Actions, adjuncts, and agency

Mind 107 (425):73-111 (1998)
Abstract
The event analysis of action sentences seems to be at odds with plausible (Davidsonian) views about how to count actions. If Booth pulled a certain trigger, and thereby shot Lincoln, there is good reason for identifying Booths' action of pulling the trigger with his action of shooting Lincoln; but given truth conditions of certain sentences involving adjuncts, the event analysis requires that the pulling and the shooting be distinct events. So I propose that event sortals like 'shooting' and 'pulling' are true of complex events that have actions (and various effects of actions) as parts. Combining this view with some facts about so-called causative verbs, I then argue that paradigmatic actions are best viewed as tryings, where tryings are taken to be intentionally characterized events that typically cause peripheral bodily motions. The proposal turns on a certain conception of what it is to be the Agent of an event; and I conclude by elaborating this conception in the context of some recent discussions about the relation of thematic roles to grammatical categories.
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