This paper focuses on two conflations which frequently appear within the philosophy of history and other fields concerned with actionexplanation. The first of these, which I call the Conflating View of Reasons, states that the reasons for which we perform actions are reasons why (those events which are) our actions occur. The second, more general conflation, which I call the Conflating View of ActionExplanation, states that whatever explains why an agent performed a certain (...) class='Hi'>action explains why (that event which was) her action occurred. Both conflations ignore the fact that there are at least two distinct objects that legitimately qualify as objects of action explanation2. As Jennifer Hornsby (1993) has previous suggested, one thing we might wish to explain is ‘why did A do what she did?’ another is, ‘why did the event of her doing it occur?’ -/- I shall argue that when these two views are combined they give rise to a futile debate about explanation in the philosophies of history and the social sciences, and to an almost identical debate in moral psychology and the philosophy of mind. In so doing, I shall also examine a proposed distinction between explaining a phenomenon, and rendering it intelligible. I conclude by distinguishing between four different objects of historical understanding, each of which is to be understood in the light of the aforementioned distinctions between event and thing done, and explanation and intelligibility. (shrink)
To explain an intentional action one must exhibit the agents reasons. Donald Davidson famously argued that the only clear way to understand actionexplanation is to hold that reasons are causes. Davidsons 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 Davidsons 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. (shrink)
This paper distinguishes between various different conceptions of behaviour and action before exploring an accompanying variety of distinct things that ‘actionexplanation’ may plausibly amount to viz. different objectives of actionexplanation. I argue that a large majority of philosophers are guilty of conflating many of these, consequently offering inadequate accounts of the relation between actions and our reasons for performing them. The paper ends with the suggestion that we would do well to opt for (...) a pluralistic understanding of action and its explanations. (shrink)
It is widely assumed that common sense psychological explanations of human action are a species of causal explanation. I argue against this construal, drawing on Ramsey et al.'s paper, “Connectionism, eliminativism, and the future of folk psychology”. I argue that if certain connec-tionist models are correct, then mental states cannot be identified with functionally discrete causes of behavior, and I respond to some recent attempts to deny this claim. However, I further contend that our common sense psychological practices (...) are not committed to the falsity of such connectionist models. The paper concludes that common sense psychology is not committed to the identification of mental states with functionally discrete causes of behavior, and hence that common sense psychology is not committed to the causal account of actionexplanation. (shrink)
The mentalistic orthodoxy about reason-explanations of action in the philosophy of mind has recently come under renewed attack. Julia Tanney is among those who have critiqued mentalism. The alternative account of the folk practice of giving reason-explanations of actions she has provided affords features of an agent�s external environment a privileged role in explaining the intentional behaviour of agents. The authors defend the mentalistic orthodoxy from Tanney�s criticisms, arguing that Tanney fails to provide a philosophically satisfying or psychologically realistic (...) account of reason-explanation of action. (shrink)
This paper is a defence of the view that actionexplanation deploys (relatively) a priori principles. The argument is that this is so because actionexplanation succeeds, Not just through revealing regularity, But through exhibiting the presence of an expected and privileged pattern. Its job is to 'normalise' action, Not just 'regularise' it.
This paper argues that contemporary philosophy of mind and action could learn much from the structure of actionexplanation manifested in ancient Greek tragedy, which is less deterministic than typically supposed and which does not conflate the motivation of action with its causal production.
