Proposed: Action Theory

Course Description

This course is an advanced introduction to major topics in contemporary Action Theory. Action Theory is a division of metaphysics concerned with providing an account of behaviour. Specific topics include: the relation between trying and acting; how to act on reasons; the relation between desires and actions; and, our freedom to choose between different courses of action. We shall study figures such as Wittgenstein, Davidson, Hornsby, James, and more.

This course is for upper-year undergraduates and is in seminar format.

Course Text

Various readings on reserve.

Course Requirements

  1. One presentation worth 30% on a selected reading.
  2. One commentary worth 20% on another student’s presentation.
  3. One take-home exam worth 35% on an assigned topic.
  4. Weekly participation, assessed on the quality and quantity thereof, worth 15%.

Sample Schedule

Week Readings
01 Syllabus; Wittgenstein, L. Philosophical Investigations

Action and Causes

02 Davidson, D. “Actions, Reasons, and Causes”
03 Frankfurt, H. “The Problem of Action”
04 Bratman, M. “Two Problems of Agency”
05 Hornsby, J. “Agency and Action”

Intention and Intentional Action

06 Anscombe, G. E. M. Intention
07 Velleman, D. “Intentions”
08 James, W. The Principles of Psychology
09 Hornsby, J. “Trying to Act”
10 O’Shaughnessy, B. “Trying (as the mental ‘pineal gland)”

Acting for Reasons

11 Chang, R. “Can Desires Provide Reasons for Action?”
12 Woods, M. & Foot, P. “Reasons for Action and Desires”
13 Dancy, J. “Reasons for Action”