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Theory of Human Action

Theory of Human Action

Copyright Date: 1970
Pages: 230
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  • Book Info
    Theory of Human Action
    Book Description:

    This book articulates an original scheme for the conceptualization of action. Beginning with a new approach to the individuation of acts, it delineates the relationships between basic and non-basic acts and uses these relationships in the definition of ability and intentional action. The author exhibits the central role of wants and beliefs in the causation of acts and in the analysis of the concept of action.

    Professor Goldman suggests answers to fundamental questions about acts, and develops a set of ideas and principles that can be used in the philosophy of mind, the philosophy of language, ethics, and other fields, including the behavioral sciences.

    Originally published in 1977.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6897-1
    Subjects: Psychology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Preface
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. 1-19)

    What is an act? One of the problems concerning the nature of acts is the problem of individuation. Suppose that John does each of the following things (all at the same time): (1) he moves his hand, (2) he frightens away a fly, (3) he moves his queen to king-knight-seven, (4) he checkmates his opponent, (5) he gives his opponent a heart attack, and (6) he wins his first chess game ever. Has John here performedsixacts? Or has he only performedoneact, of which six different descriptions have been given? Again, suppose that John (1) moves his...

  5. CHAPTER TWO The Structure of Action
    (pp. 20-48)

    We saw in Chapter One that a delineation of the class of act-tokens requires an explanation of the way in which nonbasic act-tokens are related to basic act-tokens. Such an explanation will be provided in this chapter. In the process of giving this explanation, however, I shall have to presuppose an intuitive idea of an act-token. Thus, I shall make use of the notion of an act-token even though I have yet to give a full definition of it.

    The importance of the present study is not confined to its usefulness in defining the concept of an act (-token). It...

  6. CHAPTER THREE Intentional Action
    (pp. 49-85)

    A central feature of human nature is that people do thingsintentionally,oron purpose.The nature of intentionality, or purposefulness, has long been the topic of philosophical discussion, and in this chapter I shall attempt to analyze this concept. One of the main notions to be used in my analysis of intentional action is that ofwanting.A detailed discussion of this notion will be presented in Chapter Four, but some preliminary remarks are necessary here.

    Like many words in ordinary language, “want” has various broader and narrower uses or senses. In one of its narrower uses, “wanting” is...

  7. CHAPTER FOUR Wanting
    (pp. 86-125)

    John is concentrating on finishing the lawn by six o’clock. He is giving all his attention to mowing it as quickly as possible, with the thought of getting done by six. During this period, whether it be a few seconds or a whole minute, John has anoccurrentwant to finish mowing the lawn by six o’clock. The thought of finishing the lawn by sixoccursto him, occupies his attention, fills his consciousness. It is a datable event or process. During the same period it would also be correct to say that John wanted to be president of his...

  8. CHAPTER FIVE Explanations of Action in the Behavioral Sciences
    (pp. 126-169)

    The nature of commonsense explanations of action in terms of wants and beliefs has now been examined. I call such explanations “commonsense” explanations for two reasons. First, they require no specialized knowledge or intensive study either to understand or to employ; every mature human being of normal intelligence uses such explanations frequently. Secondly, their legitimacy is taken for granted in everyday life and everyday conversation. Explanations of action in terms of wants and beliefs, or in terms of aims, purposes, goals, reasons, etc., are so widespread that they normally occasion no comment or criticism. A particular explanation might be challenged...

  9. CHAPTER SIX Determinism and Predictability
    (pp. 170-196)

    I have maintained that acts arecaused, but I have not maintained, at least not until now, that acts aredetermined. To say that an event is determined is to say something that implies the existence of universal laws pertaining to that event. Pending an adequate analysis of causality, however, it is not obvious that it must be analyzed in terms of laws. Moreover, even if causality must be analyzed in terms of laws of some sort, it is not evident thatuniversallaws are required. It is possible that although acts are caused, the laws pertaining to them are...

  10. CHAPTER SEVEN Ability, Excuses, and Constraint
    (pp. 197-221)

    At the end of the last chapter I indicated that the fact that an (actual) act A was determined does not entail that it was not in the agent’s power to refrain from doing it. The fact that an act was causally necessitated does not entail that he was not able to do otherwise. In this section I shall present an analysis of the notion of “having it in one’s power” to perform an act, Or of “being able” to perform an act, which will, among other things, provide a defense for this position.

    It must be admitted from the...

  11. Epilogue: A Look Back and A Look Ahead
    (pp. 222-226)

    This book has had two major objectives: first, to develop a set of conceptual tools for dealing with human action, and second, to use these tools in defending a causal model of human behavior in which wants and beliefs play a crucial role. Let me briefly review the main results.

    In the first two chapters (and part of the third) I analyzed the concept of an act and formulated procedures for dealing with acts in a precise, yet general, way. I argued for a “property” criterion of individuating act-tokens, according to which particular instances of different properties, such as John’s...

  12. Index
    (pp. 227-230)