"Though this be madness, yet there is method in't." Hamlet , act II, scene ii Abstract: Inherent normativity is the claim that intentional action explanations necessarily have to comply with normatively understood rationality constraints on the ascribed propositional attitudes. This paper argues against inherent normativity in three steps. First, it presents three examples of actions successfully explained with propositional attitudes, where the ascribed attitudes violate relevant rationality constraints. Second, it argues that the inference rules that systematise propositional attitudes are (...) qualitatively different from rationality constraints both in their justification and their recipients. Third, it rejects additional conditions on propositional attitudes, which purport to necessitate a normative commitment. Thus, inherent normativity is rejected; and with it the claim that intentional action explanations differ substantially from other explanations because they are inherently normative. (shrink)
It has become something of a consensus among philosophers of history that historians, in contrast to natural scientists, explain in a narrative fashion. Unfortunately, philosophers of history have not said much about how it is that narratives have explanatory power. they do, however, maintain that a narrative’s explanatory power is sui generis and independent of our empathetic or reenactive capacities and of our knowledge of law-like generalizations. In this article I will show that this consensus is mistaken at least in (...) respect to explanatory strategies used to account for rational agency using the “folk-psychological” framework of intentions, beliefs, desires, and the like. philosophers distinguish insufficiently among different aspects and different types of information needed for a historian to persuasively account for an agent’s behavior in particular circumstances. If one keeps these aspects apart it will become apparent exactly how one should understand the epistemic contribution of empathy, generalizations, and narrative for the explanation of action. (shrink)
My primary objective is to motivate the concern that leading libertarian views of free action seem unable to account for an agent’s behavior in a way that reveals an explanatorily apt connection between the agent’s prior reasons and the intentional behavior to be explained. I argue that it is this lack of a suitable reasons explanation of purportedly free decisions that underpins the objection that agents who act with the pertinent sort of libertarian freedom cannot be morally responsible (...) for what they do because their intentional behavior is a matter of luck. The accounts scrutinized include a Kane-type event-causal view, Clarke’s account that appeals to both agent causation and event causation in the production of free action, and O’Connor’s pure agent-causal account. I conclude by discussing an advantage these libertarian accounts enjoy over compatibilist contenders: they possess a feature necessary to accommodate the truth of judgments of moral obligation. (shrink)
This article discusses an epistemological problem faced by causal explanations of action and a proposed solution. The problem is to justify why one particular reason rather than another is specified as causally efficacious. It is argued that the problem arises independently of one’s preferred conception of singular causal claims, psychological and psychophysical generalizations, and our folk-psychological competence. The proposed fallibilist solution involves the supplementation of the reason given by narratives that contextualize it and provide additional criteria for justifying the (...) causal claim. It is argued that narratives have a distinctive structure that can afford the justification of causal attributions without sui generis powers of narrative explanation having to be invoked. (shrink)
This paper describes the historical background to contemporary discussions of empathy and rationality. It looks at the philosophy of mind and its implications for actionexplanation and the philosophy of history. In the nineteenth century, the concept of empathy became prominent within philosophical aesthetics, from where it was extended to describe the way we grasp other minds. This idea of empathy as a way of understanding others echoed through later accounts of historical understanding as involving re-enactment, noticeably that (...) of R. G. Collingwood. For much of the late twentieth century, philosophers of history generally neglected questions about actionexplanation. In the philosophy of mind, however, Donald Davidson inspired widespread discussions of the role of folk psychology and rationality in mental causation and the explanation of actions, and some philosophers of history drew on his ideas to reconsider issues related to empathy. Today, philosophers inspired by the discovery of mirror neurons and the theory of mind debate between theory theorists and simulation theorists are again making the concept of empathy central to philosophical analyses of actionexplanation and to historical understanding. (shrink)
