Edited by Joshua Shepherd (Carleton University, Universitat de Barcelona)
About this topic

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.
Related categories

131 found
1 — 50 / 131
  1. added 2018-05-14
    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 (...)
  2. added 2018-02-16
    Why Actions Might Be Willings.Eugene Schlossberger & Ron Talmage - 1980 - Philosophical Studies 38 (2):199 - 203.
  3. added 2018-02-02
    The Will and Human Action: From Antiquity to the Present Day.Thomas Pink & M. W. F. Stone (eds.) - 2004 - Routledge.
    What is the will? And what is its relation to human action? Throughout history, philosophers have been fascinated by the idea of 'the will': the source of the drive that motivates human beings to act. However, there has never been a clear consensus as to what the will is and how it relates to human action. Some philosophers have taken the will to be based firmly in reason and rational choice, and some have seen it as purely self-determined. Others have (...)
  4. added 2017-12-19
    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 (...)
  5. added 2017-06-12
    The Conative Mind: Volition and Action.Jing Zhu - 2003 - Dissertation, University of Waterloo (Canada)
    This work is an attempt to restore volition as a respectable topic for scientific studies. Volition, traditionally conceived as the act of will, has been largely neglected in contemporary science and philosophy. I first develop a volitional theory of action by elaborating a unifying conception of volition, where volitions are construed as special kinds of mental action by which an agent consciously and actively bridge the gaps between deliberation, decision and intentional action. Then I argue that the major skeptical arguments (...)
  6. added 2017-05-29
    Review of On Action, by Carl Ginet.Richard Malpas - 1993 - Philosophical Review 102 (1):134.
  7. added 2017-05-29
    Theory of Action.Charles Marks & Lawrence H. Davis - 1980 - Philosophical Review 89 (4):634.
  8. added 2017-05-24
    Actions.Carl Ginet & Jennifer Hornsby - 1984 - Philosophical Review 93 (1):120.
  9. added 2017-04-30
    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 (...)
  10. added 2017-04-30
    Trying, Intending, and Attempted Crimes.Gideon Yaffe - 2004 - Philosophical Topics 32 (1/2):505-531.
  11. added 2017-04-30
    The Concept of Trying.Severin Schroeder - 2001 - Philosophical Investigations 24 (3):213-227.
    It is widely held that whenever someone φs, that person tries to do φ. I examine arguments by B. O’Shaughnessy and J. Hornsby, and considerations by P. Grice in support of that thesis. I argue that none of them are convincing. The remainder of the paper defends an analysis of the concept of trying along the lines opposed by Grice et al. By speaking of someone’s trying to φ the speaker leaves the room for failure or the possibility of failure. (...)
  12. added 2017-04-30
    Trying: You’Ve Got to Believe.Frederick Adams - 1995 - Journal of Philosophical Research 20:549-561.
    Sue knows that, unaided, she cannot lift the 1,000 pound weight, but surely she can try. Can she not? For even if she believes it is impossible to succeed in lifting the weight, trying to lift the weight need not involve success. So surely, it would seem that nothing could be easier than for Sue to give lifting the weight a try. In this paper, I agrue that, appearances aside, it is not possible for someone to try to do what (...)
  13. added 2017-04-30
    Hornsby on Trying.Myles Brand - 1995 - Journal of Philosophical Research 20:541-547.
    In “Reasons for Trying”, Jennifer Homsby rejects several views about trying, including the volitional account, which identifies trying with an ‘inner’ uniform mental occurrence leading to action and the instrumental view, which explicates trying as doing one thing in order to accomplish something else. She proffers, rather, an explication, which I label ‘the capacity view,’ that identifies trying with the agent doing all that she can to accomplish the goal. In this note, I argue, first, that Hornsby’s approach more nearly (...)
  14. added 2016-12-12
    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.
  15. added 2016-12-08
    Pollock on Rational Choice and Trying.Peter K. Mcinerney - 2006 - Philosophical Studies 129 (2):253-261.
    In everyday life people frequently recognize that a person at a time may be more or less strongly motivated to carry out an intentional action and that “trying harder” frequently affects the successful completion of an intentional action. In “Rational Choice and Action Omnipotence,” John Pollock provides an original account of rational choice in which “trying to do an action” is a basic factor. This paper argues that Pollock’s “expected-utility optimality prescription” is deficient because it lacks a parameter for intensity (...)
  16. added 2016-12-08
    Is Raising One's Arm a Basic Action?Hugh McCann - 1972 - Journal of Philosophy 69 (9):235.
    I hold no view as to what actions are basic, but I shall attempt to show in what follows that actions like raising an arm never are. My contention is that these actions involve actions of physical exertion on the part of the agent, the involvement being of a sort generally taken to be excluded by an actions being basic.
  17. added 2016-12-05
    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?
