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We think less than we think. My thesis moves from this suspicion to show that standard accounts of intentional action can't explain the whole of agency. Causalist accounts such as Davidson's and Bratman's, according to which an action can be intentional only if it is caused by a particular mental state of the agent, don't work for every kind of action. So-called automatic actions, effortless performances over which the agent doesn't deliberate, and to which she doesn't need to pay attention, constitute exceptions to the causalist framework, or so I argue in this thesis. Not all actions are the result of a mental struggle, painful hesitation, or the weighting of evidence. Through practice, many performances become second nature. Think of familiar cases such as one's morning routines and habits: turning on the radio, brushing your teeth....
From time to time we explain what people do by referring to their habits. We explain somebody’s putting the kettle on in the morning as done through “force of habit”. We explain somebody’s missing a turning by saying that she carried straight on “out of habit”. And we explain somebody’s biting her nails as a manifestation of “a bad habit”. These are all examples of what will be referred to here as habit explanations. Roughly speaking, they explain by referring to a pattern of a particular kind of behaviour which is regularly performed in characteristic circumstances, and has become automatic for that agent due to this repetition. Admittedly, we only use habit explanations in everyday life rather rarely. Standard contexts include drawing attention to some (perhaps objectionable) idiosyncrasy, like nail biting, or when one’s habits lead ...
In this paper I offer a critique of the view made popular by Davidson that rationalization is a species of causal explanation, and propose instead that in many cases the explanatory relation is constitutive. Given Davidson’s conception of rationalization, which allows that a huge range of states gathered under the heading ‘pro attitude’ could rationalize an action, I argue that whilst the causal thesis may have some merit for some such ‘attitudes’, it has none for others. The problematic ‘attitudes’ are those which can be attributed to the agent only on the basis of her history of doing this sort of thing. In other words, they are among the agent’s habits. I argue that such temporally extended states cannot be the causes of any present occurrence. Instead, I suggest we should think of the present action as partly constituting the state...
Ruling Passions is Simon Blackburn’s latest attempt to defend a theory of practical reason which he calls “expressivism”.2 In the first three chapters Blackburn outlines an account of how we should understand statements of right, good and virtue, as well as their negative counterparts (“the Ethical [or Moral] Proposition”, as he terms this amalgam). This he calls “quasi-realism”. I shall describe what this position entails in the first section. Secondly I shall consider the opposition to this view advanced by McDowell (1987), who in turn takes his inspiration from Wiggins (1976a, 1976b). Finally I shall assess Blackburn’s reply to McDowell and Wiggins (found in Chapter 4 of RP), and argue that it is inadequate.
We are creatures of habit. Familiar ways of doing things in familiar contexts become automatic for us. That is to say, when we acquire a habit we can act without thinking about it at all. Habits free our minds to think about other things. Without this capacity for habitual action our daily lives would be impossible. Our minds would be crowded with innumerable mundane considerations and decisions. Habitual actions are not always mundane. Aristotle famously said that acting morally is a matter of exercising the right habits.2 For him, a lack of conscious thought is no bar on an action’s moral status. Habits are involved in our most prized activities. Of course our natural capacity for acquiring habits is sometimes a nuisance, and we acquire bad habits all too easily. But we nevertheless could not do without a vast array of habits which a...
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