Action theory (philosophy)

Last updated

Action theory (or theory of action) is an area in philosophy concerned with theories about the processes causing willful human bodily movements of a more or less complex kind. This area of thought involves epistemology, ethics, metaphysics, jurisprudence, and philosophy of mind, and has attracted the strong interest of philosophers ever since Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics (Third Book). With the advent of psychology and later neuroscience, many theories of action are now subject to empirical testing.

Philosophy intellectual and/or logical study of general and fundamental problems

Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems concerning matters such as existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. The term was probably coined by Pythagoras. Philosophical methods include questioning, critical discussion, rational argument, and systematic presentation. Classic philosophical questions include: Is it possible to know anything and to prove it? What is most real? Philosophers also pose more practical and concrete questions such as: Is there a best way to live? Is it better to be just or unjust? Do humans have free will?

A theory is a contemplative and rational type of abstract or generalizing thinking, or the results of such thinking. Depending on the context, the results might, for example, include generalized explanations of how nature works. The word has its roots in ancient Greek, but in modern use it has taken on several related meanings.

Causality is what connects one process with another process or state, where the first is partly responsible for the second, and the second is partly dependent on the first. In general, a process has many causes, which are said to be causal factors for it, and all lie in its past. An effect can in turn be a cause of, or causal factor for, many other effects, which all lie in its future. Causality is metaphysically prior to notions of time and space.

Contents

Philosophical action theory, or the philosophy of action, should not be confused with sociological theories of social action, such as the action theory established by Talcott Parsons.

Action theory (sociology) sociological theory of social action

In sociology, action theory is the theory of social action presented by the American theorist Talcott Parsons.

Talcott Parsons American sociologist

Talcott Parsons (1902–1979) was a American sociologist of the classical tradition, best known for his social action theory and structural functionalism. Parsons is considered one of the most influential figures in sociology in the 20th century. After earning a PhD in economics, he served on the faculty at Harvard University from 1927 to 1929. In 1930, he was among the first professors in its new sociology department.

What is left over if I subtract the fact that my arm goes up from the fact that I raise my arm?

Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations §621

Ludwig Wittgenstein Austrian-British philosopher

Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein was an Austrian-British philosopher who worked primarily in logic, the philosophy of mathematics, the philosophy of mind, and the philosophy of language. From 1929 to 1947, Wittgenstein taught at the University of Cambridge. During his lifetime he published just one slim book, the 75-page Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1921), one article, one book review and a children's dictionary. His voluminous manuscripts were edited and published posthumously. Philosophical Investigations appeared as a book in 1953, and has since come to be recognised as one of the most important works of philosophy in the 20th century. His teacher, Bertrand Russell, described Wittgenstein as "the most perfect example I have ever known of genius as traditionally conceived; passionate, profound, intense, and dominating".

Overview

Basic action theory typically describes action as behavior caused by an agent in a particular situation. The agent's desires and beliefs (e.g. my wanting a glass of water and believing the clear liquid in the cup in front of me is water) lead to bodily behavior (e.g. reaching over for the glass). In the simple theory (see Donald Davidson), the desire and belief jointly cause the action. Michael Bratman has raised problems for such a view and argued that we should take the concept of intention as basic and not analyzable into beliefs and desires.

Action (philosophy) something an agent can do or perform

In philosophy, an action is that which is done by an agent. In common speech, the term is often used interchangeably with the term "behaviour". However, in the philosophy of action, behavioural sciences, and the social sciences, a distinction is made: behavior is automatic and reflexive activity, while action is an intentional, purposive, conscious and subjectively meaningful activity. Thus, things like running or throwing a grenade is an instance of action; it involves intention, a goal, and a bodily movement guided by the agent. On the other hand, running is not considered an action because it is something which happens to a person, not something done by one.

Donald Davidson (philosopher) American philosopher

Donald Herbert Davidson was an American philosopher. He served as Slusser Professor of Philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley from 1981 to 2003 after having also held teaching appointments at Stanford University, Rockefeller University, Princeton University, and the University of Chicago. Davidson was known for his charismatic personality and the depth and difficulty of his thought. His work exerted considerable influence in many areas of philosophy from the 1960s onward, particularly in philosophy of mind, philosophy of language, and action theory. While Davidson was an analytic philosopher, and most of his influence lies in that tradition, his work has attracted attention in continental philosophy as well, particularly in literary theory and related areas.

