About this topic
Summary The Causal Theory of Action (CTA) is often referred to as "the standard story" of human action and agency in the philosophy of action. Strictly speaking, it is misleading to think of the CTA as a single theory of action. A better way to think about the CTA is in terms of a set of theories that bear a family resemblance by accepting the following schema about what makes some behavior count as an action and what explains an action: Any behavior A (whether overt or mental) of an agent S is an action if and only if S's A-ing is caused in the right way and causally explained by some appropriate nonactional mental item(s) that mediate or constitute S's reasons for A-ing.
Key works Perhaps the touchstone essay for contemporary formulations of the CTA is Davidson 1963. For a review of the historical development of the CTA, including a discussion of the refinements of the CTA that have been offered, along with a survey of  some problems faced by the theory and proposed solutions, see the introductory essay in Aguilar & Buckareff 2010. For seminal recent refinements of the CTA, see Bishop 1990, Enç 2003, Mele 1992, Mele 2000, Mele 2003Stout 1996, and the essays in Aguilar & Buckareff 2010.
Introductions For an accessible introduction to options in the theory of action, including variants of CTA, see the introduction to Aguilar & Buckareff 2010 and Brand 1979.
Related categories

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  1. The Conflicting Aspects of Hugh McCann’s Theory of Action.D. ?I.?I.? - 2011 - Filozofia 66:918-927.
    The paper focuses on two aspects of Hugh McCann’s theory of action and shows that they stand in conflict. The first of them is McCann’s defense of the claim that all overt actions are grounded in a special kinds of mental action – volitions . The second aspect is his answer to the problem of causal deviance. The paper shows that the same element that makes his theory immune to Ryle’s argument limits its strength in dealing with the problem of (...)
  2. Essays on Actions and Events.C. D. A. - 1981 - Review of Metaphysics 35 (1):122-123.
  3. Explanations of Human Action.Robert Ackermann - 1967 - Dialogue 6 (1):18-28.
  4. Aristotle on Action.John L. Ackrill - 1978 - Mind 87 (348):595-601.
  5. Tertiary Waywardness Tamed.Frederick Adams - 1989 - Critica 21 (61):117 - 125.
  6. Intention and Intentional Action: The Simple View.Frederick Adams - 1986 - Mind and Language 1 (4):281-301.
  7. The Role of Intention in Intentional Action.Frederick Adams & Alfred Mele - 1989 - Canadian Journal of Philosophy 19 (4):511 - 531.
  8. Dispositions, Explanation, and Behavior.Laird Addis - 1981 - Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy 24 (2):205 – 227.
    According to the theory of dispositions here defended, to have a disposition is to have some (non-dispositional) property that enters into a law of a certain form. The theory does not have the crucial difficulty of the singular material implication account of dispositions, but at the same time avoids the unfortunate notion of 'reduction sentences'. It is further argued that no dispositional explanation is one of the covering-law type; but the theory shows how, for any dispositional explanation! To construct a (...)
  9. How We Act: Causes, Reasons, and Intentions.J. H. Aguilar - 2005 - Philosophical Review 114 (4):548-550.
  10. Basic Causal Deviance, Action Repertoires, and Reliability.Jesús H. Aguilar - 2012 - Philosophical Issues 22 (1):1-19.
  11. Interpersonal Interactions and the Bounds of Agency.Jesús H. Aguilar - 2007 - Dialectica 61 (2):219–234.
    According to the Causal Theory of Action, actions are causally produced events and causal transitivity seems to apply to all such events. However, strong intuitions support the idea that actions cannot be transitively caused. This is a tension that has plagued this theory’s effort to account for action. In particular, it has fueled a serious objection suggesting that this theory of action seriously distorts the attribution of agency when two agents interact with each other. Based on Donald Davidson’s analysis of (...)
  12. Agency and Control.Jesus H. Aguilar - unknown
    The main objective of this thesis is to defend an account of the control that agents possess over their actions from the perspective of the causal theory of action, that is, a theory that sees actions as events caused by internal states of their agents. The explanatory strategy that is employed for this purpose consists in addressing three interdependent and fundamental problems concerning the possibility of this type of control. The first problem arises from the possibility of controlling an action (...)
  13. Causing Human Actions: New Perspectives on the Causal Theory of Action.Jesús H. Aguilar & Andrei A. Buckareff (eds.) - 2010 - Bradford.
    The causal theory of action is widely recognized in the literature of the philosophy of action as the "standard story" of human action and agency -- the nearest approximation in the field to a theoretical orthodoxy. This volume brings together leading figures working in action theory today to discuss issues relating to the CTA and its applications, which range from experimental philosophy to moral psychology. Some of the contributors defend the theory while others criticize it; some draw from historical sources (...)
  14. Agency, Consciousness, and Executive Control.Jesús H. Aguilar & Andrei A. Buckareff - 2009 - Philosophia 37 (1):21-30.
