About this topic
Summary Mental actions can be understood in terms of agents and their cognitive capacities.  When an agent performs a mental action, she employs one or more of her cognitive capacities and thereby produces an effect of some kind.  Key questions about mental action include: Within the domain of the mental, what should be considered mental action? (Attending, imagining, judging, coming to believe, wishing, desiring, daydreaming, conscious awareness?)  In what ways is mental action different from or similar to bodily action?  How does one perform a mental action?  How does one come to know that one is performing a mental action?  Does mental action shed light on issues such as the mind-body problem, the plausibility of functionalism, or the nature of representational content?      
Key works

Classic discussions of mental action include James 1890, Ryle 1949, Geach 1957, Taylor 1963, and Williams 1970.  More recently, Strawson 2003 claims that the notion of mental action is severely limited in its applicability, and Buckareff 2005 argues that Strawson’s account is problematically restrictive.  Proust 2001 presents a definition of mental acts and defends their explanatory role, Hieronymi 2006 claims that the formation of beliefs and intentions is less than voluntary and thus differs from bodily action, McCall 1987 argues that deciding is an action, and Wu 2013 contends that, borrowing from the work of William James, conscious mental action is cognitive attention.  

Introductions O'Brien & Soteriou 2009.
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  1. Conundrums of Belief Self-Control.Jonathan E. Adler - 2002 - The Monist 85 (3):456-467.
  2. Mental Activity in Willing and in Ideas.S. Alexander - 1908 - Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 9:1 - 40.
  3. The Nature of Mental Activity.S. Alexander - 1907 - Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 8:215.
  4. Mental Activity & the Sense of Ownership.Adrian Alsmith - 2015 - Review of Philosophy and Psychology 6 (4):881-896.
    I introduce and defend the notion of a cognitive account of the sense of ownership. A cognitive account of the sense of ownership holds that one experiences something as one's own only if one thinks of something as one's own. By contrast, a phenomenal account of the sense of ownership holds that one can experience something as one's own without thinking about anything as one's own. I argue that we have no reason to favour phenomenal accounts over cognitive accounts, that (...)
  5. Intentionality: A Study Of Mental Acts.Richard E. Aquila - 1976 - Penn St University Press.
    This book is a critical and analytical survey of the major attempts, in modern philosophy, to deal with the phenomenon of intentionality—those of Descartes, Brentano, Meinong, Husserl, Frege, Russell, Bergmann, Chisholm, and Sellars. By coordinating the semantical approaches to the phenomenon, Dr. Aquila undertakes to provide a basis for dialogue among philosophers of different persuasions. "Intentionality" has become, since Franz Brentano revived its original medieval use, the standard term describing the mind's apparently paradoxical capacity to relate itself to objects existing (...)
  6. Metacognitive Feelings, Self-Ascriptions and Metal Actions.Santiago Arango-Muñoz - 2014 - Philosophical Inquiries 2 (1):145-162.
    The main aim of this paper is to clarify the relation between epistemic feel- ings, mental action, and self-ascription. Acting mentally and/or thinking about one’s mental states are two possible outcomes of epistemic or metacognitive feelings. Our men- tal actions are often guided by our E-feelings, such as when we check what we just saw based on a feeling of visual uncertainty; but thought about our own perceptual states and capacities can also be triggered by the same E-feelings. The first (...)
  7. Remembering as a Mental Action.Santiago Arango-Munoz & Juan Pablo Bermúdez - 2018 - In Kourken Michaelian, Dorothea Debus & Denis Perrin (eds.), New Directions in the Philosophy of Memory. Routledge. pp. 75-96.
    Many philosophers consider that memory is just a passive information retention and retrieval capacity. Some information and experiences are encoded, stored, and subsequently retrieved in a passive way, without any control or intervention on the subject’s part. In this paper, we will defend an active account of memory according to which remembering is a mental action and not merely a passive mental event. According to the reconstructive account, memory is an imaginative reconstruction of past experience. A key feature of the (...)
  8. The Ethics of Belief: Doxastic Self-Control and Intellectual Virtue.Robert Audi - 2008 - Synthese 161 (3):403-418.
    Most of the literature on doxastic voluntarism has concentrated on the question of the voluntariness of belief and the issue of how our actual or possible control of our beliefs bears on our justification for holding them and on how, in the light of this control, our intellectual character should be assessed. This paper largely concerns a related question on which less philosophical work has been done: the voluntariness of the grounding of belief and the bearing of various views about (...)