Michael E. Bratman is an American philosopher who is Durfee Professor in the School of Humanities & Sciences and Professor of Philosophy at Stanford University.

In some theories a desire plus a belief about the means of satisfying that desire are always what is behind an action. Agents aim, in acting, to maximize the satisfaction of their desires. Such a theory of prospective rationality underlies much of economics and other social sciences within the more sophisticated framework of rational choice. However, many theories of action argue that rationality extends far beyond calculating the best means to achieve one's ends. For instance, a belief that I ought to do X, in some theories, can directly cause me to do X without my having to want to do X (i.e. have a desire to do X). Rationality, in such theories, also involves responding correctly to the reasons an agent perceives, not just acting on wants.

Economics social science that analyzes the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services

Economics is the social science that studies the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services.

Social science is a category of academic disciplines, concerned with society and the relationships among individuals within a society. Social science as a whole has many branches. These social sciences include, but are not limited to: anthropology, archaeology, communication studies, economics, history, human geography, jurisprudence, linguistics, political science, psychology, public health, and sociology. The term is also sometimes used to refer specifically to the field of sociology, the original "science of society", established in the 19th century. For a more detailed list of sub-disciplines within the social sciences see: Outline of social science.

While action theorists generally employ the language of causality in their theories of what the nature of action is, the issue of what causal determination comes to has been central to controversies about the nature of free will.

Free will ability of agents to make choices free from certain kinds of constraints

Free will is the ability to choose between different possible courses of action unimpeded.

Conceptual discussions also revolve around a precise definition of action in philosophy. Scholars may disagree on which bodily movements fall under this category, e.g. whether thinking should be analysed as action, and how complex actions involving several steps to be taken and diverse intended consequences are to be summarised or decomposed.

Scholars

See also

Further reading

Related Research Articles

Metaphilosophy is "the investigation of the nature of philosophy". Its subject matter includes the aims of philosophy, the boundaries of philosophy, and its methods. Thus, while philosophy characteristically inquires into the nature of being, the reality of objects, the possibility of knowledge, the nature of truth, and so on, metaphilosophy is the self-reflective inquiry into the nature, aims, and methods of the activity that makes these kinds of inquiries, by asking what is philosophy itself, what sorts of questions it should ask, how it might pose and answer them, and what it can achieve in doing so. It is considered by some to be a subject prior and preparatory to philosophy, while others see it as inherently a part of philosophy, or automatically a part of philosophy while others adopt some combination of these views. The interest in metaphilosophy led to the establishment of the journal Metaphilosophy in January 1970.

Analytic philosophy style of philosophy

Analytic philosophy is a style of philosophy that became dominant in the Western world at the beginning of the 20th century. The term can refer to one of several things:

Moore's paradox concerns the apparent absurdity involved in asserting a first-person present-tense sentence such as, "It's raining, but I don't believe that it is raining" or "It's raining but I believe that it is not raining." The first author to note this apparent absurdity was G. E. Moore. These 'Moorean' sentences, as they have become known, are paradoxical in that while they appear absurd, they nevertheless:

  1. Can be true,
  2. Are (logically) consistent, and moreover
  3. Are not (obviously) contradictions.
John McDowell philosopher and academic

John Henry McDowell is a South African philosopher, formerly a fellow of University College, Oxford and now University Professor at the University of Pittsburgh. Although he has written extensively on metaphysics, epistemology, ancient philosophy, and meta-ethics, McDowell's most influential work has been in the philosophy of mind and philosophy of language. McDowell was one of three recipients of the 2010 Andrew W. Mellon Foundation's Distinguished Achievement Award. and is a Fellow of both the American Academy of Arts & Sciences and the British Academy.

Peter Thomas Geach was a British philosopher and professor of logic at the University of Leeds. His areas of interest were the history of philosophy, philosophical logic, ethics, philosophy of religion, and the theory of identity.

Analytical Thomism

Analytical Thomism is a philosophical movement which promotes the interchange of ideas between the thought of Saint Thomas Aquinas, and modern analytic philosophy.

Ordinary language philosophy is a philosophical methodology that sees traditional philosophical problems as rooted in misunderstandings philosophers develop by distorting or forgetting what words actually mean in everyday use. "Such 'philosophical' uses of language, on this view, create the very philosophical problems they are employed to solve." Ordinary language philosophy is a branch of linguistic philosophy closely related to logical positivism.

