Trying

Edited by Juan Pablo Bermúdez (Universidad Externado De Colombia, Université de Neuchâtel)
About this topic
Summary

Plausibly, trying is an essential component of agency. But what is trying? Philosophers of action differ on trying’s nature and its relation to agency more broadly (e.g., its relationship to the will, to intentional action, and more): nothing like a consensus view on trying exists. Some view trying as a special act of the will; others that trying is simply a functional component of action – trying is identical to the effects of an intentions’s normal causal work. In the 20th Century trying generated some conceptual puzzles for philosophers of action: so, one finds discussion of questions about whether an agent can intend to try, whether an agent can desire to try to A without desiring to A, and whether an agent can try to do what she believes to be impossible. More recently, some have focused on the psychology of trying – including the experience of trying to do things – and have thus connected trying to the growing literature on the phenomenology of agency.

Key works

Some key works are indicated in the 'introductions.' For discussion of whether trying can serve as the centerpiece of an answer to the problem of action (the problem of distinguishing actions from non-actions), see Armstrong 1973. For some interesting work on trying and its relationship to certain experiences of agency (i.e., the experience of effort), see Dewey 1897, Preston & Wegner 2009, Lafargue & Franck 2009. For work on some of the conceptual puzzles surrounding trying, see Adams 1994, [BROKEN REFERENCE: LUDTTI-2], Mele 1989, Mele 1994.

Introductions For important treatments of the nature of trying and its relationship to volition, see O'Shaughnessy 1973, McCann 1974, McCann 1975, Adams & Mele 1992.
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  1. Free Will and Abilities to Act.Randolph Clarke - forthcoming - In Streit um die Freiheit: Philosophische und theologische Beiträge. Paderborn: Schoeningh/Brill.
    This paper examines the view of abilities to act advanced by Kadri Vihvelin in Causes, Laws, and Free Will. Vihvelin argues that (i) abilities of an important kind are “structurally” like dispositions such as fragility; (ii) ascriptions of dispositions can be analyzed in terms of counterfactual conditionals; (iii) ascriptions of abilities of the kind in question can be analyzed similarly; and (iv) we have the free will we think we have by having abilities of this kind and being in circumstances (...)
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  2. Effort, Uncertainty, and the Sense of Agency.Oliver Lukitsch - 2020 - Review of Philosophy and Psychology 11 (4):955-975.
    Orthodox neurocognitive accounts of the bodily sense of agency suggest that the experience of agency arises when action-effects are anticipated accurately. In this paper, I argue that while successful anticipation is crucial for the sense of agency, the role of unsuccessful prediction has been neglected, and that inefficacy and uncertainty are no less central to the sense of agency. I will argue that this is reflected in the phenomenology of agency, which can be characterized both as the experience of efficacy (...)
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  3. The Metaphysics of Action: Trying, Doing, Causing.David-Hillel Ruben - 2018 - London: Palgrave Macmillan.
    A discussion of three central ideas in action theory; trying to act, doing or acting, one's action causing further consequences.
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  4. Do We Reflect While Performing Skillful Actions? Automaticity, Control, and the Perils of Distraction.Juan Pablo Bermúdez - 2017 - Philosophical Psychology 30 (7):896-924.
    From our everyday commuting to the gold medalist’s world-class performance, skillful actions are characterized by fine-grained, online agentive control. What is the proper explanation of such control? There are two traditional candidates: intellectualism explains skillful agentive control by reference to the agent’s propositional mental states; anti-intellectualism holds that propositional mental states or reflective processes are unnecessary since skillful action is fully accounted for by automatic coping processes. I examine the evidence for three psychological phenomena recently held to support anti-intellectualism and (...)
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  5. Rethinking the Videogame Case: Trying and Intending.Jiajun Hu - 2017 - Philosophical Explorations 20 (3):338-351.
    In this paper, I defend the view that a person performs an action A intentionally only if she intends to A against Michael Bratman’s alleged counterexample to it: the videogame case. I object that Bratman is mistaken in assuming that the consistency among an agent’s intentions is about the consistency among intended goals or objectives. Instead, I argue that the real reason why an agent’s intentions need to be consistent with each other is due to the necessity of the compatibility (...)