    On the Causal Theory of Action (CTA), internal proper parts of an agent such as desires and intentions are causally responsible for actions. CTA has increasingly come under attack for its alleged failure to account for agency. A recent version of this criticism due to François Schroeter proposes that CTA cannot provide an adequate account of either the executive control or the autonomous control involved in full-fledged agency. Schroeter offers as an alternative a revised understanding of the proper role of (...)
  15. New Waves in Philosophy of Action.Jesús H. Aguilar, Andrei A. Buckareff & Keith Frankish (eds.) - 2010 - Palgrave-Macmillan.
  16. Philosophy of Action: 5 Questions.Jesus Aguilar & Andrei A. Buckareff (eds.) - 2009 - Automatic Press/VIP.
  17. On Seeing Bodily Movements as Actions.Virgil C. Aldrich - 1967 - American Philosophical Quarterly 4 (3):222 - 230.
  18. Culpable Control and Deviant Causal Chains.Mark Alicke & David Rose - 2012 - Personality and Social Psychology Compass 6 (10):723-735.
    Actions that are intended to produce harmful consequences can fail to achieve their desired effects in numerous ways. We refer to action sequences in which harmful intentions are thwarted as deviant causal chains. The culpable control model of blame (CCM)is a useful tool for predicting and explaining the attributions that observers make of the actors whose harmful intentions go awry. In this paper, we describe six types of deviant causal chains; those in which: an actor’s attempt is obviated by the (...)
  19. Explaining Actions and Explaining Bodily Movements.Maria Alvares - 2013 - In G. D’Oro, A. Laitinen & C. Sandis (eds.), Reasons and Causes. Palgrave-Macmillan. pp. 141-159.
  20. Action, Ethics, and Responsibility * Edited by Joseph Keim Campbell, Michael O'Rourke and Harry S. Silverstein * Causing Human Actions: New Perspectives on the Causal Theory of Action * Edited by Jesus H. Aguilar and Andrei A. Buckareff. [REVIEW]M. Alvarez - 2012 - Analysis 72 (1):190-193.
  21. Acting Intentionally and Acting for a Reason.Maria Alvarez - 2009 - Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy 52 (3):293-305.
    This paper explores the question whether whatever is done intentionally is done for a reason. Apart from helping us to think about those concepts, the question is interesting because it affords an opportunity to identify a number of misconceptions about reasons. In the paper I argue that there are things that are done intentionally but not done for a reason. I examine two different kinds of example: things done “because one wants to” and “purely expressive actions”. Concerning the first, I (...)
  22. The Causalism/Anti-Causalism Debate in the Theory of Action: What It is and Why It Matters.Maria Alvarez - unknown
  23. Agents, Actions and Reasons.Maria Alvarez - 2005 - Philosophical Books 46 (1):45-58.
  24. Causation and the Awareness of Agency.Holly Andersen - unknown
    I criticize the tendency to address the causal role of awareness in agency in terms of the awareness of agency, and argue that this distorts the causal import of experimental results in significant ways. I illustrate, using the work of Shaun Gallagher, how the tendency to focus on the awareness of agency obscures the role of extrospective awareness by considering it only in terms of what it contributes to the awareness of agency. Focus on awareness of agency separates awareness from (...)
  25. Action and Bodily Movement.Charles Thomas Andrews - 1968 - Dissertation, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  26. How Basic Are Basic Actions?Julia Annas - 1977 - Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 78:195 - 213.
  27. Davidson and Anscombe on `the Same Action'.Julia Annas - 1976 - Mind 85 (338):251-257.
  28. Considerations for a Philosophy of Action.M. Annice - 1957 - The Thomist 20:311.
  29. Beliefs and Desires as Causes of Actions: A Reply to Donald Davidson.David M. Armstrong - 1975 - Philosophical Papers 4 (May):1-7.
  30. Theory of Action.Thomas Atwater - 1980 - New Scholasticism 54 (1):111-115.
  31. Action, Intention, and Reason.Robert Audi - 1993 - Cornell University Press.
    In this collection of essays, Audi develops a general theory of action ranging from the nature of action and action-explanation to free and rational action.
  32. Intending, Intentional Action, and Desire.Robert Audi - 1986 - In J. Marks (ed.), The Ways of Desire. Precedent. pp. 17--38.
  33. Wants and Intentions in the Explanation of Action.Robert Audi - 1979 - Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour 9 (3):227–249.
    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 (...)
  34. Mental Causation: Sustaining and Dynamic.Robert N. Audi - 1993 - In John Heil & Alfred R. Mele (eds.), Mental Causation. Oxford University Press.
    I. the view that reasons cannot be causes. II. the view that the explanatory relevance of psychological states such as beliefs and intentions derives from their content, their explanatory role is not causal and we thus have no good reason to ascribe causal power to them. III. the idea that if the mental supervenes on the physical, then what really explains our actions is the physical properties determining our propositional attitudes, and not those attitudes themselves. IV. the thesis that since (...)
