Reasons explanations (of actions) as structural explanations

Synthese 199 (5-6):12683-12704 (2021)
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Non-causal accounts of action explanation have long been criticized for lacking a positive thesis, relying primarily on negative arguments to undercut the standard Causal Theory of Action The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2016). Additionally, it is commonly thought that non-causal accounts fail to provide an answer to Donald Davidson’s challenge for theories of reasons explanations of actions. According to Davidson’s challenge, a plausible non-causal account of reasons explanations must provide a way of connecting an agent’s reasons, not only to what she ought to do, but to what she actually does. That is, such explanations must be truth-apt, not mere rationalizations. My aim in this paper is to show how a non-causal account of action can provide explanations that are truth-apt and genuinely explanatory. To make this argument, I take as a given an account of the practical syllogism discussed by Michael Thompson and Eric Wiland, according to which the practical syllogism is truly practical rather than propositional in nature. Next, I present my primary positive thesis: reasons for actions have explanatory power in virtue of being parts of a structure—the practical syllogism—that contains the action being explained. I then argue that structural action explanations can meet Davidson’s challenge and that they genuinely explain actions. Finally, I conclude by addressing some objections to my argument.

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Megan Fritts
University of Arkansas, Little Rock


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