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

By G. F. Schueler | Go to book overview

2 Non-Teleological Explanations of Actions

We have been looking for a clear understanding of whether there is really a substantive issue between, on the one side, those who follow Davidson in accepting both the belief-desire account of reasons explanations (BD) and the thesis that such explanations are causal (CT) and, on the other, those against whom Davidson and other advocates of these two claims are arguing. And I have been claiming that it is hard to find any thesis about the nature of causation, or of causal explanations, that can be plausibly held to divide the two sides here. Of course, as was noted, Ryle, in The Concept of Mind (1949), explicitly says that reasons explanations are not causal. 1 The problem is that, on the clearest analysis of 'causal' in which this seems true, where causal explanations must involve strict laws (stated in the same terms as the explanation), Davidson and other advocates of BD and CT explicitly accept it. So if this were someone's only reason for thinking there was a conflict between BD and CT, this opposition would indeed be based on a confusion, or at least a misunderstanding. Both sides would be in agreement on the issue of whether reasons explanations allowed strict laws stated in the terms of those explanations (i.e. would agree that they do not). At the same time, as I argued above, it is hard to see that either side would deny that CT is true under the much more minimal, 'promissory note' reading which I suggested is the ordinary sense of 'cause'.

So we still have a question concerning whether there is a genuine, coherent position opposed to the one held by the advocates of BD and CT. I think the answer to that question is 'yes'. But I think that the issue as it is often formulated, and as I have formulated it so far—the

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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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