  9. Thought and Action.S. F. Barker & Stuart Hampshire - 1962 - Philosophical Review 71 (3):392.
  10. Action.Winston H. F. Barnes - 1941 - Mind 50 (199):243-257.
  11. Functionalism and the Problem of Occurrent States.Gary Bartlett - 2018 - Philosophical Quarterly 68 (270):1-20.
    In 1956 U. T. Place proposed that consciousness is a brain process. More attention should be paid to his word ‘process’. There is near-universal agreement that experiences are processive—as witnessed in the platitude that experiences are occurrent states. The abandonment of talk of brain processes has benefited functionalism, because a functional state, as it is usually conceived, cannot be a process. This point is dimly recognized in a well-known but little-discussed argument that conscious experiences cannot be functional states because the (...)
  12. Occurrent States.Gary Bartlett - 2018 - Canadian Journal of Philosophy 48 (1):1-17.
    The distinction between occurrent and non-occurrent mental states is frequently appealed to by contemporary philosophers, but it has never been explicated in any significant detail. In the literature, two accounts of the distinction are commonly presupposed. One is that occurrent states are conscious states. The other is that non-occurrent states are dispositional states, and thus that occurrent states are manifestations of dispositions. I argue that neither of these accounts is adequate, and therefore that another account is needed. I propose that (...)
  13. The "Theaetetus" on How We Think.David Barton - 1999 - Phronesis 44 (3):163 - 180.
    I argue that Plato's purpose in the discussion of false belief in the "Theaetetus" is to entertain and then to reject the idea that thinking is a kind of mental grasping. The interpretation allows us to make good sense of Plato's discussion of 'other-judging' (189c-190e), of his remarks about mathematical error (195d-196c), and most importantly, of the initial statement of the puzzle about falsity (188a-c). That puzzle shows that if we insist on conceiving of the relation between thought and its (...)
  14. Empiricism, Stances, and the Problem of Voluntarism.Peter Baumann - 2011 - Synthese 178 (1):27-36.
    Voluntarism about beliefs is the view that persons can be free to choose their beliefs for non-epistemic (truth-related) reasons (cf. Williams 1973). One problem for belief voluntarism is that it can lead to Moore-paradoxality. The person might believe that -/- a.) there are also good epistemic reasons for her belief, or that b.) there are no epistemic reasons one way or the other, or that c.) there are good epistemic reasons against her belief. -/- If the person is aware of (...)
  15. Aboutness in Imagination.Franz Berto - 2018 - Philosophical Studies 175 (8):1871-1886.
    I present a formal theory of the logic and aboutness of imagination. Aboutness is understood as the relation between meaningful items and what they concern, as per Yablo and Fine’s works on the notion. Imagination is understood as per Chalmers’ positive conceivability: the intentional state of a subject who conceives that p by imagining a situation—a configuration of objects and properties—verifying p. So far aboutness theory has been developed mainly for linguistic representation, but it is natural to extend it to (...)
  16. McCANN, HJ-The Works of Agency.J. Bishop - 2001 - Philosophical Books 42 (3):232-232.
  17. Exercising Control in Practical Reasoning: Problems for Naturalism About Agency.John Bishop - 2012 - Philosophical Issues 22 (1):53-72.
  18. What is Inference?Paul Boghossian - 2014 - Philosophical Studies 169 (1):1-18.
  19. Trust in the Guise of Belief.Anthony Robert Booth - 2018 - International Journal of Philosophical Studies 26 (2):156-172.
    What kind of mental state is trust? It seems to have features that can lead one to think that it is a doxastic state but also features that can lead one to think that it is a non-doxastic state. This has even lead some philosophers to think that trust is a unique mental state that has both mind-to-world and world-to-mind direction of fit, or to give up on the idea that there is a univocal analysis of trust to be had. (...)
  20. Compatibilism and Free Belief.Anthony Robert Booth - 2009 - Philosophical Papers 38 (1):1-12.
    Matthias Steup (Steup 2008) has recently argued that our doxastic attitudes are free by (i) drawing an analogy with compatibilism about freedom of action and (ii) denying that it is a necessary condition for believing at will that S's having an intention to believe that p can cause S to believe that p . In this paper, however, I argue that the strategies espoused in (i) and (ii) are incompatible.
