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Course Content 2013-2014

In the first half to the term we’ll study three agenda-setting works from post-war philosophy of action: by Ellizabeth Anscombe, Donald Davidson and Bernard Williams. In each week we’ll focus on a piece of core reading, but also look at some of the reactions and debates it generated (see ‘supplementary reading’).

The best way to prepare for the course is to get hold of a copy of Elizabeth Anscombe’s Intention (the bookshop should have copies) and get stuck into it. It’s not an easy read but massively rewarding and occasionally very funny. Partly because the issues we’ll discuss straddle the traditional divide between the philosophy of mind and ethics, I know of no textbook that covers the syllabus for this module. For general background reading you might look at any of the following:

  • R. Stout, Action
  • T. O'Connor C. Sandis (eds.), A Companion to the Philosophy of Action
  • L. Davis, Theory of Action
  • G. Wilson, ‘Action’, Stanford Encyclopediea of Philosophy
  • J. Wallace, ‘Practical Reason', Stanford Encyclopediea of Philosophy

Handouts

  • ​Essay questions (for non-assessed essays)
  • Essay questions (for assessed essays)
Week 1

Anscombe (1): Intentions and Intentional Action

Anscombe, Intention, pp. 1-47, esp. §§1-16, 23-26

Supplementary reading:

  • Davidson, ‘Agency’, in his Essays on Actions and Events (for an influential version of the view that actions are events that are intentional under some description)
  • O'Shaughnessy, The Will (first edition), ch. 10 (for a defence of the view that there are ‘sub-intentional’ actions)
  • O'Shaughnessy, The Will (second edition), ch. 10 (for a retraction of that view)
  • R. Hursthouse, 'Arational Actions', Journal of Philosophy 88 (1991) (for an argument against the idea that to act intentionally is to act in a way that’s open to a reason-giving explanation)
  • H. Steward, ‘Sub-intentional Actions and the Over-mentalization of Agency’, in C. Sandis, New Essays on the Explanation of Action
Week 2

Anscombe (2): Practical Reasoning

Anscombe, Intention, §§ 33-44 (pp.57ff)

Supplementary reading:

• C. Vogler, ‘Anscombe on Practical Inference’, in E. Milgram, Varieties of Practical Reasoning
• J. Raz, ‘Practical Reasoning’, in his From Normativity to Responsibility
• B. Stroud, ‘Practical Reasoning’, in his Philosophers Past and Present
• F. Schueler, Reasons and Purposes, ch. 4

Week 3

Anscombe (3): Practical Knowledge

Anscombe, Intention, §§ 8, 28-33, 45-52

Supplementary reading:
• R.Hursthouse, 'Intention', Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplement 2000
• K. Donnellan, 'Knowing what I am Doing', Journal of Philosophy 1963
• S. Hampshire, Freedom of the Individual, ch. 2
• K. Falvey, ‘Knowledge in Intention’, Philosophical Studies 99, 2000.
• B. O'Shaughnessy, ‘Observation and the Will’, Journal of Philosophy 1963
• M. Thompson, 'Anscombe's Intention and Practical Knowledge', in A. Ford et al (eds.), Essays on Anscombe's Intention.
• R. Moran, ‘Anscombe on Practical Knowledge’, in J. Hyman & H. Steward (eds.), Agency and Action.
• N. Eilan & R. Roessler (eds.), Agency and Self-awareness. Esp. the chapters by Lucy O'Brien, Tony Marcel and Brian O'Shaughnessy
• J. Roessler, ‘The Epistemic Role of Intentions’, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 2012/13

Week 4

Davidson: Reason Explanation

D.Davidson, ‘Actions, Reasons, and Causes’

Supplementary reading:

• W. Child, Causality, Interpretation and the Mind, chapter 3
• J. Hornsby, ‘Agency and Causal Explanation’, in her Simple Mindedness
• — ‘Actions in their Circumstances’, in A. Ford et al (eds.), Essays on Anscombe’s Intention.
• F. Schueler, ‘Action Explanations: Causes and Purposes’, in B. Malle et al, Intentions and Intentionality
• A. Mele, ‘Teleological Explanations of Actions: Anticausalism versus Causalism’, in J. Aguilar & A. Buckareff (eds.), Causing Human Actions
• J. Dancy, Practical Reality

