Mind, philosophy of

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-V038-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved April 12, 2024, from

5. Philosophy of action

Whether or not it is ultimately vindicated by empirical research, folk psychology is a rich fund of distinctions that are important in human life. The examination of them has tended to focus on issues in the explanation of Action, and, in a related vein, on psychological issues relevant to ethics (see Moral psychology).

The traditional view of action, most famously advocated by David Hume, is that an action needs both a desire and a belief. The desire provides the goal, and the belief the means of putatively achieving it (see also Reasons and causes; Desire; Belief). But what then is the role, if any, of Intention? Are intentions nothing more than some complex of belief and desire? And how, if at all, do we find a place in the Humean picture for the will? Is it something that can somehow act independently of beliefs and desires, or is it some kind of manifestation of them, some kind of ‘all things considered’ judgment that takes a person from dithering to action? (See Will, the.) Notoriously difficult questions in this regard concern whether there actually is anything as Free will, and how it is possible for a person to act against their better judgement, as they seem to do in cases of Akrasia, or ‘weakness of will’.

Beliefs and desires seem intimately connected with many other mental states. Belief about the past is of the essence of Memory. Perception delivers belief about how things are around one, and Dreaming seems to be the having of experiences during sleep akin to (rather fragmented) perceptions in the way they tend to make you believe that certain things are happening. Even emotions and bodily sensations seem to have belief and desire components (see Emotions, nature of; Bodily sensations): anger involves both a belief that one has been wronged and a desire to do something about it, and pain involves the belief that something is amiss and the desire that it stop. Much contemporary philosophy of mind and action is concerned with teasing out the relationship between beliefs and desires and various other mental states, although approaches in cognitive science often focus upon more computationally active states, such as: noticing, deciding, and ‘on line’ processes of reasoning.

Citing this article:
Jackson, Frank and Georges Rey. Philosophy of action. Mind, philosophy of, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-V038-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

Related Searches


Related Articles