Success and Knowledge in Action: Saving Anscombe’s Account of Intentionality

In Tadeusz Ciecierski & Paweł Grabarczyk (eds.), Context Dependence in Language, Action, and Cognition. De Gruyter. pp. 131-154 (2021)
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Abstract
According to Anscombe, acting intentionally entails knowledge in ac- tion. This thesis has been near-universally rejected due to a well-known counter- example by Davidson: a man intending to make ten legible carbon copies might not believe with confidence, and hence not know, that he will succeed. If he does, however, his action surely counts as intentional. Damaging as it seems, an even more powerful objection can be levelled against Anscombe: while act- ing, there is as yet no fact of the matter as to whether the agent will succeed. Since his belief that he will is not yet true while his action is in progress, he can- not possibly know that he is indeed bringing about the intended goal. Knowl- edge in action is not only unnecessary for intentional action, it seems, but–at least as regards success-bound types of action–impossible to attain in the first place. In this paper I argue that traditional strategies to counter these objections are unsatisfactory and propose a new account of knowledge in action which has two core features: (i) It invokes an externalist conception of justification which not only meets Davidson’s challenge, but also casts doubts on the tacit internalist premise on which his example relies. (ii) Drawing on recent work about by John MacFarlane, the proposed account conceives of claims to in action as assessment-sensitive so as to overcome the factivity objection. From a retrospective point of evaluation, previous claims about future events and actions can not only be deemed as having been true, but also as having been known.
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