How can there be reasoning to action?

Analytic Philosophy 62 (2):184-194 (2021)
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In general we think of reasoning as a way of moving from some body of evidence to a belief that is drawn as a conclusion from it. But is it possible for reasoning to conclude in action, i.e., in a person’s intentionally doing one thing or another? In PRACTICAL SHAPE Jonathan Dancy answers 'Yes', on the grounds that "when an agent deliberates well and then acts accordingly, the action done is of the sort most favoured by the considerations rehearsed, taken as a whole—just as when an agent reasons well and then believes accordingly, the belief formed ... is of the sort most favoured by the considerations rehearsed, again taken as a whole" (Dancy 2018, p. 29). I critique this supposed parallelism between reasoning to action and reasoning to belief, arguing in two ways that in practical reasoning the action that is one’s conclusion need not be meant to be, or to be of a sort, that is most favored by the considerations that one reasons from. I then go on to explain why this should be: that in practical reasoning the correct conclusion to draw is not supposed to have been determined in advance, because this is a form of reasoning by which we create truth through acting rather than reflecting a truth that is independently so.

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John Schwenkler
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign


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