UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Reasons, motives and causes Browne, David Alister

Abstract

Introduction My purpose in writing this thesis is to try to resolve a dispute over what kind of explanation we are giving when we explain an agent's action by giving his reason or reasons for action, or by giving his motive or motives for action. Some philosophers have claimed that such explanations are causal explanations, whereas others have denied this. I shall argue that reason- and motive-explanations are not causal explanations, but constitute an irreducibly different kind of explanation altogether. Chapter I. Reason-Explanations In this Chapter I try to make clear what is involved in giving a reason-explanation of an action. I argue that to explain an action by giving the agent's reason or reasons for action is to explain the action in terms of the agent's desires or his desires and information. Chapter II. Motive-Explanations In this Chapter I try to make clear what is involved in giving a motive-explanation of an action. I argue that to explain an action by giving the agent's motive or motives for action is to explain the action in terms of the agent's desires and information. Thus the upshot of Chapters I and II is that the question 'What kind of explanation are we giving when we explain an agent's action by giving the agent's reason(s) or motive(s) for action?' can be re-formulated in a more tractable way, as: 'What kind of explanation are we giving when we explain an agent's action in terms of his desires or his desires and information?' Chapter III. Desires and Actions I begin this Chapter by arguing that whether or not explanations of actions in terms of the agent's desires or his desires and information are causal explanations depends on whether or not desires are causes of actions. Many of the arguments designed to show that desires are not causes of actions depend on one or both of two features claimed for the concept of desire. These are specific accounts of (1) the logical connexion that holds between desires and actions, and (2) the descriptions under which specific desires are identifiable. My major aim in this Chapter is to make the nature of these features clear. Chapter IV. Desires as Causes of Actions (I) In this Chapter I take up the question 'Are desires causes of actions?’, and review some of the arguments and considerations that have been advanced both in favour of answering it in the affirmative and in the negative. I argue that none of these forces us to answer the question in one way or the other. Chapter V. Desires as Causes of Actions (II) In this Chapter I give my own answer to the question 'Are desires causes of actions?' I present two distinct arguments to show that they are not, each of which exploits a different feature of the causal relation. The first argument I present exploits the fact that the causal relation is a contingent relation. I begin this argument by stating a principle that I claim any genuine causal relation must satisfy. In support of this claim, I argue that if this principle is violated, we will be forced to admit that the relation in question is not a contingent relation. And since the causal relation is a contingent relation, any relation that fails to satisfy this principle could not be a causal relation. I then argue that the relation between desires, the conditions under which desires are followed by actions, and actions, fails to satisfy this principle; and that, consequently, these items do not stand in a contingent, and hence could not stand in a causal, relation. The second argument I present to show that desires are not causes of actions begins with the claim that we require empirical evidence to establish the existence of any causal relation. I then go on to argue that we can establish the existence of a relation between desires, certain other conditions, and actions in the absence of any empirical evidence whatsoever; and that, hence, the relation between these items is not a causal relation. Chapter VI. Concluding Remarks In my concluding remarks, I draw together the findings of Chapters I to V to yield an answer to the question 'What kind of explanation are we giving when we explain an agent's action in terms of his reason(s) or motive(s) for action? In Chapters I and II, I argued that to explain an agent's action by giving his reason(s) or motive(s) for action is to explain the action in terms of the agent's desires or his desires and information. In Chapter III I argued that whether or not explanations in terms of the agent's desires or his desires and information are causal explanations depends on whether or not desires are causes of actions. Thus the crucial question to be answered to determine whether or not reason- and motive-explanations are causal explanations turned out to be 'Are desires causes of actions?' In Chapters IV and V, I took up this question, and argued that they are not. And with this finding, we must conclude that reason- and motive-explanations are not causal explanations, but a completely and irreducibly different sort of explanations altogether.

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