  21. Epistemic Akrasia and Mental Agency.Cristina Borgoni - 2015 - Review of Philosophy and Psychology 6 (4):827-842.
    In this work, I argue for the possibility of epistemic akrasia. An individual S is epistemically akratic if the following conditions hold: S knowingly believes that P though she judges that it is epistemically wrong to do so and Having these mental states displays a failure of rationality that is analogous to classic akrasia. I propose two different types of epistemic akrasia involving different kinds of evidence on which the subject bases her evaluation of her akratic belief. I examine three (...)
  22. 'Making Up Your Mind' and the Activity of Reason.Matthew Boyle - 2011 - Philosophers' Imprint 11.
    A venerable philosophical tradition holds that we rational creatures are distinguished by our capacity for a special sort of mental agency or self-determination: we can “make up” our minds about whether to accept a given proposition. But what sort of activity is this? Many contemporary philosophers accept a Process Theory of this activity, according to which a rational subject exercises her capacity for doxastic self-determination only on certain discrete occasions, when she goes through a process of consciously deliberating about whether (...)
  23. Review of Lucy O'Brien, Matthew Soteriou (Eds.), Mental Actions[REVIEW]Matthew Boyle - 2010 - Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews 2010 (2).
  24. The Mental Deficiency Acts and Their Administration.H. B. Brackenbury - 1923 - The Eugenics Review 15 (2):393.
  25. Is There Any Special Activity of Attention?Francis H. Bradley - 1886 - Mind 11 (43):305-323.
  26. Mental Action and the Conscious Mind.Michael Brent - forthcoming - Routledge.
    Introduction, by Michael Brent -/- -- Part 1: The Nature of Mental Action -- -/- (1) Skepticism about Self-Understanding, by Matthew Boyle. -/- (2) Agent Causation and Inference, by David Hunter. -/- (3) The Most General Mental Act, by Yair Levy. -/- (4) Are Our Practical Decisions Mental Actions?, by Alfred R. Mele. -/- (5) Practical Rationality and the Problem of Agency, by Joshua Shepherd. -/- (6) Reasoning and the Metaphysics of the Active Mind, by Markos Valaris. -/- (7) Attention (...)
  27. Confessions of a Deluded Westerner.Michael Brent - 2018 - Journal of Buddhist Ethics 25:689-713.
    In this paper, I aim to make two general points. First, I claim that the discussions in Repetti (2017) assume different, sometimes conflicting, notions of free will, so the guiding question of the book is not as clear as it could be. Second, according to Buddhist tradition, the path to enlightenment requires rejecting the delusional belief in the existence of a persisting self. I claim that if there is no persisting self, there are no intentional actions; and, if there are (...)
  28. The Power of Agency.Michael Brent - 2012 - Dissertation, Columbia University
    I present an alternative account of action centered around the notion of effort. I argue that effort has several unique features: it is attributed directly to agents; it is a causal power that each agent alone possesses and employs; it enables agents causally to initiate, sustain, and control their capacities during the performance of an action; and its presence comes in varying degrees of strength. After defending an effort-based account of action and criticizing what is known as the standard story (...)
  29. Meditation and the Scope of Mental Action.Michael Brent & Candace Upton - 2019 - Philosophical Psychology 32 (1):52-71.
    While philosophers of mind have devoted abundant time and attention to questions of content and consciousness, philosophical questions about the nature and scope of mental action have been relatively neglected. Galen Strawson’s account of mental action, arguably the most well-known extant account, holds that cognitive mental action consists in triggering the delivery of content to one’s field of consciousness. However, Strawson fails to recognize several distinct types of mental action that might not reduce to triggering content delivery. In this paper, (...)
  30. Comments on Boghossian.John Broome - 2014 - Philosophical Studies 169 (1):19-25.
  31. Effortless Attention: A New Perspective in the Cognitive Science of Attention and Action.Brian Bruya (ed.) - 2010 - MIT Press.
    This is the first book to explore the cognitive science of effortless attention and action. Attention and action are generally understood to require effort, and the expectation is that under normal circumstances effort increases to meet rising demand. Sometimes, however, attention and action seem to flow effortlessly despite high demand. Effortless attention and action have been documented across a range of normal activities--from rock climbing to chess playing--and yet fundamental questions about the cognitive science of effortlessness have gone largely unasked. (...)
