is ambiguous. Although a number of factors point in the direction of my conclusion, particularly salient is the claim that, in the end, the putative requirement is too stringent for creatures like (...)
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  27. 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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  28. 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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  29. Michael Gorr (1979). Willing, Trying and Doing. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 57 (3):237 – 250.
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  30. O. H. Green (1994). Toe Wiggling and Starting Cars: A Re-Examination of Trying. Philosophia 23 (1-4):171-191.
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  31. 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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  32. 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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  33. Don F. Gustafson (1964). Discussions:Hampshire on Trying. Theoria 30 (1):31-38.
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  34. Peter Ms Hacker (2000). Was He Trying to Whistle It? In Alice Crary & Rupert J. Read (eds.), The New Wittgenstein. Routledge.
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  35. Jane Heal (1982). Hornsby, Jennifer Actions. [REVIEW] Philosophy 57:133.
  36. Peter Heath & Peter Winch (1971). Trying and Attempting. Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volume 45:193 - 227.
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  37. Charles Hermes (2006). Does Attempting to Try to A Imply Trying to A? Southwest Philosophy Review 22 (2):63-70.
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  38. 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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  39. Ghita Holmström-Hintikka & Raimo Tuomela (1997). Contemporary Action Theory.
  40. Jennifer Hornsby, Trying to Act.
    Book synopsis: A Companion to the Philosophy of Action offers a comprehensive overview of the issues and problems central to the philosophy of action. The first volume to survey the entire field of philosophy of action (the central issues and processes relating to human actions) Brings together specially commissioned chapters from international experts Discusses a range of ideas and doctrines, including rationality, free will and determinism, virtuous action, criminal responsibility, Attribution Theory, and rational agency in evolutionary perspective Individual chapters also (...)
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  41. Jennifer Hornsby (1995). Reasons for Trying. Journal of Philosophical Research 20:525-539.
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  42. 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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  43. J. F. M. Hunter (1987). Trying. Philosophical Quarterly 37 (149):392-401.
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  44. Douglas Husak (2012). Why Punish Attempts at All? Yaffe on 'The Transfer Principle'. Criminal Law and Philosophy 6 (3):399-410.
    Gideon Yaffe is to be commended for beginning his exhaustive treatment by asking a surprisingly difficult question: Why punish attempts at all? He addresses this inquiry in the context of defending (what he calls) the transfer principle: “If a particular form of conduct is legitimately criminalized, then the attempt to engage in that form of conduct is also legitimately criminalized.” I begin by expressing a few reservations about the transfer principle itself. But my main point is that we are justified (...)
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  45. Frank Jackson (1982). I. Acting, Trying, and Essentialism. Inquiry 25 (2):255 – 262.
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  46. O. R. Jones (1983). Trying. Mind 92 (367):368-385.
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  47. Gilles Lafargue & Nicolas Franck (2009). Effort Awareness and Sense of Volition in Schizophrenia. Consciousness and Cognition 18 (1):277-289.
    Contemporary experimental research has emphasised the role of centrally generated signals arising from premotor areas in voluntary muscular force perception. It is therefore generally accepted that judgements of force are based on a central sense, known as the sense of effort, rather than on a sense of intra-muscular tension. Interestingly, the concept of effort is also present in the classical philosophy: to the French philosopher Maine de Biran [Maine de Biran . Mémoire sur la décomposition de la pensée , Vrin, (...)
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  48. 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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  49. Richard T. Lee (1991). What's the Good of Trying? Journal of the Philosophy of Sport 18 (1):39-48.
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  50. 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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