UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Approaches to action Carnie, Euan Findlay


The objective of this thesis is to introduce recent philosophy of mind to philosophy of action in an attempt to evaluate the three currently dominant theories of action. These theories each concur with the general consensus in philosophy of action that the acts of an agent are causally derived. Yet, there is still dispute regarding the exact nature of the causation. This disagreement is reflected in the differences between the identity theory, functionalism, and eliminative materialism. The identity theory, as described by Donald Davidson and Colin McGinn, states that materially instansiable beliefs and desires are the causes of action. However, problems arise from a lack of a priori validity, difficulties regarding the type of reduction or identification needed, and an unreasonable suppression of misrepresentation. There are also questions concerning the identity theory's account of learning, memory, and imagination. As a successful remedy has yet to appear, charges of theoretical stagnation have also gained momentum. Nevertheless, faults in a theory do not automatically entail its elimination, and many feel that the predicted demise of the belief and desire model has been greatly exaggerated. For instance, functionalists like Daniel Dennett retain the belief and desire structure, but endeavor to avoid the ontological difficulties which beset the identity theory by functionally defining beliefs and desires. Unfortunately, this merely leads to indiscriminate ascriptions of belief and desire to subjects not normally associated with such attributes. Functionalists, however, do tacitly recognize the legitimacy of a more empirical outlook in describing the causes of action. This empirical approach, referred to as eliminative materialism, is the basis of claims by theorists such as Paul Churchland that the belief and desire causal framework is fundamentally flawed, and hence, should be subject to an elimination similar to the abandonment of theories like alchemy, astrology, and caloric fluidity. In light of the defects of the identity and functionalists theories, and enhanced by the appearance of a promising alternative which coalesces well with Churchland's conclusions (i.e.: connectionist parallel processing models of cognition), the balance now appears to be tipped in favour of the eliminativists. Yet, the question remains of just how much of an elimination of the ontological, practical, or semantic facets of the belief/desire model is warranted. While the final answer awaits confirmation, it seems evident that the solution will only be resolved by maintaining an eliminative approach towards the causes of action.

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