  32. Deciding to Believe Redux.Andrei A. Buckareff - 2014 - In Jonathan Matheson Rico Vitz (ed.), The Ethics of Belief: Individual and Social. Oxford University Press. pp. 33-50.
    The ways in which we exercise intentional agency are varied. I take the domain of intentional agency to include all that we intentionally do versus what merely happens to us. So the scope of our intentional agency is not limited to intentional action. One can also exercise some intentional agency in omitting to act and, importantly, in producing the intentional outcome of an intentional action. So, for instance, when an agent is dieting, there is an exercise of agency both with (...)
  33. Mental Action. Edited by Lucy O'Brien and Matthew Soteriou. (Oxford UP, 2009. Pp. X + 286. Price £50.00).Andrei A. Buckareff - 2012 - Philosophical Quarterly 62 (247):401-403.
  34. Action-Individuation and Doxastic Agency.Andrei A. Buckareff - 2011 - Theoria 77 (4):312-332.
    In this article, I challenge the dominant view of the importance of the debate over action-individuation. On the dominant view, it is held that the conclusions we reach about action-individuation make little or no difference for other debates in the philosophy of action, much less in other areas of philosophy. As a means of showing that the dominant view is mistaken, I consider the implications of accepting a given theory of action-individuation for thinking about doxastic agency. In particular, I am (...)
  35. Mental Overpopulation and Mental Action: Protecting Intentions From Mental Birth Control.Andrei A. Buckareff - 2007 - Canadian Journal of Philosophy 37 (1):49-65.
    Many philosophers of action afford intentions a central role in theorizing about action and its explanation. Furthermore, current orthodoxy in the philosophy of action has it that intentions play a causal role with respect to the etiology and explanation of action. But action theory is not without its heretics. Some philosophers have challenged the orthodox view. In this paper I examine and critique one such challenge. I consider David-Hillel Ruben's case against the need for intentions to play a causal role (...)
  36. Doxastic Decisions and Controlling Belief.Andrei A. Buckareff - 2006 - Acta Analytica 21 (1):102-114.
    I critique Matthias Steup’s account of exercising direct voluntary control over coming to have doxastic attitudes via doxastic decisions. I show that the sort of agency Steup argues is exercised in doxastic decision-making is not sufficient for agents to exercise direct voluntary control over their doxastic attitudes. This counts against such putative decisions being the locus of direct control in doxastic agency. Finally, I briefly consider what, if any, consequences the failure of Steup’s theory of doxastic agency may have for (...)
  37. Hobartian Voluntarism and Epistemic Deontologism.Andrei A. Buckareff - 2006 - Disputatio 2 (21):1 - 17.
  38. Compatibilism and Doxastic Control.Andrei A. Buckareff - 2006 - Philosophia 34 (2):143-152.
    Sharon Ryan has recently argued that if one has compatibilist intuitions about free action, then one should reject the claim that agents cannot exercise direct voluntary control over coming to believe. In this paper I argue that the differences between beliefs and actions make the expectation of direct voluntary control over coming to believe unreasonable. So Ryan's theory of doxastic agency is untenable.
  39. Can Faith Be a Doxastic Venture?Andrei A. Buckareff - 2005 - Religious Studies 41 (4):435-445.
    In a recent article in this journal, John Bishop argues in defence of conceiving of Christian faith as a ‘doxastic venture’. That is, he defends the claim that, in exercising faith, agents believe beyond ‘what can be established rationally on the basis of evidence and argument’. Careful examination reveals that Bishop fails adequately to show that faith in the face of inadequate epistemic reasons for believing is, or can even be, a uniquely doxastic venture. I argue that faith is best (...)
  40. How (Not) to Think About Mental Action.Andrei A. Buckareff - 2005 - Philosophical Explorations 8 (1):83-89.
    I examine Galen Strawson's recent work on mental action in his paper, 'Mental Ballistics or The Involuntariness of Spontaneity'. I argue that his account of mental action is too restrictive. I offer a means of testing tokens of mental activity types to determine if they are actional. The upshot is that a good deal more mental activity than Strawson admits is actional.