Does action always arise out of desire? G. F. Schueler examines this hotly debated topic in philosophy of action and moral philosophy, arguing that once two senses of "desire" are distinguished - roughly, genuine desires and pro attitudes - apparently plausible explanations of action in terms of the agent's desires can be seen to be mistaken. Desire probes a fundamental issue in philosophy of mind, the nature of desires and how, if at all, they motivate and justify (...) our actions. At least since Hume argued that reason "is and of right ought to be the slave of the passions," many philosophers have held that desires play an essential role both in practical reason and in the explanation of intentional action. G. F. Schueler looks at contemporary accounts of both roles in various belief-desire models of reasons and explanation and argues that the usual belief-desire accounts need to be replaced. Schueler contends that the plausibility of the standard belief-desire accounts rests largely on a failure to distinguish "desires proper," like a craving for sushi, from so-called "pro attitudes," which may take the form of beliefs and other cognitive states as well as desires proper. Schueler's "deliberative model" of practical reasoning suggests a different view of the place of desire in practical reason and the explanation of action. He holds that we can arrive at an intention to act by weighing the relevant considerations and that these may not include desires proper at all. (shrink)
Whether or not an intentional explanation of action necessarily involves law-like statements is related to another question, namely, is it a causal explanation? The Popper-Hempel Thesis , which answers both questions affirmatively, inevitably faces a dilemma between realistic and universalistic requirements. However, in terms of W.C. Salmon’s concept of causal explanation, intentional explanation can be a causal one even if it does not rely on any laws. Based on this, we are able to refute three (...) characteristic arguments for the claim “reason is not a cause of action,” namely, the “proper logical” argument, the “logical relation” argument, and the “rule-following” argument. This rebuttal suggests that the causal relationship between reason and action can provide a justification for intentional explanations. (shrink)
Whether or not an intentional explanation of action necessarily involves law-like statements is related to another question, namely, is it a causal explanation? The Popper–Hempel Thesis, which answers both questions affirmatively, inevitably faces a dilemma between realistic and universalistic requirements. However, in terms of W.C. Salmon’s concept of causal explanation, intentional explanation can be a causal one even if it does not rely on any laws. Based on this, we are able to refute three characteristic (...) arguments for the claim “reason is not a cause of action,” namely, the “proper logical” argument, the “logical relation” argument, and the “rule-following” argument. This rebuttal suggests that the causal relationship between reason and action can provide a justification for intentional explanations. (shrink)
This paper argues for an account of the relation between thought ascription and the explanation of action according to which de re ascriptions and de dicto ascriptions of thought each form the basis for two different kinds of action explanations, nonrationalizing and rationalizing ones. The claim that de dicto ascriptions explain action is familiar and virtually beyond dispute; the claim that that de re ascriptions are explanatory of action, however, is not at all familiar and (...) indeed has mostly been denied by philosophers. I explain how de re ascriptions enter into non-rationalizing explanations of action and how attention to their distinctive explanatory nature reveals flaws in an alternative “dual-component” view about actionexplanation. (shrink)
The basic subject matter of the philosophy of action is a pair of questions: (1) What are actions? (2) How are actions to be explained? The questions call, respectively, for a theory of the nature of action and a theory of the explanation of actions. Donald Davidson has articulated and defended influential answers to both questions. Those answers are the primary focus of this chapter.
I contend that Nagel’s famous argument in The Possibility of Altruism that causally biffy desires are not required to explain action is intellectually worthless, and thus that many philosophies of action - and some systems of ethics - are based upon a crude blunder. [The essay also ends with a bit of surveying of ordinary folk's intuitions about whether desires are causal.].
Hodgkin and Huxley’s model of the action potential is an apparent dream case of covering‐law explanation in biology. The model includes laws of physics and chemistry that, coupled with details about antecedent and background conditions, can be used to derive features of the action potential. Hodgkin and Huxley insist that their model is not an explanation. This suggests either that subsuming a phenomenon under physical laws is insufficient to explain it or that Hodgkin and Huxley were (...) wrong. I defend Hodgkin and Huxley against Weber’s heteronomy thesis and argue that explanations are descriptions of mechanisms. †To contact the author, please write to: Department of Philosophy, Philosophy‐Neuroscience‐Psychology Program, Washington University in St. Louis, One Brookings Drive, Wilson Hall, St. Louis, MO 63130; e‐mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. (shrink)
A major obstacle to formulating a broad-content intentional psychology is the occurrence of ''Frege cases'' - cases in which a person apparently believes or desires Fa but not Fb and acts accordingly, even though "a" and "b" have the same broad content. Frege cases seem to demand narrow-content distinctions to explain actions by the contents of beliefs and desires. Jerry Fodor ( The elm and the expert: Mentalese and its semantics , Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1994) argues that an explanatorily (...) adequate broad-content psychology is nonetheless possible because Frege cases rarely occur in intentional-explanatory contexts, and they are not systematically linked to intentional laws in a way that demands intentional explanation. Thus, he claims, behaviors associated with Frege cases can be considered ceteris-paribus exceptions to broad-content intentional laws without significantly decreasing the explanatory power of intentional psychology. I argue that Frege cases are plentiful and systematically linked to intentional laws in a way that requires intentional explanation, specifically in the explanation of why certain actions are not performed. Consequently, Frege-case behaviors cannot be construed as ceteris-paribus exceptions to intentional laws without significantly eroding the explanatory power of intentional psychology and reducing the rationality of the agent. Fodor thus fails to save broad-content psychology from the prima facie objections against it based on Frege cases. (shrink)
