Philosophy of Action

A paper on nonbasic action (under review)

A nearly ubiquitous view about nonbasic action---action one does by doing some other action---is that if X is a nonbasic action, then one's means to Xing constitutes one's Xing. In this paper, I challenge this view. I argue that one's means to a nonbasic action can cause rather than constitute it. In the process, we gain a clearer understanding of the scope of our agency---one that includes mental actions such as judgment and decision----and the pluralistic nature of basic features of action including control, purposefulness, and agent participation.

A paper on action and knowledge (under review)

In her groundbreaking Intention, G.E.M. Anscombe defends the Knowledge Thesis: while intentionally Xing, one knows without observation that one is Xing. This thesis has proved deeply controversial, largely due to what looks like a wealth of counterexamples. Among those who follow Anscombe, some have defended weaker versions of the Knowledge Thesis. Some weaken the necessity of the connection between knowledge and action, usually by granting the proposed counterexamples. Others retain the necessary connection, but alter the features, content, or species of the knowledge necessary for action. In this paper, I present an argument to the effect that we have good reason to think that there is no necessary connection between intentional action and knowledge, no matter the assumed features, content, or species of the knowledge. Further, rather than argue by counterexample, I present an argument that explains why we continue to find counterexamples to claims of a necessary connection between action and knowledge. The explanation is in the spirit of Gilbert Harman's separation of intentional action and belief and Michael Bratman's separation of intentional action and intention in that it relies on the place of intentional action in ethical life.

The Control Theory of Action (in preparation)

In this paper, I develop a novel theory of action. The central claim of the theory is that action is movement that is controlled by the mover, where movement is understood capaciously and control is characterized by a trio of conditions consisting of an aim condition, a modal condition, and an explanatory condition. Importantly, I show how being controlled is a determinable property of movements, and I isolate its determination dimensions. Paired with the claim that action is movement that is controlled by the mover, this account of control as a determinable illuminates a second key idea motivating the theory, namely that there is a variety of forms of action.

Intentional Action as Intrinsically Ethical (in preparation)

I argue that intentional action is, in a sense, intrinsically ethical. The central claim that I defend is the following two-part thesis spelling out the precise sense in which intentional action is intrinsically ethical. First, the concept of intentional action plays a functional role in our ethical conceptual scheme: it flags behaviors that are of priority for ethical evaluation broadly construed. Second, by way of fixing the degree of control required for intentional action, this ethical functional role partially determines the extension of the concept of intentional action. As we will see, the sense in which intentional action is intrinsically ethical is also, to a large degree, consistent with naturalistic theories of action and thus should be appealing to the naturalist.

Action in a Virtual World (in preparation)

I discuss the relationship between one's actions and the doings of one's virtual self in a virtual world.