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  6. Towards a Definition of Efforts.Olivier Massin - 2017 - Motivation Science 3 (3):230-259.
    Although widely used across psychology, economics, and philosophy, the concept ofeffort is rarely ever defined. This article argues that the time is ripe to look for anexplicit general definition of effort, makes some proposals about how to arrive at thisdefinition, and suggests that a force-based approach is the most promising. Section 1presents an interdisciplinary overview of some chief research axes on effort, and arguesthat few, if any, general definitions have been proposed so far. Section 2 argues thatsuch a definition is (...)
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  7. Action Reconceptualized: Human Agency and its Sources.David K. Chan - 2016 - Lexington Books.
    In re-examining the concepts of desire, intention, and trying, David K. Chan brings a fresh approach toward resolving many of the problems that have occupied philosophers of action for almost a century. This book not only presents a complete theory of human agency but also, by developing the conceptual tools needed to do moral philosophy, lays the groundwork for formulating an ethics that is rooted in a clear, intuitive, and coherent moral psychology.
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  8. Trying to Make Sense of Criminal Attempts. [REVIEW]Ken Levy - 2016 - Jurisprudence 7 (3):656-664.
    Issues include attempts generally; the problem of outcome luck; the impossibility defense; physical movement and intent; and reckless attempts, attempted rape, and attempted theft. In the final section, I offer a hypothetical that challenges Prof. Donnelly-Lazarov's theory.
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  9. A Conditional Theory of Trying.David-Hillel Ruben - 2016 - Philosophical Studies 173 (1):271-287.
    What I shall do in this paper is to propose an analysis of ‘Agent P tries to A’ in terms of a subjunctive conditional, that avoids some of the problems that beset most alternative accounts of trying, which I call ‘referential views’. They are so-named because on these alternative accounts, ‘P tries to A’ entails that there is a trying to A by P, and therefore the expression ‘P’s trying to A’ can occur in the subject of a sentence and (...)
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  10. Conscious Action/Zombie Action.Joshua Shepherd - 2016 - Noûs 50 (2):419-444.
    I argue that the neural realizers of experiences of trying are not distinct from the neural realizers of actual trying . I then ask how experiences of trying might relate to the perceptual experiences one has while acting. First, I assess recent zombie action arguments regarding conscious visual experience, and I argue that contrary to what some have claimed, conscious visual experience plays a causal role for action control in some circumstances. Second, I propose a multimodal account of the experience (...)
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  11. Kriegel on the Phenomenology of Action.Joshua Shepherd - 2016 - Rivista Internazionale di Filosofia e Psicologia 7 (2):264-272.
    : I focus on Uriah Kriegel’s account of conative phenomenology. I agree with Kriegel’s argument that some conative phenomenology is primitive in that some conative phenomenal properties cannot be reduced to another kind of property. I disagree, however, with Kriegel’s specific characterization of the properties in question. Kriegel argues that the experience of deciding-and-then-trying is the core of conative phenomenology. I argue, however, that the experiences of trying and acting better occupy this place. Further, I suggest that the attitudinal component (...)
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  12. The Physical Action Theory of Trying.David-Hillel Ruben - 2015 - Methode 4 (6).
    Metaphysically speaking, just what is trying? There appear to be two options: to place it on the side of the mind or on the side of the world. Volitionists, who think that to try is to engage in a mental act, perhaps identical to willing and perhaps not, take the mind-side option. The second, or world-side option identifies trying to do something with one of the more basic actions by which one tries to do that thing. The trying is then (...)
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  13. Really Trying or Merely Trying.Paul Faulkner - 2014 - Journal of the Philosophy of Sport 41 (3):363-380.
    We enjoy first-person authority with respect to a certain class of actions: for these actions, we know what we are doing just because we are doing it. This paper first formulates an epistemological principle that captures this authority in terms of trying to act in a way that one has the capacity to act. It then considers a case of effortful action – running a middle distance race – that threatens this principle. And proposes the solution of changing the metaphysics (...)
