Structures of phenomenology and ontology in action

Authored by: David Woodruff Smith

The Routledge Handbook of Phenomenology of Agency

Print publication date:  October  2020
Online publication date:  October  2020

Print ISBN: 9781138098978
eBook ISBN: 9781315104249
Adobe ISBN:


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The phenomenology of action was foreshadowed long ago by René Descartes in his reply to Pierre Gassendi’s objection that the cogito inference (cogito ergo sum: “I am thinking, therefore I exist”) should apply to “any of your other actions [actiones]”. Descartes wrote:

I may not, for example, make the inference ‘I am walking, therefore I exist’ [ego ambulo, ergo sum], except in so far as the awareness [conscientia] of walking is a thought. The inference is certain only if applied to this awareness, and not to the movement of the body which sometimes—in the case of dreams—is not occurring at all, despite the fact that I seem to myself to be walking.

(Descartes 1641/2013, Fifth Replies (to Gassendi): 137)

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