Philosophy | Philosophy of Action
P366 | 26356 | Leite


Thereís an important difference between what happens when I raise my
hand (in the ordinary way) to scratch my head and what happens when
my hand rises in the air because someone has pulled a rope that is
tied to it.  There is also an important difference between what
happens when I raise my hand (in the ordinary way) and when my hand
goes up as the result of a seizure.  There is even an important
difference between what happens when I raise my hand in the ordinary
way and what happens when, while occupied with something else, I
notice that Iíve raised my hand to scratch my head. Many philosophers
have felt that getting clear about these differences and what they
involve will provide deep insight into what it is to be a person, as
distinct from a piece of inanimate matter or a mere animal.  Our
overall goal will be to see whether, and how, thatís right.  We will
study a variety of issues:  what an action is and what distinguishes
actions from other kinds of events or happenings; the nature of
intention; what we are doing when we explain someoneís action in
terms of his or her reasons for performing it, and whether that kind
of explanation is fundamentally different from the kind of
explanation (causal explanation) that is generally sought in
scientific accounts of what happens; the kind of knowledge we have of
our own actions; why actions Ė unlike peopleís involuntary
movements Ė
are the kinds of things for which we think it appropriate to hold
people responsible.  Our guiding question will be whether there is
some kind of clash between scientific ways of thinking about what
happens when people act and the way of understanding people thatís in
play when we identify, explain, and hold them accountable for their
actions.  Are two fundamentally different ways of understanding human
beings operative here?  If so, are they compatible, or are they in
tension?

The course will involve careful reading of important texts from
contemporary Analytic Philosophy.  Many of these texts will be
difficult, and students should be prepared to devote substantial time
to reading and reflecting critically upon the course materials.
There will be several papers, regular short writing assignments, a
mid-term and a final exam.  Prerequisite:  3 credit hours in
Philosophy.