Counting what we do: A normative -functionalist approach to action individuation

by Maher, Chauncey C., Ph.D., GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY, 2008, 162 pages; 3339920


How do we individuate actions? How, that is, does any one action differ from another? Some (such as Dretske) have thought the answer is obvious: given that actions are how we contribute to the course of nature, they must be individuated causally. Others (such as Anscombe) have found the question uninteresting: given Wittgenstein's insight that how it's correct to count anything is deeply contextual, we shouldn't bother theorizing about action individuation. In my dissertation, I argue that both positions are misguided. Causal theories cannot work because the individuation of action is indeed contextual in a way that even a nuanced causal theory cannot accommodate. But neither can we shun theorizing about individuation altogether, since how one action differs from another matters to the law, morality and our mundane practices of holding one another responsible. Guided by the insight that actions are different than mere events, I argue that actions are in fact individuated by their normative function: more specifically, by the way they transform the normative standing of the actor and others in a given practice. As different practices make available different types of normative standing, one and the same bodily movement can count as different actions in different practices. The normative functionalist approach thus allows us to make sense of the context-dependence of individuation.

AdviserMark Lance
Source TypeDissertation
SubjectsSocial research; Philosophy
Publication Number3339920

About ProQuest Dissertations & Theses
With nearly 4 million records, the ProQuest Dissertations & Theses (PQDT) Global database is the most comprehensive collection of dissertations and theses in the world. It is the database of record for graduate research.

PQDT Global combines content from a range of the world's premier universities - from the Ivy League to the Russell Group. Of the nearly 4 million graduate works included in the database, ProQuest offers more than 2.5 million in full text formats. Of those, over 1.7 million are available in PDF format. More than 90,000 dissertations and theses are added to the database each year.

If you have questions, please feel free to visit the ProQuest Web site - - or contact ProQuest Support.