Rowland Stout
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 176
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    By focusing on the idea that agency involves causal sensitivity to reasons, Rowland Stout shows how agency is one of the most useful ways into the philosophy of mind: if one can understand what it is to be a free and rational agent, then one can understand what it is to be a conscious subject of experience. Some of the questions considered include: Is all action intentional action? Is intentional action characterized by its relation with possible justification? Do beliefs motivate actions or do facts? What is the nature of the causal process of acting? Are intentions independent components in the explanation of action?

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-8553-9
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. 1 Introduction: inward-looking and outward-looking approaches to agency
    (pp. 1-14)

    At the very heart of our conception of what it is to be a person is the idea that we (as people) are bothsubjectsandagents. Being subjects of experience, we are conscious of ourselves and our world. We are receptive to the way things are, and have perceptual and emotional experiences as part of that receptivity. But we also act on our world. We change it in the light of our reasons. We are agents as well as subjects: active as well as passive. Action and experience, agency and consciousness, hand in hand make up our very nature....

  5. 2 Acting for a reason
    (pp. 15-32)

    In 1957 Elizabeth Anscombe published a groundbreaking book in the philosophy of action calledIntention. Partly inspired by Wittgenstein and partly inspired by Aristotle, she sought to provide an outward-looking account of action. She started off by asking the question: what distinguishes actions that are intentional from those that are not? Her answer was: “that they are the actions to which a certain sense of the question ‘Why?’ is given application; the sense is of course that in which the answer, if positive, gives a reason for acting” (1957: 9). Although Anscombe did not put it as bluntly as this,...

  6. 3 Reasons and passions
    (pp. 33-52)

    In chapter 1 I distinguished two very broad approaches to the philosophy of action: the inward-looking approach and the outward-looking approach. According to the inward-looking approach we should look for the essence of agency in certain characteristic mental states, events or acts that accompany or cause physical behaviour. According to the outward-looking approach, we should look for the essence of agency in the acting agent’s relationship with their environment: the adaptability of what they do to what theyshoulddo given the way the world is.

    The idea, introduced in Chapter 2, that intentional action is essentially subject to justification...

  7. 4 Agent causation
    (pp. 53-68)

    Whether the concept of action is a causal concept is a philosophical question that seems so far removed from any real concerns that it may be hard to drum up any interest in it. It is tempting to say “Yes, it obviously is; and so what?” But in fact it is not obvious; and it is important. The answer to this question effectively determines the structure of one’s whole approach to the philosophy of action. If the answer is yes, then we have to work out how to characterize the causal nature of action, and by doing this will have...

  8. 5 Mental causation
    (pp. 69-82)

    In Chapter 2 I introduced the idea running through the work of Aristotle, Kant, Anscombe and Davidson, to name a few, that explanation of action involves justifying that action or making it rationally intelligible, and that the appropriateness of such an explanation is a conceptual requirement for talking about action. I talked about justification rather than just about making actions rationally intelligible, arguing that reasonsforacting justify action in a weak relativistic sense. But I also suggested in Chapter 3 that some facts, while not counting as reasons for acting, may revealhowthe action is justified; they may...

  9. 6 Deviant causal chains and causal processes
    (pp. 83-98)

    Suppose we accept that the causal theory of action provides a necessary condition for intentional action. This means that if an agent acts intentionally then some state they are in or some aspect of their psychology causes the event of their behaving in a certain way or their body moving in a certain way or certain other results being achieved. It does not follow that this is asufficientcondition: thatifthe causal condition is met then the agent must be acting intentionally. Indeed it would follow from the possibility of deviant causal chains — a possibility I consider in...

  10. 7 Acting with an intention
    (pp. 99-118)

    It seems very natural to suppose that acting intentionally is acting with an intention. Since having an intention is being in a certain state of mind, it follows that acting intentionally essentially involves being in a certain state of mind. This may appear to support an inward-looking approach to agency: an approach that attempts to find the essence of agency in some aspect of the agent’s state of mind. But this defence of an inward-looking approach depends on an inward-looking approach to intentions. Its correctness depends on intentions being mental entities that can be understood independently of their role in...

  11. 8 Prior intention
    (pp. 119-136)

    Davidson changed his mind about intentions between the time of his earlier article, “Actions, Reasons and Causes” and the slightly later one, “Intending” (1980: essay 5). In his earlier article he was keen to avoid what I have described as an inward-looking approach, and thought that the way to do this was to treat acting with an intention as the primary notion. His unstated presumption was thatpriorintentions might be understandable in terms of acting with an intention. His idea in the first article was that acting with an intention was having a reason for acting in a certain...

  12. 9 The metaphysics of action
    (pp. 137-152)

    In this final chapter I want to explore the metaphysics of action. By metaphysics I do not mean anything unworldly or unobservable. The question at issue here is what sort of thing an action is if it is a thing at all. Can we identify actions with things that we have a better understanding of? Are actions identical with body movements? Or are they identical with sequences of things starting inside the agent’s mind with their intentions, going through their body movements and finishing with external results being achieved? We can also ask about the spatial and temporal extent or...

  13. Conclusion
    (pp. 153-154)

    Back in Chapter 1 I introduced a distinction between an inward-looking and an outward-looking approach to agency and action. In Chapter 2 I described a rationalistic approach to agency according to which what characterizes intentional action is that it is subject to justification. In Chapter 3 I argued that the reasons that figure in the justification of action are generally considerations in the world outside the mind of the agent. This means that the rationalistic approach to agency is still an outward-looking approach.

    Then I tried to work out how to characterize the causal aspect of agency. In Chapter 4...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 155-158)
  15. Suggestions for further reading
    (pp. 159-160)
  16. References
    (pp. 161-162)
  17. Index
    (pp. 163-165)