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  14. Proximal Intentions, Non-Executed Proximal Intentions and Change of Intentions.Ariel Furstenberg - 2014 - Topoi 33 (1):1-10.
    This paper investigates the conceptual and empirical possibility of non-executed, non-conscious proximal intentions, i.e., non-conscious proximal intentions to act that do not turn into a final act, but perhaps are vetoed or overcome by an alternative action. It constructs a conceptual framework in which such cases are justifiably considered ‘proximal intentions’. This is achieved by combining Alfred Mele’s notion of non-conscious proximal intentions together with the notion of trying or striving taken from Brian O’Shaughnessy’s model of action. With this framework (...)
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  15. It's Not Too Difficult: A Plea to Resurrect the Impossibility Defense.Ken Levy - 2014 - New Mexico Law Revview 45:225-274.
    Suppose you are at the gym trying to see some naked beauties by peeping through a hole in the wall. A policeman happens by, he asks you what you are doing, and you honestly tell him. He then arrests you for voyeurism. Are you guilty? We don’t know yet because there is one more fact to be considered: while you honestly thought that a locker room was on the other side of the wall, it was actually a squash court. Are (...)
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  16. Quand Vouloir, c'est Faire [How to Do Things with Wants].Olivier Massin - 2014 - In R. Clot-Goudard (Dir.), L'Explication de L'Action. Analyses Contemporaines, Recherches Sur la Philosophie Et le Langage N°30, Paris, Vrin 30.
    This paper defends the action-theory of the Will, according to which willing G is doing F (F≠G) in order to make G happen. In a nutshell, willing something is doing something else in order to bring about what we want. -/- I argue that only the action-theory can reconcile two essential features of the Will. (i) its EFFECTIVITY: willing is closer to acting than desiring. (ii) its FALLIBILITY: one might want something in vain. The action-theory of the will explains EFFECTIVITY (...)
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  17. Embarking on a Crime.Sarah K. Paul - 2014 - In Enrique Villanueva V. (ed.), Law and the Philosophy of Action. Rodopi. pp. 101-24.
    When we define something as a crime, we generally thereby criminalize the attempt to commit that crime. However, it is a vexing puzzle to specify what must be the case in order for a criminal attempt to have occurred, given that the results element of the crime fails to come about. I argue that the philosophy of action can assist the criminal law in clarifying what kinds of events are properly categorized as criminal attempts. A natural thought is that this (...)
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  18. Two Objections to Yaffe on the Criminalization of Attempts.Alexander Sarch - 2014 - Criminal Law and Philosophy 8 (3):569-587.
    In his recent book Attempts, Gideon Yaffe suggests that attempts should be criminalized because of a principle he dubs the “Transfer Principle.” This principle holds that if a particular form of conduct is legitimately criminalized, then the attempt to engage in that form of conduct is also legitimately criminalized. Although Yaffe provides a powerful defense of the Transfer Principle, in this paper I argue that Yaffe’s argument for it ultimately does not succeed. In particular, I formulate two objections to Yaffe’s (...)
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  19. Yaffe on Attempts.Larry Alexander - 2013 - Legal Theory 19 (2):124-135.
    Gideon Yaffe's Attempts is a masterfully executed philosophical investigation of what it means to attempt something. Yaffe is obviously motivated by the fact that the criminal law punishes attempted crimes, and he believes that his philosophical analysis can shed light on and be used to criticize the law's understanding of those crimes. I focus exclusively on the relevance of Yaffe's philosophical analysis of attempts to the criminal law of attempts. I assume that Yaffe's account of what it is to attempt (...)
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  20. Yaffe on Attempts.Lawrence Alexander - 2013 - Legal Studies Research Papers Series:13-113.
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  21. Assessing the Argument for Agency Incompatibilism.Karin E. Boxer - 2013 - Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy 56 (6):583-596.
    In A Metaphysics for Freedom, Helen Steward asks us to reconceptualize the metaphysics of agency. To make room for agency, she argues, we must reject: the Causal Theory of Action, the view that causation is exclusively bottom-up, and the view that agency is compatible with causal determinism. I am convinced by Steward’s arguments against the first two views, but not by her arguments against the third. There are non-reductive compatibilist alternatives to Steward’s incompatibilist account of action as settling. The idea (...)
