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Two Kinds of Purposive Action (2001)

by Stephen A. Butterfill

---European Journal of Philosophy 9(2), pp. 141-165
--- links: external [doi: 10.1111/1468-0378.00133]


It is normally assumed that there is only one kind of purposive action. This article argues that there are two kinds of purposive action, which require different models of explanation. One kind of action is done without awareness of reasons; another kind of action is done because the agent is aware of reasons for that action. The argument starts by noting that philosophers disagree about what explains action. Some claim that actions are explained by impersonal facts, such as facts about how things should be or have been historically (e.g. Millikan, Stout). Others claim that actions are explained by mental states, such as beliefs and desires (e.g. Davidson, Velleman). These philosophers are usually regarded as offering conflicting accounts of one thing. However, they are best understood as giving accounts of different models of action-explanation. Neither model fits every case, so there are at least two kinds of purposive action.