The first part of this essay is basically historical. It introduces the explanation–understanding divide, focusing in particular on the general–unique distinction. The second part is more philosophical and it presents two different claims on action. In the first place, I will try to say what it means to understand an action. Secondly, we will focus on the explanation of action as it is seen in some explanatory sciences. I will try to argue that in some (...) cases these sciences commit what I call an “external contradiction”. (shrink)
It is argued in this article that human actions may be said to be socially constituted : as being behavior that is constituted as human action by social relations and by participant agent and collective representations of behavior. In contrast to recent social constructionist accounts, it is argued that the social constitution of action does not pose any threat to the objectivity of classification or explanation in social psychological science. It does mark some significant ontological differences between (...) natural and social psychological phenomena that have implications for the university and generality, but not the adequacy, of explanations of socially constituted human actions. (shrink)
It seems plausible to suppose that (a) the vocabulary of action is distinct from and irreducible to that of mere movement, And (b) the causal laws of the natural sciences are couched solely in terms of the latter vocabulary. From these two suppositions, The falsehood of determinism has sometimes been said to follow. I argue that whether this does follow depends on our conception of causal explanation; on the interpretation of this concept that seems to me the most (...) interesting, The falsehood of determinism follows only given the supplementary premise that there are no correlations between the relevant movement-Descriptions and action-Descriptions. But those who propose the two-Vocabularies argument have not shown the impossibility of establishing these correlations, And so have not proven determinism false. (shrink)
Realists about practical reasons agree that judgments regarding reasons are beliefs. They disagree, however, over the question of how such beliefs motivate rational action. Some adopt a Humean conception of motivation, according to which beliefs about reasons must combine with independently existing desires in order to motivate rational action; others adopt an anti-Humean view, according to which beliefs can motivate rational action in their own right, either directly or by giving rise to a new desire that in (...) turn motivates the action. I argue that the realist who adopts a Humean model for explaining rational action will have a difficult time giving a plausible account of the role that desire plays in this explanation. I explore four interpretations of this role and argue that none allows a Humean theory to explain rational action as convincingly as an anti-Humean theory does. The first two models, in different ways, make acting on a reason impossible. The third allows this possibility, but only by positing a reason-sensitive desire that itself demands an explanation. The fourth avoids this explanatory challenge only by retreating to an empty form of the Humean view. In contrast, an anti-Humean theory can provide an intuitively plausible explanation of rational action. I conclude that the realist about reasons should adopt an anti-Humean theory to explain rational action. (shrink)
This book deals with foundational issues in the history of the nature of action, the intentionality of action, the compatibility of freedom of action with determinism, and the explanation of action. Ginet's is a volitional view: that every action has as its core a "simple" mental action. He develops a sophisticated account of the individuation of actions and also propounds a challenging version of the view that freedom of action is incompatible with (...) determinism. (shrink)
Alan Millar examines our understanding of why people think and act as they do. His key theme is that normative considerations form an indispensable part of the explanatory framework in terms of which we seek to understand each other. Millar defends a conception according to which normativity is linked to reasons. On this basis he examines the structure of certain normative commitments incurred by having propositional attitudes. Controversially, he argues that ascriptions of beliefs and intentions in and of themselves attribute (...) normative commitments and that this has implications for the psychology of believing and intending. Indeed, all propositional attitudes of the sort we ascribe to people have a normative dimension, since possessing the concepts that the attitudes implicate is of its very nature commitment-incurring. The ramifications of these views for our understanding of people is explored. Millar offers illuminating discussions of reasons for belief and reasons for action; the explanation of beliefs and actions in terms of the subject's reasons; the idea that simulation has a key role in understanding people; and the limits of explanation in terms of propositional attitudes. He compares and contrasts the commitments incurred by propositional attitudes with those incurred by participating in practices, arguing that the former should not be assimilated to the latter. Understanding People will be of great interest to most philosophers of mind, as well as to those working on practical and theoretical reasoning. (shrink)
