On the understanding and explanation of actions

Lennart Nordenfelt

in Rationality and Compulsion

Published on behalf of Oxford University Press

Published in print April 2007 | ISBN: 9780199214853
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191754517 | DOI:

Series: International Perspectives in Philosophy & Psychiatry

On the understanding and explanation of actions

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So far I have attempted to characterize the notion of action from various angles. I will now briefly turn to the clarification of explanation of actions. A full version of this presentation exists in my Action, Ability and Health (2000).

An explanation can be an answer to several questions, the most salient being what-, how- and why-questions. One can explain what something is by describing its inner nature and its functions. One can explain how something functions by following the details in the process that constitutes the functioning. Finally, one explains why an event occurs by connecting this event with some other event(s), mainly among such events as precede the one to be explained.

In the case of actions, the what- and the why-questions are highly relevant. I will distinguish between the answers given to these questions by using the terms ‘understanding’ for the what-questions and ‘explanation’ for the why-questions. This is an idiosyncratic use of these terms. Many prominent philosophers of action use them in other ways. (See, for instance, Ricoeur 1981.)

The main bulk of my analysis will be focused on explanation of action. The explanation, however, presupposes some understanding. I will therefore first present my view of the understanding of action.

Chapter.  6568 words. 

Subjects: Psychiatry

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