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Two Dogmas of Contemporary Philosophy of Action

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image of Journal of the Philosophy of History

Davidson's seminal essay "Actions, Reasons and Causes" brought about a paradigm shift in the theory of action. Before Davidson the consensus was that the fundamental task of a theory of action was to elucidate the concept of action and event explanation. The debate concerning the nature of action explanation thus took place primarily in the philosophy of history and social science and was focussed on purely methodological issues. After Davidson it has been assumed that the fundamental challenge for the theory of action is to answer not the conceptual question "what does it mean to explain something as an action?", but a metaphysical question, namely, "how is causal over-determination by the mental and the physical possible?". I argue that the two main considerations Davidson provides for construing the question posed by the action/event distinction in metaphysical rather than conceptual terms are inconclusive and that much is to be learned from the conceptual approach championed by Collingwood and Dray in the context of their philosophy of history.

Affiliations: 1: Keele University, Keele, UK


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