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

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

Abstract:

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
SchoolGEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY
Source TypeDissertation
SubjectsSocial research; Philosophy
Publication Number3339920

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