Anton Ford
University of Chicago
For as long as there has been anything called “the philosophy of action,” its practitioners have accounted for action in terms of an associated kind of explanation. The alternative to this approach was noticed, but not adopted, by G. E. M. Anscombe. Anscombe observed that a series of answers to the reason-requesting question “Why?” may be read in reverse order as a series of answers to the question “How?” Unlike answers to the question “Why?”, answers to the question “How?” are not explanatory of what they are about: they reveal, not reasons for doing something, but ways of doing something, and they have the form of what Aristotle called a practical syllogism. The alternative to theorizing action in terms of explanation, is, thus, to theorize it in terms calculation. In exploring this alternative, I argue for three main theses: first, that (pace Anscombe) it is not a matter of indifference whether we theorize action in terms of the question “Why?” or in terms of the question “How?”; second, that the question “Why?” is a question for an observer of action (the agent already knows the answer and can learn nothing from the inquiry), whereas the question “How?” is a question for the agent—and moreover, one that the agent must answer in order to achieve any end whatsoever—so that part of what is at stake is the standpoint from which action is to be theorized; and finally, that the standpoint of the agent, revealed by the question “How?”, is prior to that of an observer.
Keywords Reasons  Action Explanation  Calculation  Action
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DOI 10.1017/s1358246117000066
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References found in this work BETA

Actions, Reasons, and Causes.Donald Davidson - 1963 - Journal of Philosophy 60 (23):685.
The Blue and Brown Books.Newton Garver - 1961 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 21 (4):576-577.
The Arithmetic of Intention.Anton Ford - 2015 - American Philosophical Quarterly 52 (2):129-143.
On What Is in Front of Your Nose.Anton Ford - 2016 - Philosophical Topics 44 (1):141-161.
The Structure of Orthonomy.Michael Smith - 2004 - Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplement 55:165-193.

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Citations of this work BETA

Basic Action and Practical Knowledge.Will Small - 2019 - Philosophers' Imprint 19.
Agency Time and Naturalism.Jennifer Hornsby - 2017 - Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association 91:137-153.
Spontaneous Expression and Intentional Action.Stina Bäckström - forthcoming - Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy.

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