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\title {Mind and Reality \\ Lecture 11}

Lecture 11:

Mind & Reality

\def \ititle {Lecture 11}
\def \isubtitle {Mind & Reality}
\textbf{\ititle}: \isubtitle
\iemail %
\section{Recap: Action}
\section{Recap: Action}


What is the mark that distinguishes actions?


‘The problem of action is to explicate the contrast between
what an agent does
what merely happens to him‘


Frankfurt, 1978 p. 157

Can’t be some feature of the behaviour itself, some kinematic marker?
use in particular the falling sequence from aroudn 1:30 film: buster keaton, The Three Ages starting around 58:30 in the film


Intentionally falling.

mere events

Accidentally falling.

Also can’t be coordination of movements, since your movements can be highly coordinated even if you are not acting.
Harold Lloyd's "Safety Last" end of the famous bit where he’s on top of the building and then swings

Swinging on a rope.

Being swung on a rope.


What is the mark that distinguishes actions?


‘The problem of action is to explicate the contrast between
what an agent does
what merely happens to him‘


Frankfurt, 1978 p. 157

It is intention.

‘According to causal theories [...] the essential difference between events of the two types [actions vs things that merely happen to an agent] is to be found in their prior causal histories: a [pattern of joint displacements and bodily configurations] is an action if and only if it results from antecedents of a certain kind .’


Frankfurt, 1978 p. 157

Ie intentions

Frankfurt’s Argument from Spiders

[email protected]

\section{Frankfurt’s Argument from Spiders}
\emph{Reading:} §Frankfurt, Harry G. ‘The Problem of Action’. American Philosophical Quarterly 15, no. 2 (1978): 157–62.
\section{Frankfurt’s Argument from Spiders}
there are at least four different arguments there are at least four different arguments and it would be good to look at frankfurt's arguments but
the most interesting and most exciting one is what i'm going to call frankfurt's argument from spiders okay this is the one i think it's got the most legs
[Not sure whether to cast this as an objection to causal theories or as a generally interesting argument? Maybe Davidson vs Frankfurt opposition could start from the Frankfurt’s Argument from Spiders and then go on to guidance vs causal history?]

I will take you through it then ask you to reconstruct the argument.

‘the contrast between actions and mere happenings can readily be discerned elsewhere than in the lives of people.

There are numerous agents besides ourselves, who may be active as well as passive with respect to the movements of their bodies.’

Including spiders.

you take a spider and you're watching it the spider is scuttling across its web that would count as an action now you pick up the spider and you kind of move it across the web yourself now the spine is still moving across the web but this is something that's happening to the spider it's not an action that the spider is performing the poor thing is really you know all curled up doesn't want to play

‘The two contrasts [one in the case of humans, one in the case of spiders] are the same’

‘Each contrasts

instances in which purposive behavior is attributable to a creature as agent and

instances in which

this is not the case.’

Explications of the distinction between actions and events that merely happen to an agent cannot rely on ‘distinctive higher faculties which characteristically come into play when a person acts’, nor ‘upon concepts which are inapplicable to spiders’.


Frankfurt, 1978 p. 162

reconstruct the argument

// i'm about to offer you a reconstruction but what you want to do // afterwards is just check out the quotes and see if the reconstruction // fits

1. There is a contrast between actions and mere happenings in the lives of spiders.

2. The contrast in the lives of humans is the same.

3. Spiders do not have intentions, nor do they deliberate about what to do.

Therefore (from 1 & 3):

4. The contrast in the case of spiders cannot be explicated by appeal to intention.

Therefore (from 2 & 4):

5. The contrast in the case of humans cannot be explicated by appeal to intention.

frankfurt we don't trust okay dretzki we trust dretzki so the assumption the default working assumption withdretzky is that if he's giving us an argument it may be difficult for us to understand it and reconstruct it but when we do that we're going to get an argument which is good the default working assumption for frankfurt is different the default working assumption here is that his arguments are not going to work this i think is one of the one of the exceptions that's not really a criticism of frankfurt because he's one of the most interesting philosophers that you could ever you know encounter right so the bizarre thing about frankfurt is that most of his arguments don't seem to work very well there's massive holes in them and yet he's super interesting as a thinker really curious so if we're doing like a sort of central themes in philosophy we want to tour a range of different philosophers we've got like the sharp people who are really good at argument they're interesting in their own way and then we've got other people who are really pretty bad at argument but somehow bizarrely interesting and provocative i'm so curious i don't know what philosophy is anymore
Here’s what I said the first time I presented this argument ...
‘no matter how much research you do you will not come up with a convincing argument for the claim that spiders have intentions and deliberate about what to do right i don't think you're going to come up with a good explanation of spider behavior in terms of a framework that involves deliberation and intention’ [oops!]
‘if you study theories about spider behavior and the kind of explanations for spider behavior you see that there's no role really for intentions to play in spider behavior’ [oops++!]
it's actually quite similar with two year olds so you know yesterday we were talking about beliefs and desires and intentions we're really in effect we were thinking look intentions are important for agents who have capacities to plan where planning involves dealing with multiple conflicting potential futures yeah now when you have a two-year-old or a spider these are agents which have little interest in and probably little capacity before but certainly little interest in dealing with multiple conflicting futures yeah take a nine-month-old this is really good fun you've got a nine-month-old that's capable of grasping with a single hand it's a marvelous achievement put give the nine month old one attractive object put it in this hand give the nine month old another attractive object put it in this hand now the nine month old has an object in each hand now come up with the super attractive object and offer it to the nine month old what does the nine month old do
these are animals for which intention plays no role right because intention is linked to the ability to plan your actions over time make trade-offs between the two and these are not agents that are capable or interested in making those kind of trade-offs
what i'm suggesting to you briefly is that the first premise and the third premise there is a low probability of showing that those are false however when it comes to the second premise here i think that there is quite a lot of mileage so suppose that we wanted the most compelling objection to the argument why not take this premise
Do you understand the argument? If so, is it sound + valid?
\section{Interim Conclusion on Spiders}
\emph{Reading:} §Frankfurt, Harry G. ‘The Problem of Action’. American Philosophical Quarterly 15, no. 2 (1978): 157–62.
\section{Interim Conclusion on Spiders}


In conclusion, ...

What is the mark that distinguishes actions?

Davidson’s View

It is intention.


Frankfurt’s Argument from Spiders

Frankfurt’s View

Action is ‘behaviour whose course is under the guidance of an agent’.

why i think frankfurt is most interesting it's not so much the objections that frankfurt offers it's the fact that he offers a different way of thinking about agency

Two Problems:

What is guidance?

When is guidance ‘attributable to an agent’?

Consider that the spider’s movements walking on the web are guided by the web’s structure. And similarly for your actions when driving on the roads. (Guiding is not only something you do, but something that is done to you.)
if you are walking across a cattle grid you are guided by the structure of the cattle grid yeah if i strap you to an exercise bike and make the wheels turn then the motion of the wheels is guiding your actions so what frankfurt can't be thinking is that whenever there's any kind of guidance there's agency and action he must be thinking there's guidance that as he says is attributable to the agent the question for us is well you know what's going on there that looks like we might be back to the first question