The Physical Action Theory of Trying

Methode 4 (6) (2015)
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Metaphysically speaking, just what is trying? There appear to be two options: to place it on the side of the mind or on the side of the world. Volitionists, who think that to try is to engage in a mental act, perhaps identical to willing and perhaps not, take the mind-side option. The second, or world-side option identifies trying to do something with one of the more basic actions by which one tries to do that thing. The trying is then said to be identical with the physical action. -/- After carefully stating the second, world-side view, I produce two arguments against it. The first relies on the fact that if a=b and b=c, then a=c, sometimes put colloquially as: if something is identical to two things, then the two things must be identical to one another. In the case of trying, one might try to do something by performing a plurality of simultaneous actions, a sure sign that the relation between the trying and the plurality of actions by which one tries must be some relation other than identity. -/- The second argument discusses two cases, recorded in William James’ The Principles of Psychology, of a patient who tries but who performs no action whatever. This is sometimes called ‘naked trying’. A recent attempt at denying that there can be such cases of naked trying is examined and dismissed

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David-Hillel Ruben
Birkbeck, University of London


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