  35. Actions Are Not Events.Kent Bach - 1980 - Mind 89 (353):114-120.
  36. A Representational Theory of Action.Kent Bach - 1978 - Philosophical Studies 34 (4):361 - 379.
  37. Action Theory.Annette Baier - 1979 - Grazer Philosophische Studien 9:185-198.
  38. First-Personal Aspects of Agency.Lynne Rudder Baker - 2011 - Metaphilosophy 42 (1-2):1-16.
    Abstract: On standard accounts, actions are caused by reasons (Davidson), and reasons are taken to be neural phenomena. Since neural phenomena are wholly understandable from a third-person perspective, standard views have no room for any ineliminable first-personal elements in an account of the causation of action. This article aims to show that first-person perspectives play essential roles in both human and nonhuman agency. Nonhuman agents have rudimentary first-person perspectives, whereas human agents—at least rational agents and moral agents—have robust first-person perspectives. (...)
  39. Attitudes in Action: A Causal Account.Lynne Rudder Baker - 2002 - Manuscrito 25 (3):47-78.
    This article aims to vindicate the commonsensical view that what we think affects what we do. In order to show that mental properties like believing, desiring and intending are causally explanatory, I propose a nonreductive, materialistic account that identifies beliefs and desires by their content, and that shows how differences in the contents of beliefs and desires can make causal differences in what we do.
  40. Effective Intentions: The Power of Conscious Will.M. Balaguer - 2011 - Philosophical Review 120 (3):447-452.
  41. Causes and Reasons.Zvie A. Bar-On - 1974 - Philosophia 4 (4):559-560.
  42. Intentional Action, Causation, and Deviance.Peter Brian Barry - manuscript
    It is reasonably well accepted that the explanation of intentional action is teleological explanation. Very roughly, an explanation of some event, E, is teleological only if it explains E by citing some goal or purpose or reason that produced E. Alternatively, teleological explanations of intentional action explain “by citing the state of affairs toward which the behavior was directed” thereby answering questions like “To what end was the agent’s behavior directed?” Causalism—advocated by causalists—is the thesis that explanations of intentional action (...)
  43. Enigmas of Agency: Studies in the Philosophy of Human Action. By Irving Thalberg. London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd.; New York: Humanities Press Inc., 1972. Pp. 229. $14.75. [REVIEW]S. Bassford - 1974 - Dialogue 13 (3):619-621.
  44. A Peircean Theory of Action.Donna J. Benedetti - 1987 - Dissertation, University of Massachusetts Amherst
  45. Reasons Explanations: Skepticism About Causal Theories.Bryan David Henry Benham - 2002 - Dissertation, The University of New Mexico
    In this dissertation I argue for a skepticism regarding the possibility of a satisfactory causal account of reasons explanations. Davidson has famously argued that causation is the best way to account for the explanatory relation between reasons and actions. However, [ argue that in order to be convincing Davidson's argument must be supplemented with a satisfactory causal account. I review three of the leading causal accounts given by Davidson , Fodor and Dretske , but I find that none gives an (...)
  46. Action, Conduct, and Self-Control.Richard J. Bernstein - 1965 - In Perspectives on Peirce. New Haven: Yale University Press. pp. 66--91.
  47. McKinsey, Causes and Intentions.Rod Bertolet - 1979 - Philosophical Review 88 (4):619-632.
  48. Dretske and the Causality of Reasons.Henk Bij de Weg - manuscript
    In his work on reasons Dretske argues that reasons are only worthwhile for having them if they are causally relevant for explaining behaviour, which he elaborates in his representational theory of explanation. The author argues against this view by showing that there are reasons that are relevant for explaining behaviour but not causally relevant. He gives a linguistic foundation of his argumentation and shows that Dretske’s representational theory cannot explain human actions because man does not only perceive things that have (...)
  49. The Motivational Strength of Intentions.Renée Bilodeau - 2006 - The Proceedings of the Twenty-First World Congress of Philosophy 9:129-135.
    According to the early versions of the causal theory of action, intentional actions were both produced and explained by a belief desire pair. Since the end of the seventies, however, most philosophers consider intentions as an irreducible and indispensable component of any adequate account of intentional action. The aim of this paper is to examine and evaluate some of the arguments that gave rise to the introduction of the concept of intention in action theory. My contention is that none of (...)
  50. The Motivational Strength of Intentions.Renée Bilodeau - 2006 - The Proceedings of the Twenty-First World Congress of Philosophy 9:129-135.
    According to the early versions of the causal theory of action, intentional actions were both produced and explained by a beliefdesire pair. Since the end of the seventies, however, most philosophers consider intentions as an irreducible and indispensable component of any adequate account of intentional action. The aim of this paper is to examine and evaluate some of the arguments that gave rise to the introduction of the concept of intention in action theory. My contention is that none of them (...)
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