Week 5

Williams: Reasons and Motivation

B. Williams: ‘Internal and external reasons’, in his Moral Luck.
Reprinted in J. Adler & L. Rips. (eds.), Reasoning. Studies of Human Inference and its Foundations, chapter 3 (p. 60ff), available here.
Supplementary reading:

• H. James, Owen Wingrave (available at http://www.henryjames.org.uk/owenw/ )
• T. Scanlon, What we Owe to Each Other, Appendix and chapter 1 (esp. pp. 41-49)
• D. Parfit, 'Reasons and Motivation, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society Suppl Vol. LXXI 1997
• J. McDowell, ‘Might there be external reasons?’, in J. Altham & R. Harrison (eds.), World, Mind and Morality.
• B. Williams, ‘Reply to McDowell’, in J. Altham & R. Harrison (eds.), World, Mind and Morality.
• — ‘Internal reasons and the obscurity of blame’, in his Making Sense of Humanity
• — 'Some Further Notes on Internal and External Reasons', in E. Millgram (ed.), Varieties of Practical Reasoning
• — ‘ Values, Reasons, and the Theory of Persuasion’, in his Philosophy as a Humanistic Discipline
• J. Raz, 'Reasons: Explanatory and Normative', in his From Normativity to Responsibility
• C. Korsgaard, ‘Scepticism about practical reason’, in her Creating the Kingdom of Ends
• U. Heuer, ‘Thick concepts and internal reasons’ (in U. Heuer & G. Lang (eds.), Luck, Value, and Commitment


Week 7

Bratman: Intentions and Plans

M.Bratman, Intention, Plans and Practical Reasoning chs. 2 and 3 (I've also scanned chs. 1 (Introduction) and 7 (helpful summary of some key points).)
[Note that these are zip files — downloading may take a couple of minutes.]
chapters 1,2
chapters 3,7

Supplementary reading:

• Davidson, 'Intending', in his Essays on Actions and Events, ch. 5
• K. Setiya, 'Intention', Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
• Bratman, 'Davidson's Theory of Intention', reprinted In his Faces of Intention, ch. 11
• D. Velleman, 'What Good Is a Will?', in A. Leist (ed.) Action in Context
• A. Millar, Understanding People, esp. ch. 3 - 5

Week 8

Is instrumental rationality a myth?

M.Bratman, 'Intention rationality'

Supplementary reading:

• J. Raz, 'The myth of instrumental rationality', in his From Normativity to Responsibility
• N. Kolodny, 'Why by rational?', Mind 2005
• C.Korsgaard, 'The normativity of instrumental reason', in G. Cullity & B. Gaut (eds.), Ethics and Practical Reason

Week 9

Reasons: facts or mental states?

Jennifer Hornsby, 'A Disjunctive Conception of Acting for Reasons', in A. Haddock & F. Macpherson (eds.), Disjunctivism

Supplementary reading:

• J. Raz, 'Reasons: Explanatory and Normative', in his From Normativity to Responsibility
• J. Dancy, Practical Reality (link under week 4)
• J. Dancy, 'On how to Act — Disjunctively', in A. Haddock & F. Macpherson (eds.), Disjunctivism
• J. McDowell, 'Acting in the Light of a Fact', in D. Bakhurst et al. (eds.) Thinking About Reason
• J. Hawthorne & J. Stanley, 'Knowledge and Action', Journal of Philosophy 2008

Week 10
Agency

H. Steward, ‘Sub-intentional Actions and the Over-mentalization of Agency’, in C. Sandis, New Essays on the Explanation of Action (ch. 16, pp. 295-312)

Supplementary reading:
• S. Della Sala, 'The Anarchic Hand', The Psychologist 18, 2005
• also see supplementary reading under week 1