En la concepcion de Davidson, las explicaciones de la accion en terminos de razones incluyen dos aspectos o condiciones independientes entre si: una condicion de racionalidad o justificacion racional y una condicion causal. La satisfaccion de la primera depende de relaciones logicas apropiadas entre las descripciones de la razon y de la accion. La segunda exige unicamente la existencia de un vinculo causal entre razon y accion. Es esta independencia entre las dos condiciones la que, en nuestra opinion, genera en (...) la teoria davidsoniana los problemas de las cadenas causales desviadas y del epifenomenismo de las propiedades mentales. (edited). (shrink)
This paper examines a potential problem area for theories of direct reference: that of the substitution of co-referential names within the belief context of a belief attribution used to explain an action. Of particular interest are action explanations which involve cases of repetition — wherein beliefs are held which, though about one (other) individual, are mistakenly thought to concern two different people. It is argued that, despite the commonly held view to the contrary, no problem is posed by (...) substitution in such circumstances to theories of direct reference. (shrink)
In his Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View, Kant formulates the idea of the empirical investigation of the human being as a free agent. The notion is puzzling: Does Kant not often claim that, from an empirical point of view, human beings cannot be considered as free? What sense would it make anyway to include the notion of freedom in science? The answer to these questions lies in Kant’s notion of character. While probably all concepts of character are involved (...) in the description and explanation of human action, Kant develops a specific notion of character by distinguishing character as a “mode of thought” (Denkungsart) from character as a “mode of sensing” (Sinnesart). The former notion is distinctively Kantian. Only mode of thought reveals itself in human action such that actions can be seen as linked to an agent’s first-person perspective and the capacity to rationally reflect one’s own intentions and desires. By reference to this concept human actions can be empirically explained qua free actions. The point of this paper is not only to rule out the interpretation that Kant is an incompatibilist concerning the dilemma of freedom and causal determinism. It is also argued that Kant defends a version of soft determinism which is more sophisticated and more adequate for the human sciences than Hume’s. (shrink)
People act for reasons. That is how we understand ourselves. But what is it to act for a reason? This is what Fred Schueler investigates. He rejects the dominant view that the beliefs and desires that constitute our reasons for acting simply cause us to act as we do, and argues instead for a view centred on practical deliberation--our ability to evaluate the reasons we accept. Schueler's account of 'reasons explanations' emphasizes the relation between reasons and purposes, and the fact (...) that the reasons for an action are not always good reasons. (shrink)
This paper consists in a critical review of Peter Goldie's book, The Emotion. A Philosophical Exploration (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000). Goldie is right to distinguish between long-term emotions and emotional experiences. And he is also right to reject the view that emotions are reducible to 'feelingless' states plus some extra feelings. However, Goldie's own account in terms of "feeling towards" is problematic. Goldie would have been better advised to claim that emotional experiences are necessarily emotional representations of something as (...) being F (disgusting, attractive, admirable, etc.), that is, that emotional experiences are apprehensions or representations of evaluative features. (shrink)
This paper replies to criticisms of the author's accounts of intending ("journal of philosophy", 1973), wanting ("philosophical studies", 1973), and common-sense explanations of intentional actions; and it extends the nomological theory of intentional action developed in those and other articles. the paper argues, negatively, that theoretical construct accounts of intentional concepts do not entail implausible views of self-knowledge, nor assimilate reasons to mechanical causes; and, positively, that both the way in which reasons render intelligible the actions they explain and (...) the apparently non-contingent relation certain reasons bear to the actions they explain can be accommodated by a sound nomological theory of intentional action. (shrink)
Abstract Contrary to what is usually taken for granted, the traditional positivistic and hermeneutic accounts of explanations of human actions do not really contradict one another. There is no logical or epistemological difference between explanations in this area and explanations in the natural sciences. However, if W. V. Quine and D. Davidson are right, there may be an ontological difference between the explanation of natural events and the interpretation of actions.
It has been argued that 'causes' of action and 'reasons' for acting represent incompatible conceptual categories. This paper examines the alleged incompatibility between these concepts and attempts to show that not only are 'reason' explanations compatible with causal explanations but also that it is plausible to construe the former as a species of the latter. Providing reasons often aids in the search for relevant causal factors, And causal explanations are more systematic than corresponding reason explanations.