Reasons and Purposes: Human Rationality and the Teleological Explanation of Action

By G. F. Schueler | Go to book overview

1 Purposes, Causes, and Reasons Explanations

It seems clear enough that intentional actions are inherently purposive; indeed, intentional human actions are paradigm examples of purposive behavior. There is always some point, aim, or goal to any intentional action. It is equally clear that our everyday explanations of actions in terms of the agent's reasons ('reasons explanations' for short) must always refer to that fact, that is to the purpose of the action, if only implicitly, on pain of not explaining the action at all. 1 If I tell you that my reason for sprinting toward the bus stop is that the last bus leaves in five minutes, you will take this as an explanation of my action only if you assume that my purpose is to catch the last bus (or anyway that it is something involving my being there at the same time the bus is—spray painting it with graffiti perhaps). Without some such addition, my reference to the time of the last bus simply won't 'connect' in the right sort of way to what I am doing, i.e. sprinting toward the bus stop, and my action won't have been explained.

When such a purpose is identified, then at least sometimes that lets you see what I am up to; that is, it really does sometimes explain my action. It does so when the purpose mentioned really is the one for which the action was performed. The issue we will be looking at in the chapters below, at the most general level, is simply how such explanations work. So to get our bearings we should begin by looking briefly at the question of what a 'purposive' explanation is.

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Reasons and Purposes: Human Rationality and the Teleological Explanation of Action
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Reasons and Purposes iii
  • Preface vii
  • Acknowledgements xi
  • Contents xiii
  • 1: Purposes, Causes, and Reasons Explanations 1
  • 2: Non-Teleological Explanations of Actions 21
  • 3: Teleological Explanations of Actions 56
  • 4: Explanations in Terms of the Agent's Reasoning 88
  • 5: The Inherently Normative Nature of Action Explanations 138
  • Bibliography 166
  • Index 172
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