Mind and Reality

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A course at the University of Warwick.

Lecture 10

Date given: Wednesday 4th November 2020

This is the main page for Lecture 10. I have also put backup recordings here. Or, if you prefer, you can see the slides with no audio or video here.

Action: The Question

‘The problem of action is to explicate the contrast between what an agent does and what merely happens to him’ (Frankfurt, 1978 p. 157).

Reading (optional):

  • Frankfurt, Harry G. ‘The Problem of Action’. American Philosophical Quarterly 15, no. 2 (1978): 157–62.
  • Davidson, D. (1971). Agency. In Binkley, R., Bronaugh, R., and Marras, A., editors, Agent, Action, and Reason,, pages 3–25. University of Toronto Press, Toronto. Reprinted in Davidson, D. (1980) Essays on Actions and Events. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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Action: Three Basic Principles

Discussion about action should be informed by three basic principles. Actions have hierarchical structures. Actions are individuated by outcomes. And one action can have multiple descriptions.

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Causes of Action: Belief and Desire

In order to predict a person’s next action, what is the minimum you need to know? Plausibly this includes what the person believes about actions available to her and their consequences; and also how desirable the person finds the various consequences.

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Belief and desire alone are not sufficient for action. But beliefs and desires do shape deliberation about what to do. Deliberation characteristically results in intention. And intentions control action.

Reading (optional):

  • Davidson, D. (1978 [1980]). Intending. In Essays on Actions and Events, pages 83–102. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  • Bratman, M. E. (1985). Davidson’s theory of intention. In Vermazen, B. and Hintikka, M., editors, Essays on Davidson: Actions and Events, pages 13–26. Oxford University Press, Oxford. Reprinted in Bratman, M. (1999) Faces of Intention. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (pp. 209–224).

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Interim Conclusion on Action

What is the mark that distinguishes actions? It is intention.

Reading (optional): Frankfurt, Harry G. ‘The Problem of Action’. American Philosophical Quarterly 15, no. 2 (1978): 157–62.