  41. An Essay on Doxastic Agency.Andrei A. Buckareff - 2005 - Dissertation, University of Rochester
    The problem of doxastic agency concerns what sort of agency humans can exercise with regard to forming doxastic attitudes such as belief. In this essay I defend a version of what James Montmarquet calls "The Asymmetry Thesis": Coming to believe and action are asymmetrical with respect to direct voluntary control. I argue that normal adult human agents cannot exercise direct voluntary control over the acquisition of any of their doxastic attitudes in the same way that they exercise such control over (...)
  42. Acceptance and Deciding to Believe.Andrei A. Buckareff - 2004 - Journal of Philosophical Research 29:173-190.
    ABSTRACT: Defending the distinction between believing and accepting a proposition, I argue that cases where agents allegedly exercise direct voluntary control over their beliefs are instances of agents exercising direct voluntary control over accepting a proposition. The upshot is that any decision to believe a proposition cannot result directly in one’s acquiring the belief. Accepting is an instrumental mental action the agent performs that may trigger belief. A model of the relationship between acceptance and belief is sketched and defended. The (...)
  43. The Action of the Mind.Jean E. Burns - 2012 - In I. Fredriksson (ed.), Aspects of Consciousness. McFarland. pp. 204.
    It is assumed that mental action, such as free will, exists, and an exploration is made of its relationship to the brain, physical laws, and evolutionary selection. If the assumption is made that all content of conscious experience is encoded in the brain, it follows that free will must act as process only. This result is consistent with the experimental results of Libet and others that if free will exists, it must act by making a selection between alternatives provided by (...)
  44. Man as Trinity of Body, Spirit, and Soul.Marcoen J. T. F. Cabbolet - manuscript
    Although there are several monistic and dualistic approaches to the mind-body problem on the basis of classical or quantum mechanics, thus far no consensus exists about a solution. Recently, the Elementary Process Theory (EPT) has been developed: this corresponds with a fundamentally new disciplinary matrix for the study of physical reality. The purpose of the present research was to investigate the mind-body problem within this newly developed disciplinary matrix. The main finding is that the idea of a duality of body (...)
  45. The Psychology of Effort of Will.C. A. Campbell - 1939 - Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 40:49 - 74.
  46. A Metacognitive Model of the Sense of Agency Over Thoughts.Glenn Carruthers - unknown
     A 41 year old housewife heard a voice coming from the house across the road. The voice went on incessantly in a flat monotone describing everything she was doing, with an admixture of critical comments ‘She is peeling potatoes, got hold of the peeler, she does not want that potato, she is putting it back, because she thinks it has a nobble like a penis, she has a dirty mind, she is peeling potatoes, now she is washing them ’ (...)
  47. Action-Awareness and the Active Mind.Peter Carruthers - 2009 - Philosophical Papers 38 (2):133-156.
    In a pair of recent papers and his new book, Christopher Peacocke (2007, 2008a, 2008b) takes up and defends the claim that our awareness of our own actions is immediate and not perceptually based, and extends it into the domain of mental action.1 He aims to provide an account of action-awareness that will generalize to explain how we have immediate awareness of our own judgments, decisions, imaginings, and so forth. These claims form an important component in a much larger philosophical (...)
  48. Agency and the Other: The Role of Agency for the Importance of Belief in Buddhist and Christian Traditions.Julia Cassaniti - 2012 - Ethos: Journal of the Society for Psychological Anthropology 40 (3):297-316.
  49. James and the Identity Theory.Chandana Chakrabarti - 1975 - Behaviorism 3 (2):152-155.
    The paper makes a comparative study of james' interpretation of mental acts in terms of the felt movements of the body and the identity theory presented and defended by j j c smart and u t place. some features of remarkable similarity as well as important differences between james' view and the identity theory are discussed. a special reference is made to james' view on the question of the alleged spatial location of mental events.
  50. The Aim of Belief.Timothy Chan (ed.) - 2013 - Oxford University Press.
    What is belief? "Beliefs aim at truth" is the commonly accepted starting point for philosophers who want to give an adequate account of this fundamental state of mind, but it raises as many questions as it answers. For example, in what sense can beliefs be said to have an aim of their own? If belief aims at truth, does it mean that reasons to believe must also be based on truth? Must beliefs be formed on the basis of evidence alone? (...)
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