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Essays on Actions and Events Paperback – October 2, 1980
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"This is one of the most impressive works of analytical philosophy to appear in a good many years."--P.F. Strawson, Times Literary Supplement
"[A] solid collection of important papers."--John Heil, Virginia Commonwealth University
About the Author
Donald Davidson is Professor of Philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley. Donald Davidson is Willis S. and Marion Slusser Professor of Philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley. He was born in Springfield, Massachusetts, and educated at Harvard, completing his Ph.D. in classical philosophy after serving in the US Navy from 1942 to 1945. Before coming to Berkeley in 1981, he was Professor at Stanford, Princeton, Rockefeller, and the University of Chicago. He is a Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and a Corresponding Fellow of the British Academy. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
Top customer reviews
This Oxford University Press series is a helpful and timely addition to Davidsonian scholarship. While composed of previously published material, the collection thematically organizes and makes accessible many papers which had previously only been available in disparate journals and texts. Noteworthy essays in the current collection, from my perspective include, ‘How is Weakness of the Will Possible’, ‘Intending’ and ‘Mental Events’. Potential purchasers are advised to take a look at the on-line table of contents.
Strawson’s characterization of Davidson as a man ‘of thoroughbred intelligence who rides his mind at a gallop across country in pursuit of an idea’, has always struck me as an apt description. That is, even when Davidson’s destination is not as satisfying as one may have hoped the romp through the intellectual bushes is nevertheless edifying and enjoyable. That said, Davidson is an acquired taste much like fine poetry or music, an activity best suited for a mature palate well acclimated to the intricacies of modern analytic philosophy. While rewarding his writing can be abstruse; the philosophical equivalent of ‘inside baseball’ often immersed in an internecine discussion amongst late twentieth century Anglo-American philosophers - a fascinating read for the knowledgeable reader but, unlikely to be of interest to the newcomer.
While some of the essays in ‘Actions and Events’ are of enduring value many of pieces are primarily of interest for the historic insight they provide. Though a bit pricey, the book and the series are recommended for fans of Davidson.
He wrote in the Introduction to this 1980 collection, "All the essays in this book have been published elsewhere, and each was designed to be more or less free standing. But though composed over a baker's dozen of years, they are unified in theme and general thesis. The theme is the role of causal concepts in the description and explanation of human action. The thesis is that the ordinary notion of cause which enters into scientific and common-sense accounts of non-psychological affairs is essential also to the understanding of what it is to act with a reason, to have a certain intention in acting, to be an agent, to act counter to one's own best judgment, or to act freely. Cause is the cement of the universe; the concept of cause is what holds together our picture of the universe, a picture that would otherwise disintegrate into a diptych of the mental and the physical."
In the essay, "How is Weakness of the Will Possible?," he states, "An agent's will is weak if he acts ... counter to his own best judgment...It will be convenient to call actions of this kind incontinent actions." (Pg. 21) He explains, "Since what is central to the solution of the problem of incontinence proposed in this paper is the contrast between conditional (prima facie) evaluative judgments and evaluative judgments sans phrase, perhaps we can give a characterization of incontinence that avoids the troublesome 'all things considered'... the incontinent man acts, and judges, irrationally, for this is surely what we must say of a man who goes against his own best judgment... There is, I suggest, an analogous principle the rational man will accept in applying practical reasoning: perform the action judged best on the basis of all available relevant reasons. It would be appropriate to call this the PRINCIPLE OF CONTINENCE." (Pg. 40-41)
In an essay on "Freedom to Act," he says, "although we cannot hope to define or analyze freedom to act in terms of concepts that fully identify the causal conditions of intentional action, there is no obstacle to the view that freedom to act is a causal power of the agent." (Pg. 81)
In an essay on "Mental Events," he explains, "The rest of this paper falls into three parts. The first part describes a version of the identity theory of the mental and physical... The second part argues that there cannot be strict psychophysical laws; this is not quite the principle of the anomalism of the mental, but on reasonable assumptions entails it. The last part tries to show that... we can infer the truth of a version of the identity theory, that is, a theory that identifies at least some mental events with physical events. It is clear that this ... proof... of the identity theory will be at best conditional... But even someone unpersuaded of the truth of the premises may be interested to learn how they can be reconciled and that they serve to establish a version of the identity theory of the mental. Finally, If the argument is a good one, it should lay to rest the view, common to many friends and foes of identity theories, that support for such theories can come only from the discovery of psychophysical laws." (Pg. 209)
In the essay, "The Material Mind," he observes, "I would agree that we are committed to one important philosophical, and, indeed metaphysical, thesis. If psychological events cause and are caused by physical events (and surely this is the case) and if causal relations between events entail the existence of laws connecting those events, and these laws are, as we have supposed in designing Art, physical, then it must follow that psychological events simply ARE (in the sense of ARE IDENTICAL WITH) physical events. If this is materialism, we are committed to it in assuming the existence of Art." (Pg. 248) He concludes this essay with the statement, "discoveries about the nature of the brain... throw a flood of light on human perception, learning, and behavior. But with respect to the higher cognitive functions, the illumination must, if I am right, be indirect. There is no important sense in which psychology can be reduced to the physical sciences." (Pg. 259)
This collection of essays provides an excellent perspective on Davidson's thought, and it will be of great interest to anyone studying contemporary analytic philosophy.
Anyway, this volume is a very important piece of recent philosophy of mind. It also sets into motion an important tradition of thinking about moral psychology, action theory and ethics from the perspective of reasons for agential action.