Intentional action, folk judgments, and stories: Sorting things out

Midwest Studies in Philosophy 31 (1):184–201 (2007)
Abstract
How are our actions sorted into those that are intentional and those that are not? The philosophical and psychological literature on this topic is livelier now than ever, and we seek to make a contribution to it here. Our guiding question in this article is easy to state and hard to answer: How do various factors— specifically, features of vignettes—that contribute to majority folk judgments that an action is or is not intentional interact in producing the judgment? In pursuing this question we draw on a number of empirical studies, including some of our own, and we sketch some future studies that would shed light on our topic. We emphasize that the factors that concern us here are limited to features of stories to which subject respond: examples include the value of the action asked about, the agent’s being indifferent to performing that action, and the agent’s seeking to perform it. We do not discuss underlying cognitive or emotional processes here, nor do we discuss whether respondents are making errors of any kind. (Both of these issues are discussed in Cushman and Mele [forthcoming].) 1. THREE KINDS OF ACTION In the present section we draw some distinctions that set the stage for our discussion of empirical results. Our actions have effects, and an agent’s bringing about such an effect is itself an action. For example, unbeknownst to Ann, her unlocking the door to her house frightened an intruder. That is, at least one effect of Ann’s unlocking her door was the intruder’s fright. Her bringing about this effect—that is, her frightening the intruder—is an action. Side-effect actions, as we understand this..
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