Reasons, causes, and action explanation

Philosophy of the Social Sciences 35 (3):294-306 (2005)
Abstract
To explain an intentional action one must exhibit the agent’s reasons. Donald Davidson famously argued that the only clear way to understand action explanation is to hold that reasons are causes. Davidson’s discussion conflated two issues: whether reasons are causes and whether reasons causally explain intentional action. Contemporary work on explanation and normativity help disentangle these issues and ground an argument that intentional action explanations cannot be a species of causal explanation. Interestingly, this conclusion is consistent with Davidson’s conclusion that reasons are causes. In other words, reasons are causes, but rationalizing explanations are not causal explanations. Key Words: action theory • explanation • causal explanation • rationality • Donald Davidson.
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