Based on his experimental studies, Libet claims that voluntary actions are initiated by unconscious brain activities well before intentions or decisions to act are consciously experienced by people. This account conflicts with our common-sense conception of human agency, in which people consciously and intentionally exert volitions or acts of will to initiate voluntary actions. This paper offers an alternative interpretation of Libet's experiment. The cause of the intentional acts performed by the subjects in Libet's experiment should not be exclusively attributed (...) to special cerebral processes; conscious intentions formed at the beginning of the experiment, when the subjects received experimental instructions, must be taken into account. In addition, what the subjects were required to report was not a conscious intention or decision to act that conventionally figures in the etiology of voluntary action, but rather a perceived effective urge to move induced by specific experimental instructions. According to the alternative interpretation, the most suitable mental term correlated with the specific brain activity that precedes conscious, self-initiated voluntary bodily movements is volition. This account is supported by recent theories of function of the supplementary motor area . Therefore, the notion that we are the authors or originators of our own actions, which is fundamental to our common understanding of free will, moral responsibility and human dignity, can be preserved. (shrink)
In this paper, it is examined how neuroscience can help to understand the nature of volition by addressing the question whether volitions can be localized in the brain. Volitions, as acts of the will, are special mental events or activities by which an agent consciously and actively exercises her agency to voluntarily direct her thoughts and actions. If we can pinpoint when and where volitional events or activities occur in the brain and find out their neural underpinnings, this can substantively (...) aid to demystify the concept of volition. After first discussing some methodological issues regarding whether it is possible to locate volition in the brain, various approaches by which neuroscientists and psychologists explore the neural correlates and substrates of volition are examined. Although different psychological conceptualizations of volition shape different perspectives toward understanding the functions of volition, the explorations of the neural basis of volition converge on certain common brain areas and structures. A unifying conception of volition that helps to make better sense of recent empirical findings is then suggested. (shrink)
The role of emotion in human action has long been neglected in the philosophy of action. Some prevalent misconceptions of the nature of emotion are responsible for this neglect: emotions are irrational; emotions are passive; and emotions have only an insignificant impact on actions. In this paper we argue that these assumptions about the nature of emotion are problematic and that the neglect of emotion's place in theories of action is untenable. More positively, we argue on the basis of recent (...) research in cognitive neuroscience that emotions may significantly affect action generation as well as action execution and control. Moreover, emotions also play a crucial role in people's explanation of action. We conclude that the concept of emotion deserves a more distinctive and central place in philosophical theories of action. (shrink)
The first half of this paper is an attemptto conceptualize and understand the paradoxicalnotion of ``passive action''''. The strategy is toconstrue passive action in the context ofemotional behavior, with the purpose toestablish it as a conceivable and conceptuallycoherent category. In the second half of thispaper, the implications of passive action forcausal theories of action are examined. I arguethat Alfred Mele''s defense of causalism isunsuccessful and that causalism may lack theresource to account for passive action.Following Harry Frankfurt, I suggest analternative way (...) of understanding the nature ofaction that can accommodate passive action. (shrink)
In this article, I first elaborate and refine the Principle of Intention Agglomeration (PIA), which was introduced by Michael Bratman as “a natural constraint on intention”. According to the PIA, the intentions of a rational agent should be agglomerative. The proposed refinement of the PIA is not only in accordance with the spirit of Bratman’s planning theory of intention as well as consistency constraints for intentions rooted in the theory, but also reveals some deep rationales of practical rationality regarding resource-limited (...) agents. Then I defend the PIA against various objections and counterexamples, showing that the refined PIA survives attacks based on both conceptual analyses and psychological considerations. (shrink)
The concept of volition has a long history in Western thought, but is looked upon unfavorably in contemporary philosophy and psychology. This paper proposes and elaborates a unifying conception of volition, which views volition as a mediating executive mental process that bridges the gaps between an agent's deliberation, decision and voluntary bodily action. Then the paper critically examines three major skeptical arguments against volition: volition is a mystery, volition is an illusion, and volition is a fundamentally flawed conception that leads (...) to infinite regress. It is shown that all these charges are untenable and the arguments are far from decisive to dismiss the concept of volition. In addition, it is suggested that a naturalistic approach, which takes philosophical inquiry as continuous with the scientific study of volition, is a promising way to demystify volition. (shrink)
We reply to Andrew Sneddon’s recent criticism of the causal theory of action (CTA) and critically examine Sneddon’s preferred alternative, minimal causalism. We show that Sneddon’s criticism of CTA is problematic in several respects, and therefore his conclusion that “the prospects for CTA look poor” is unjustified. Moreover, we show that the minimal causalism that Sneddon advocates looks rather unpromising and its merits that Sneddon mentions are untenable.
Richard Scheer has recently argued against what he calls the 'mental state' theory of intentions. He argues that versions of this theory fail to account for various characteristics of intention. In this essay we reply to Scheer's criticisms and argue that intentions are mental states.
This paper is an investigation of the degree of incommensurability between Western scientific medicine and traditional Chinese medicine, focusing on the practice and theory of acupuncture. We describe the structure of traditional Chinese medicine, oriented around such concepts as yin, yang, qi, and xing, and discuss how the conceptual and explanatory differences between Western medicine and traditional Chinese medicine generate impediments to their comparison and evaluation. We argue that the linguistic, conceptual, ontological, and explanatory impediments can to a large extent (...) be overcome, and conclude that the dramatic differences between Western and traditional Chinese medicine do not provide insurmountable barriers to rational evaluation of acupuncture. We conclude with a discussion of the intentional and emotional aspects of conceptual change. (shrink)
This paper challenges the causal approach to understanding mental action by developing a pair of cases, both relevant to mental control. Central to the first case is the phenomenon of the ironic effects of mental control: our attempts at exercising control over our own minds can undermine the intended mental control itself. Central to the second case is the seemingly paradoxical notion of "passive mental action." These two cases indicate that the mental antecedents of the right kind specified by a (...) causal theory of action are neither causally sufficient nor necessary to produce and control intentional mental action. This suggests that causalism may not be an adequate approach to understanding mental action. (shrink)
Abstract In ?On Making an Effort? E. J. Coffman develops what he takes to be a fairly serious problem for Robert Kane's positive theory of free choice, where the concept of efforts of will is pivotal.1 Coffman argues that the plausibility of Kane's libertarian account of free choice ?is inversely proportional to the plausibility of a certain principle of agency? (p. 12). And since the latter is quite plausible, the former is therefore ?at best fairly implausible? (p. 12). In what (...) follows I will show that Coffman's objection is in fact misplaced. Kanean libertarianism not only is in accordance with the essence of the principles of personal responsibility that Coffman advocates, it also affords a more plausible and intelligible account of the sources of personal responsibility superior to the proposed principles. (shrink)
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. (shrink)