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  22. Yaffe on Criminal Attempts.Michael E. Bratman - 2013 - Legal Theory 19 (2):101-113.
    Central to Gideon Yaffe's powerful theory of the legitimate criminalization of unsuccessful attempts is his according to which, I argue that this principle, taken together with Yaffe's theory of the nature of attempts, threatens to lead to a normatively problematic conclusion in support of the legitimate criminalization of attempts that are merely a matter of thinking and do not involve action in the public space. And I argue that Yaffe's efforts to block this conclusion are themselves problematic. This leads to (...)
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  23. First Acts, Last Acts, and Abandonment.David O. Brink - 2013 - Legal Theory 19 (2):114-123.
    This contribution reconstructs and assesses Gideon Yaffe’s claims in his book Attempts about what constitutes an attempt, what can count as evidence that an attempt has been made, whether abandonment is a genuine defense, and whether attempts should be punished less severely than completed crimes. I contrast Yaffe’s account of being motivated by an intention and the completion of an attempt in terms of the truth of the completion counterfactual with an alternative picture of attempts as temporally extended decision trees (...)
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  24. Yaffe's Attempts.Michael S. Moore - 2013 - Legal Theory 19 (2):136-177.
    Yaffe's handling of two general questions is assessed in this review. The first question is why mere attempts (as opposed to successful wrongdoing) should be made punishable in a well-conceived criminal code. The second question is how attempt liability should be conceived in such a code. As to the first question, Yaffe's nonsubstantive mode of answering it (in terms of his ) is contrasted to answers based on some more substantive desert-bases; Yaffe's own more substantive kind of answer (in terms (...)
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  25. Trying in Some Way.David-Hillel Ruben - 2013 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 91 (4):719-733.
    Does 'Person P tried to A' entail that there is some particular, whether a mental act or a brain state or whatever, that is a trying? Most discussions of trying assume that this entailment holds. There is no good reason for holding that this is a valid inference. In particular, I examine one 'Davidsonian' argument that might be used to justify the validity of such an inference and argue that the argument is not sound. See: http://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/IxsuPqt7rvdzqMxpFiTv/full.
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  26. From Volitionalism to the Dual Aspect Theory of Action.Joshua Stuchlik - 2013 - Philosophia 41 (3):867-886.
    Volitionalism is a theory of action motivated by certain shortcomings in the standard causal theory of action. However, volitionalism is vulnerable to the objection that it distorts the phenomenology of embodied agency. Arguments for volitionalism typically proceed by attempting to establish three claims: (1) that whenever an agent acts, she tries or wills to act, (2) that it is possible for volitions to occur even in the absence of bodily movement, and (3) that in cases of successful bodily actions the (...)
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  27. Trying to Defend Attempts: Replies to Bratman, Brink, Alexander, and Moore: Trying to Defend Attempts.Gideon Yaffe - 2013 - Legal Theory 19 (2):178-215.
    This essay replies to the thoughtful commentaries, by Michael Bratman, David Brink, Larry Alexander, and Michael Moore, on my book Attempts.
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  28. 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.
  29. Guiding Commitments and Criminal Liability for Attempts.R. A. Duff - 2012 - Criminal Law and Philosophy 6 (3):411-427.
    A critical discussion of Gideon Yaffe's "guiding commitment" account of attempts, with special reference to attempts in the criminal law.
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  30. Why Punish Attempts at All? Yaffe on 'The Transfer Principle'.Douglas Husak - 2012 - Criminal Law and Philosophy 6 (3):399-410.
    Gideon Yaffe is to be commended for beginning his exhaustive treatment by asking a surprisingly difficult question: Why punish attempts at all? He addresses this inquiry in the context of defending (what he calls) the transfer principle: “If a particular form of conduct is legitimately criminalized, then the attempt to engage in that form of conduct is also legitimately criminalized.” I begin by expressing a few reservations about the transfer principle itself. But my main point is that we are justified (...)
