Psychology as Philosophy

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)

 Psychology as Philosophy

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This essay develops the relation, implicit in Essay 11, of intentional action to behaviour described in purely physical terms; Davidson repeats from Essay 3 that an action counts as intentional if the agent caused it, and asks to which degree a study of action thus conceived permits being scientific. Davidson stresses the central importance of a normative concept of rationality in attributing reasons to agents (i.e. in attributing beliefs and desires that, in Essay 1, make up their reasons); because this concept has no echo in physical theory, any explanatory schema governed by the concept is irreducible to physical theory. Davidson adduces several facts that prevent us from giving strict laws connecting reasons and action: first, we cannot give conditions that are not only necessary but also sufficient for an action to be intentional, using only the concepts of belief, desire, and cause––for we cannot specify the ‘right way’ in which beliefs and desires cause actions (see Essay 4); second, a certain holism of the mental pervades explanations of human behaviour: we cannot assign beliefs and desires independently of and prior to the actions they cause, a point Davidson takes Ramsey's work on subjective probability to have shown. Davidson appends a set of replies to critics, which clarify his attitude to psychology as a science, his analysis of statements of law, the principle of causal interaction (see Essay 11), and the relation between mutually irreducible explanatory schema.

Keywords: action; antireductionism; behaviour; holism of the mental; intention; psychology as science; Ramsey; rationality (constitutive ideal of); strict laws

Chapter.  6647 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy of Mind

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