  18. added 2016-11-18
    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.
  19. added 2016-09-06
    Actions, Adjuncts, and Agency.Pietroski Pm - 1998 - In Daniel N. Robinson (ed.), The Mind. Oxford University Press. pp. 107--425.
  20. added 2016-08-25
    Action.J. Proust - 2003 - In Barry Smith (ed.), John Searle. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 102--127.
  21. added 2016-08-25
    Carl Ginet, On Action. [REVIEW]Karl Pfeifer - 1992 - Philosophy in Review 12:196-199.
  22. added 2016-08-10
    Actions.James S. Morgan - 1982 - Philosophical Studies 29:345-348.
  23. added 2016-07-05
    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 (...)
  24. added 2016-06-20
    Volitions and Actions.Michael Martin - 1978 - Canadian Journal of Philosophy 8 (1):187 - 190.
  25. added 2015-09-18
    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 (...)
  26. added 2015-09-16
    The Solution to the Problem of Outcome Luck: Why Harm Is Just as Punishable as the Wrongful Action That Causes It.Ken Levy - 2005 - Law and Philosophy 24 (3):263-303.
    A surprisingly large number of scholars believe that (a) we are blameworthy, and therefore punishable, only for what we have control over; (b) we have control only over our actions and intentions, not the consequences of our actions; and therefore (c) if two agents perform the very same action (e.g., attempting to kill) with the very same intentions, then they are equally blameworthy and deserving of equal punishment – even if only one of them succeeds in killing. This paper argues (...)
  27. added 2015-04-27
    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 (...)
  28. added 2015-04-27
    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 (...)
  29. added 2015-04-27
    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 (...)
  30. added 2015-04-27
    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 (...)
  31. added 2015-04-27
    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 (...)
  32. added 2015-04-27
    Trying to Defend Attempts: Replies to Bratman, Brink, Alexander, and Moore.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.
  33. added 2015-04-27
    Yaffe on Attempts.Lawrence Alexander - 2013 - Legal Studies Research Papers Series:13-113.
  34. added 2015-04-27
    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 (...)
  35. added 2015-04-27
    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 (...)
  36. added 2015-04-27
    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.
  37. added 2015-04-27
    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.
  38. added 2015-04-27
    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 (...)
  39. added 2015-04-27
    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 (...)
  40. added 2015-04-27
    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 (...)
  41. added 2015-04-27
    Trying to Act.Jennifer Hornsby - unknown
    Book synopsis: A Companion to the Philosophy of Action offers a comprehensive overview of the issues and problems central to the philosophy of action. The first volume to survey the entire field of philosophy of action (the central issues and processes relating to human actions) Brings together specially commissioned chapters from international experts Discusses a range of ideas and doctrines, including rationality, free will and determinism, virtuous action, criminal responsibility, Attribution Theory, and rational agency in evolutionary perspective Individual chapters also (...)
  42. added 2015-04-27
    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.
  43. added 2015-04-27
    Contemporary Action Theory.Ghita Holmström-Hintikka & Raimo Tuomela - 1997
  44. added 2015-04-27
    Hornsby, Jennifer Actions. [REVIEW]Jane Heal - 1982 - Philosophy 57:133.
  45. added 2015-04-09
    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 (...)
  46. added 2015-04-09
    Mental Action and Self-Awareness.Christopher Peacocke - 2006 - In Jonathan D. Cohen & Brian P. McLaughlin (eds.), Contemporary Debates in the Philosophy of Mind. Blackwell.
    This paper is built around a single, simple idea. It is widely agreed that there is a distinctive kind of awareness each of us has of his own bodily actions. This action-awareness is different from any perceptual awareness a subject may have of his own actions; it can exist in the absence of such perceptual awareness. The single, simple idea around which this paper is built is that the distinctive awareness that subjects have of their own mental actions is a (...)
  47. added 2015-04-09
    The Epistemology of Physical Action.Brian O'Shaughnessy - 2003 - In Johannes Roessler & Naomi Eilan (eds.), Agency and Self-Awareness: Issues in Philosophy and Psychology. Clarendon Press.
  48. added 2015-03-28
    McCANN, HJ-The Works of Agency.J. Bishop - 2001 - Philosophical Books 42 (3):232-232.
  49. added 2015-02-24
    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 (...)
  50. added 2015-02-24
    Trying to Be Progressive: The Extensionality of Try.Y. Sharvit - 2003 - Journal of Semantics 20 (4):403-445.
    We observe that indefinite noun phrases in complement clauses of try sometimes have an obligatory existential reading. Based on this observation, and on some similarities in entailment patterns between Progressive sentences and sentences with try, we argue that the semantics of try is different from that of other attitude verbs, in that it requires the existence of an ongoing event in the actual world, which corresponds to the complement of try. The proposed semantics for try is inspired by Landman's (1992) (...)
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