Goal-Directed Action: Teleological Explanations, Causal Theories, and Deviance

Noûs 34 (s14):279 - 300 (2000)
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Abstract

Teleological explanations of human actions are explanations in terms of aims, goals, or purposes of human agents. According to a familiar causal approach to analyzing and explaining human action, our actions are, essentially, events (and sometimes states, perhaps) that are suitably caused by appropriate mental items, or neural realizations of those items. Causalists traditionally appeal, in part, to such goal-representing states as desires and intentions (or their neural realizers) in their explanations of human actions, and they take accept-able teleological explanations of our actions to be causal explanations. Some proponents of the view that human actions are explained teleologically resist this. They regard the causal approach as a rival. I dub this position “anticausalist teleologism,” or AT, for short. I favor the causal approach, but I will not directly argue for it here. My aim is more modest. I will develop a serious problem for AT that strongly suggests that teleologists need causalism; and I will rebut a style of objection to the project of providing a causal analysis of acting in pursuit of a goal that recently resurfaced in the literature on teleological explanations of action, a style of objection featuring a certain kind of causal deviance.

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Alfred Mele
Florida State University

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