The selectional force of reasons

The debate between the causalists and the teleologists has reached something of a standstill. In the 1950s, it was widely believed that the proper way of thinking about action (reason) explanations is in exclusively teleological terms and that the very idea of causality is misplaced in a systematic thinking about the relation between actions and reasons (e.g.: Anscombe 1963; Melden 1961; Peters 1958; Ch. Taylor 1964; R. Taylor 1966). This atmosphere was disrupted by Donald Davidson’s famous paper “Actions, Reasons and Causes” (1963). He argued that without the invocation of the idea that reasons are causes, one cannot account for the idea of reasons’ efficacy, which is manifested in the distinction between acting for reasons and acting while merely having reasons. The teleologists have answered that teleological explanations do too support the distinction (e.g. Collins 1987; von Wright 1971; Wilson 1989). But other challenges ensued. For example, Frederick Stoutland (1976; 1989) objected to G.H. von Wright’s version of the teleological theory that a teleological explanation leaves it mysterious why a behavior occurs when the agent intends it to occur. More recently, William Child (1994) argued that reason explanations must be capable of explaining why an action occurs just when it occurs and only a causal explanation can do so. Such challenges are usually met either by demonstrating that teleological explanations are capable of meeting them or that they are not really general features of ordinary reasons explanations (see, for example, Hursthouse 2000).
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