What are actions?
Zardai, Istvan Zoltan
The thesis is a defence of an original position in the philosophy of action. It argues for a pluralist view of actions dubbed Strong Pluralism. One of the key questions of philosophy of action since the early 20th century has been taken to be ‘What are actions?’ In my thesis I argue that there is no single correct answer to this question. I put forward two positive claims which explain why this is so: 1. That ‘action’ is ambiguous and can mean either doing or thing done. 2. That not all doings fall into the same metaphysical category because they can have different constitutive structures: some of them are causings, some are events, and others are processes. I demonstrate in the thesis that these two claims can be held coherently, and I identify the resulting view as Strong Pluralism about action. The thesis divides into two parts. In the first part I lay out and offer a defence of the view in question and in the second I discuss how my pluralist view of relates to the three major types of views of action: events, causings, and process views. The first part of the thesis consists of three steps of the main argument of my thesis, each step outlined and argued for in a chapter. In the first chapter I offer an overview of the answers provided to the ‘What is action?’ question offered by philosophers in the last 80 years. I identify a trend common to these views to advance monist answers, that is, they offer views of action which are committed to ‘action’ meaning one thing and all actions fitting into the same metaphysical category. I argue that the monist answers are unsatisfactory and monism about actions cannot be maintained. In chapter two I offer an alternative to monism in the form of pluralism about actions. I defend pluralism by arguing that ‘action’ is ambiguous between doing and things done, and by showing that it is a as suitable substitute for monism. I provide an overview of the four most important ways in which the doing – thing done distinction has been made, and I suggest and defend a further version of it. In chapter three, I outline three possible pluralist views of actions, and defend the view which I call Strong Pluralism. Strong Pluralism is committed to the claims that there are both doings and things done, and that there are doings which have different constitutions from other doings, hence it is correct to think that some doings are events, some are causings, and some are processes. In the three chapters which constitute the second part of the thesis I engage successively with views which have claimed that actions are events, that they are causings, and that actions are processes. I argue in each chapter that there are doings which can be said to belong into the category discussed and I provide positive accounts and examples of when this is so. I offer a categorization of doings which helps us to decide which doings fall into the group of events, which into that of causings, and which into that of processes. Throughout these three chapters I critically discuss the most influential events, causings, and process views and point out several aspects in which they are too limiting or mistaken about doings. The view of doings and things done worked out in thesis helps to resolve long standing issues in the philosophy of action by clarifying what we take to be the object of explanation, knowledge, and evaluation when we discuss actions in ethics, philosophy of science, philosophy of mind, epistemology (esp. debates about knowledge of action) and other fields of philosophy. The view can have broader applications in the fields of moral psychology and cognitive science by helping to sharpen our account of what researchers are discussing when they are discussing actions.
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