Philosophy 519: The Will

Professor Jeff Speaks

Fall 2004

1 Anscombe’s Intention
2 Causal theories of action
3 Objections to (some versions of) the causal theory of action
4 Agent causation
5 ‘Self-referential’ causal theories
6 The functionalist view of action & belief
7 Teleological theories of action
8 Action and perception
9 Anscombe and Wittgenstein on intentional action
10 Heidegger’s notion of ‘comportment’

SYLLABUS

1 Anscombe’s Intention

Anscombe, Intention, 1-31.

Anscombe’s discussion of the distinction between intentions to act, intentions in action, and intentional action; the distinction between intention and prediction; ‘non-observational knowledge’ as a mark of intentional action.

2 Causal theories of action

Davidson, “Actions, reasons, and causes”.

Davidson’s idea that we can analyze intention, and intentional action, in terms of (certain kinds of) causation by beliefs and desires. The distinction between basic and non-basic actions, and the role it might play in a causal analysis of action.

3 Objections to (some versions of) the causal theory of action

Frankfurt, “The problem of action”; Hursthouse, “Arational actions'; Davidson, "Intending".

4 Agent causation

Velleman, “What happens when someone acts?”; perhaps also something by Chisholm.

The objection that causal theories of action leave the agent out of the analysis of intentional action, and Velleman’s attempt at a reductive theory of agent causation.

5 ‘Self-referential’ causal theories

Setiya, “Explaining Action”; perhaps also something by Searle or Harman.

A more sophisticated version of the causal analysis of action equipped to respond to some of the objections discussed in the above articles, and an independent argument for this version based on the requirement that a theory of intentional action explain some of the necessary truths about action emphasized by Anscombe.

6 The functionalist view of action & belief

Hornsby, “Physicalist Thinking and Conceptions of Behaviour”; maybe also a (unfinished) paper of mine about the compatibility of functionalism with causal theories of action, and a background reading or two about functionalism.

Views considered so far treat intentional actions as partly constituted by the mental states of agents: by some combination of their beliefs, desires, and intentions. To get a non-circular picture of action and mind, we should then want an account of the nature of those mental states which does not presuppose facts about intentional action. Functionalism is the view of mental states most likely to provide such an account. I will argue that the conjunction of at least some forms of functionalism with causal theories of action is objectionably circular.

7 Teleological theories of action

Stout, Things That Happen Because They Should (selections); Wilson, The Intentionality of Human Action (selections).

Recent alternatives to causal theories of action.

8 Action and perception

Noë, Action in Perception (selections).

So far we have focused on the relationship between belief, desire, and action; in this section we will look at some recent work which calls into question the assumption that the contents of perception may be understood independently of intentional action.

9 Anscombe and Wittgenstein on intentional action

Anscombe, Intention, 32-51; Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, 612 ff.

We will try to see whether any suggestions for a plausible account of the nature of intentional action can be gained from the (somewhat cryptic) discussion in the second half of Intention and the concluding pages of Part I of the Investigations.

10 Heidegger’s notion of ‘comportment’