Authors
Sarah Paul
New York University, Abu Dhabi
Abstract
What is the role of practical thought in determining the intentional action that is performed? Donald Davidson’s influential answer to this question is that thought plays an efficient-causal role: intentional actions are those events that have the correct causal pedigree in the agent's beliefs and desires. But the Causal Theory of Action has always been plagued with the problem of “deviant causal chains,” in which the right action is caused by the right mental state but in the wrong way. This paper addresses an alternative approach to understanding intentional action inspired by G.E.M. Anscombe, interpreting that view as casting practical thought in the role of formal rather than efficient cause of action and thereby avoiding the problem of deviant (efficient) causal chains. Specifically, on the neo-Anscombean view, it is the agent’s “practical knowledge” – non-observational, non-inferential knowledge of what one is doing – that confers the form of intentional action on an event and is the contribution of thought to determining what is intentionally done. This paper argues that the Anscombean view is subject to its own problematic type of deviance: deviant formal causation. What we know non-observationally about what we are doing often includes more than what we intend to be doing; we also know that we are bringing about the foreseen side effects of acting in the intended way. It is argued that the neo-Anscombean view faces difficulty in excluding the expected side effects from the specification of what is intentionally done, whereas the Causal Theory has no such difficulty. Thus, the discussion amounts to an argument in favor of the Causal Theory of Action.
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DOI 10.26556/jesp.v5i3.55
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References found in this work BETA

Intention, Plans, and Practical Reason.Michael Bratman - 1987 - Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
The Possibility of Practical Reason.David Velleman - 2000 - Oxford University Press.
Reasons Without Rationalism.Kieran Setiya - 2009 - Analysis 69 (3):509-510.

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Citations of this work BETA

The Contours of Control.Joshua Shepherd - 2014 - Philosophical Studies 170 (3):395-411.
Agent Causation as a Solution to the Problem of Action.Michael Brent - 2017 - Canadian Journal of Philosophy 47 (5):656-673.
Intention.Kieran Setiya - 2009 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
The Arithmetic of Intention.Anton Ford - 2015 - American Philosophical Quarterly 52 (2):129-143.

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