Hempel on Explaining Action

Donald Davidson

in Essays on Actions and Events

Published in print September 2001 | ISBN: 9780199246274
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780191715198 | DOI:

Series: The Philosophical Essays of Donald Davidson (5 Volumes)

 Hempel on Explaining Action

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After acknowledging Hempel as an ‘early partisan’ of the causal theory of action, Davidson takes issue with him on whether explanations that rationalize actions make essential appeal to laws. Apart from clarifying in which sense, and to what degree, laws are ‘implicit’ in rationalizations, Davidson explores the nature of law that might be involved. Where Hempel had provided a uniform (‘deductive‐nomological’) model of explanation on which all explananda can be deduced from laws, whether reason explanation or explanation in physics, Davidson holds that the law backing the causal relation between an action and its reason need not be spelt out for the explanation to be valid (Essay 7); indeed, the causal relata insofar as they are described in intentional terms cannot be thus subsumed under law. There are no law‐like generalizations relating desires and beliefs (from which reasons are constructed, see Essay 1) and the actions they cause (Essay 11) because rationality, which constitutively governs the attributions of these desires and beliefs, is uncodifiable, and the mental, inextricably holistic––a conclusion Davidson reaches, as in Essay 12, by appeal to Frank Ramsey's work on subjective probability.

Keywords: causal law; causality; constitutive ideal of rationality; Hempel; nomological‐deductive explanations; Ramsey; rationalization

Chapter.  6358 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy of Mind

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