G. E. M. Anscombe British analytic philosopher

Gertrude Elizabeth Margaret Anscombe, usually cited as G. E. M. Anscombe or Elizabeth Anscombe, was a British analytic philosopher. She wrote on the philosophy of mind, philosophy of action, philosophical logic, philosophy of language, and ethics. She was a prominent figure of analytical Thomism.

Jennifer Hornsby, FBA is a British philosopher with interests in the philosophies of mind, action, language, as well as feminist philosophy. She is currently a professor at the School of Philosophy, Birkbeck, University of London. She is well known for her opposition to orthodoxy in current analytic philosophy of mind, and for her use of J. L. Austin's Speech Act Theory to look at the effects of pornography.

Akrasia, occasionally transliterated as acrasia or Anglicised as acrasy or acracy, is described as a lack of self-control or the state of acting against one's better judgment. The adjectival form is "akratic".

Peter Michael Stephan Hacker is a British philosopher. His principal expertise is in the philosophy of mind and philosophy of language. He is known for his detailed exegesis of the work of Ludwig Wittgenstein, and his outspoken conceptual critique of cognitive neuroscience.

Kantian ethics ethical theory of Immanuel Kant

Kantian ethics refers to a deontological ethical theory ascribed to the German philosopher Immanuel Kant. The theory, developed as a result of Enlightenment rationalism, is based on the view that the only intrinsically good thing is a good will; an action can only be good if its maxim – the principle behind it – is duty to the moral law. Central to Kant's construction of the moral law is the categorical imperative, which acts on all people, regardless of their interests or desires. Kant formulated the categorical imperative in various ways. His principle of universalizability requires that, for an action to be permissible, it must be possible to apply it to all people without a contradiction occurring. If a contradiction occurs the act violates Aristotle's "Non-contradiction" concept which states that just actions cannot lead to contradictions. Kant's formulation of humanity, the second section of the Categorical Imperative, states that as an end in itself humans are required never to treat others merely as a means to an end, but always, additionally, as ends in themselves. The formulation of autonomy concludes that rational agents are bound to the moral law by their own will, while Kant's concept of the Kingdom of Ends requires that people act as if the principles of their actions establish a law for a hypothetical kingdom. Kant also distinguished between perfect and imperfect duties. A perfect duty, such as the duty not to lie, always holds true; an imperfect duty, such as the duty to give to charity, can be made flexible and applied in particular time and place.

Alfred Remen Mele is an American philosopher and the William H. and Lucyle T. Werkmeister Professor of Philosophy at Florida State University. He is also the Director of the Philosophy and Science of Self-Control Project and past director of the Big Questions in Free Will Project (2010-2013). Mele is the author of ten books and over 200 articles.

<i>Naming and Necessity</i> philosophy book by Saul Kripke

Naming and Necessity is a 1980 book with the transcript of three lectures, given by the philosopher Saul Kripke, at Princeton University in 1970, in which he dealt with the debates of proper names in the philosophy of language. The transcript was brought out originally in 1972 in Semantics of Natural Language, edited by Donald Davidson and Gilbert Harman. Among analytic philosophers, Naming and Necessity is widely considered one of the most important philosophical works of the twentieth century.

Ludwig Wittgensteins philosophy of mathematics

Ludwig Wittgenstein considered his chief contribution to philosophy to be in the philosophy of mathematics, a topic to which he devoted much of his work between 1929 and 1944. As with his philosophy of language, Wittgenstein's views on mathematics evolved from the period of the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, changing from logicism which was endorsed by his mentor Bertrand Russell, to a general anti-foundationalism and constructivism that was not readily accepted by the mathematical community. The main source in Wittgenstein's thinking on mathematics is the text compiled as Remarks on the Foundations of Mathematics, which contains the late Wittgenstein's views, notably a controversial repudiation of Gödel's incompleteness theorems. The success of Wittgenstein's general philosophy has tended to displace the real debates on more technical issues.

Collective intentionality

In the philosophy of mind, collective intentionality characterizes the intentionality that occurs when two or more individuals undertake a task together. Examples include two individuals carrying a heavy table up a flight of stairs or dancing a tango.

Constantine Sandis, FRSA is a Greek and British philosopher working on philosophy of action, moral psychology, David Hume, and Ludwig Wittgenstein.