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  31. Crimes of Negligence: Attempting and Succeeding. [REVIEW]Alfred R. Mele - 2012 - Criminal Law and Philosophy 6 (3):387-398.
    In chapter 6 of Attempts , Gideon Yaffe defends the thesis that it is “possible to attempt crimes of negligence” ( 2010 , p. 173). I am persuaded that he is right about this, provided that “attempt crimes of negligence” is read as (potentially misleading) shorthand for “attempt to bring it about that we commit crimes of negligence.” But I find certain parts of his defense unpersuasive. My discussion of those parts of his argument motivates the following thesis: Not only (...)
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  32. Subjective Normativity and Action Guidance.Andrew Sepielli - 2012 - In Mark Timmons (ed.), Oxford Studies in Normative Ethics, Vol. II. Oxford University Press.
  33. Potholes on the Path to Purity: Gideon Yaffe’s Overly Ambitious Attempt to Account for Criminal Attempts. [REVIEW]Alec Walen - 2012 - Criminal Law and Philosophy 6 (3):383-386.
    Gideon Yaffe’s “subjectivism about attempts” rest on the Transfer Principle: “If a particular form of conduct is legitimately criminalized, then the attempt to engage in that form of conduct is also legitimately criminalized.” From the perspective of a moral concern with culpability, this principle seems to get to the heart of the matter: the true essence of what is wrong with attempting to commit a crime. Unfortunately, Yaffe’s argument for the Transfer Principle is based on an equivocation and therefore logically (...)
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  34. More Attempts: A Reply to Duff, Husak, Mele and Walen. [REVIEW]Gideon Yaffe - 2012 - Criminal Law and Philosophy 6 (3):429-444.
    In this paper, I reply to the very thoughtful comments on my book by Antony Duff, Doug Husak, Al Mele and Alec Walen.
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  35. The Sense of Agency.Tim Bayne - 2011 - In Fiona Macpherson (ed.), The Senses: Classic and Contemporary Philosophical Perspectives.
    Where in cognitive architecture do experiences of agency lie? This chapter defends the claim that such states qualify as a species of perception. Reference to ‘the sense of agency’ should not be taken as a mere façon de parler but picks out a genuinely perceptual system. The chapter begins by outlining the perceptual model of agentive experience before turning to its two main rivals: the doxastic model, according to which agentive experience is really a species of belief, and the telic (...)
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  36. On the Supposed Duty to Try One's Hardest in Sports.Jeffrey P. Fry - 2011 - Philosophy in the Contemporary World 18 (2):1-10.
    It is a common refrain in sports discourse that one should try one's hardest in sports, or some other variation on this theme. In this paper I argue that there is no generalized duty to try one's hardest in sports, and that the claim that one should do so is ambiguous. Although a number of factors point in the direction of my conclusion, particularly salient is the claim that, in the end, the putative requirement is too stringent for creatures like (...)
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  37. Arguing as Trying to Show That a Target-Claim is Correct.David Hitchcock - 2011 - Theoria : An International Journal for Theory, History and Fundations of Science 26 (3):301-309.
    In Giving Reasons, Bermejo-Luque rightly claims that a normative model of the speech act of argumentation is more defensible if it rests on an internal aim that is constitutive of the act of arguing than if it rests, as she claims existing normative models do, on an aim that one need not pursue when one argues. She rightly identifies arguing with trying to justify something. But it is not so clear that she has correctly identified the internal aim of arguing (...)
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  38. Wanting, Willing, Trying and Kane's Theory of Free Will.John Lemos - 2011 - Dialectica 65 (1):31-48.
    Robert Kane's event-causal libertarian theory of free will has been subjected to a variety of criticisms. In response to the luck objection, he has provided an ambiguous answer which results in additional criticisms that are avoidable. I explain Kane's theory, the luck objection and Kane's reply to the problem of luck. I note that in some places he suggests that the dual wantings of agents engaged in self-forming actions (SFAs) provides the key to answering the luck objection, whereas in other (...)
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  39. Failed-Art and Failed Art-Theory.Christy Mag Uidhir - 2010 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 88 (3):381-400.
