The Conative Mind: Volition and Action

Dissertation, University of Waterloo (Canada) (2003)
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Abstract

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 against volition are untenable. Volition can be a suitable object of empirical studies, and we can substantially demystify the notion of volition by exploring when and where volitions occur in the brain. On the basis of recent findings in psychology and neuroscience, I show how volitions can be localized in some regions of the brain. The classical notion of volition as action initiator, which is essential to the commonsense image of human agency that underlies our ordinary understanding of free will, moral responsibility and human dignity, can be preserved in face of the challenge from recent experimental studies in neuroscience. Contrary to a widely received misconception, I argue that volitions cannot be reduced to intentions. Furthermore, I show that a volitional theory of action can surpass its rivals, especially the causal approach, which is the dominant position in contemporary action theory, to provide a more plausible and richer account of human action and agency

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