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Reason And Action Essay

879 words - 4 pages

There has been much debate about how and why humans act. One argument stems from the Causal Theory of Action. This position, popularized by philosophers such as Donald Davidson Davidson, posits that reason explanations are causal explanations: an agent's desires, intentions, and means-end beliefs are the causes of the corresponding action. However, this claim has been heavily contended. Other thinkers, such as Ruben and Dreyfus, believe there is no intent in an agent’s actions. Instead, they argue that an agent acts based on flow, experience, and expertise; there is no overarching cause-effect relationship to action. Furthermore, this class of thought considers the Causal Theory to be associated with an inherent problem, mental overpopulation.
This phenomena can be summed in saying that the intentions, desires, wants associated with the Causal Theory are detrimental to an agent’s resulting actions. In other words, that feeling of choking, or freezing, in a pressure situation correlated with an action (particularly skilled activity) results from the overthinking and the overanalyzing that the Causal Theory vigorously supports. While Ruben and Dreyfus mainly work to debunk the claims of Davidson and the Casual Theory through the problem of mental overpopulation (and then skilled activity), another philosopher, Randolph Clarke, argues for the Causal Theory in a way not before presented in the debate. As such, Clarke shows the Causal Theory of Action can withstand the criticisms of Ruben and Dreyfus and the problem of mental overpopulation.
Operationalizing the Causal Theory is the first step in this argument. Davidson believed the “primary reason for an action is its cause” (686). In more superfluous writing, “To know a primary reason why someone acted as he did is to know an intention with which the action was done” (Davidson 689). Just as physicists and economists work to unlock certain secrets of our world, Davidson is trying to apply the same cause-effect relationship to how and why humans act in particular situations. Davidson counters his opposition by stating that in “many cases it is not difficult at all to find events very closely associated with the primary reason” (Davidson 694). Furthermore, Davidson believes that “it may be maintained that a reason rationalizes an action only when the descriptions are appropriately fixed,” (Davidson 694). Davidson recognizes a limit in his argument yet does not find a way to efficiently acknowledge the actions that fall out of the realm of his theory. His argument is limited however, as it attempts to structure all movements defined as action into one broad causal basket. This is how thinkers like Dreyfus critique Davidson’s work. The result is this construction of the problem of mental...

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