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One Fell Swoop

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Small Red Book Historicism Before and After Davidson

image of Journal of the Philosophy of History

In this essay I revisit some anti-causalist arguments relating to reason-giving explanations of action put forth by numerous philosophers writing in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s in what Donald Davidson dismissively described as a ‘neo-Wittgensteinian current of small red books’. While chiefly remembered for subscribing to what has come to be called the ‘logical connection’ argument, the positions defended across these volumes are in fact as diverse as they are subtle, united largely by a an anti-scientistic spirit which may reasonably be described as historicist. I argue that while Davidson’s causalist attack was motivated by an important explanatory insight borrowed from Hempel, it caused serious damage to the philosophy of action by effectively brushing over a number of vital distinctions made in the aforementioned works. In seeking to revive these I propose an approach to the theory of action explanation that rescues the anti-causalist baby from the historicist bathwater.

Affiliations: 1: University of


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