    An object being non-art appears only trivially informative. Some non-art objects, however, could be saliently 'almost' art, and therefore objects for which being non-art is non-trivially informative. I call these kinds of non-art objects 'failed-art' objects—non-art objects aetiologically similar to art-objects, diverging only in virtue of some relevant failure. I take failed-art to be the right sort of thing, to result from the right sort of action, and to have the right sort of history required to be art, but to (...)
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  40. Attempts: In the Philosophy of Action and the Criminal Law.Gideon Yaffe - 2010 - Oxford University Press.
    Gideon Yaffe presents a ground-breaking work which demonstrates the importance of philosophy of action for the law. Many people are serving sentences not for completing crimes, but for trying to. Yaffe's clear account of what it is to try to do something promises to resolve the difficulties courts face in the adjudication of attempted crimes.
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  41. Effort Awareness and Sense of Volition in Schizophrenia.Gilles Lafargue & Nicolas Franck - 2009 - Consciousness and Cognition 18 (1):277-289.
    Contemporary experimental research has emphasised the role of centrally generated signals arising from premotor areas in voluntary muscular force perception. It is therefore generally accepted that judgements of force are based on a central sense, known as the sense of effort, rather than on a sense of intra-muscular tension. Interestingly, the concept of effort is also present in the classical philosophy: to the French philosopher Maine de Biran [Maine de Biran . Mémoire sur la décomposition de la pensée , Vrin, (...)
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  42. Mental Actions.Lucy O'Brien & Matthew Soteriou (eds.) - 2009 - Oxford University Press.
    The twelve specially written essays in this volume investigate the neglected topic of mental action, and show its importance for the metaphysics, epistemology, and phenomenology of mind. The essays investigate what mental actions are, how we are aware of them, and what is the relationship between mental and physical action.
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  43. Trying and Acting.Brian O'Shaughnessy - 2009 - In Lucy O'Brien & Matthew Soteriou (eds.), Mental Actions. Oxford University Press. pp. 163.
  44. Mental Action and Self-Awareness : Epistemology.Christopher Peacocke - 2009 - In Lucy O'Brien & Matthew Soteriou (eds.), Mental Actions. Oxford University Press.
    We often know what we are judging, what we are deciding, what problem we are trying to solve. We know not only the contents of our judgements, decidings and tryings; we also know that it is judgement, decision and attempted problem-solving in which we are engaged. How do we know these things?
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  45. Phenomenal and Metacognitive. Elbow Grease: When Action Feels Like Work.Jesse Preston & Daniel M. Wegner - 2009 - In Ezequiel Morsella, John A. Bargh & Peter M. Gollwitzer (eds.), Oxford Handbook of Human Action. Oxford University Press.
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  46. Is There a Sense of Agency for Thought?Joelle Proust - 2009 - In Lucy O'Brien & Matthew Soteriou (eds.), Mental Actions. Oxford University Press.
  47. Trying, Acting and Attempted Crimes.Gideon Yaffe - 2009 - Law and Philosophy 28 (2):109 - 162.
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  48. Trying and the Arguments From Total Failure.Thor Grünbaum - 2008 - Philosophia 36 (1):67-86.
    New Volitionalism is a name for certain widespread conception of the nature of intentional action. Some of the standard arguments for New Volitionalism, the so-called arguments from total failure, have even acquired the status of basic assumptions for many other kinds of philosophers. It is therefore of singular interest to investigate some of the most important arguments from total failure. This is what I propose to do in this paper. My aim is not be to demonstrate that these arguments are (...)
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  49. Trying.Chauncey Maher - 2008 - Southwest Philosophy Review 24 (2):55-69.
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  50. A Consequentialist Distinction Between What We Ought to Do and Ought to Try.Ingmar Persson - 2008 - Utilitas 20 (3):348-355.
    G. E. Moore raised the question of whether consequentialists ought to maximize actual rather than expected value, and came down in favour of the former alternative. But rather recently Frank Jackson has presented an example which has been widely thought to clinch the case in favour of the alternative view. This article argues for a sort of compromise between these rival views, namely that while we ought to do what maximizes actual value, we ought to try to do what maximizes (...)
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