Revamping Action Theory

Behavior and Philosophy 32 (2):427 - 451 (2004)
Abstract
Philosophical interest in intentional action has flourished in recent decades. Typically, action theorists propose necessary and sufficient conditions for a movement's being an action, conditions derived from a conceptual analysis of folk psychological action ascriptions. However, several key doctrinal and methodological features of contemporary action theory are troubling, in particular (i) the insistence that folk psychological kinds like beliefs and desires have neurophysiological correlates, (ii) the assumption that the concept of action is "classical" in structure (making it amenable to definition in terms of necessary and sufficient conditions for its proper application), and (iii) the assumption that deferring to intuitions about the application of the concept of action amidst the context of fantastical thought experiments furnishes an effective method for judging the adequacy of proposed analyses. After consideration of these problems it is argued that action theory needs to be reoriented in a more naturalistic direction, the methods and aims of which are continuous with those of the empirical sciences. The paper concludes with a sketch (and defense) of the methodological foundations of a naturalistic approach to intentional action.
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