Acting, choosing, and deliberating

Authored by: John J. Drummond

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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Tom has Parkinson’s disease and experiences tremors of the bodily extremities. Susan blushes when embarrassed. Are these bodily events actions? 1 It seems not, since they are something that happens to people, something they undergo rather than something they do. These bodily events are neither initiated by the person nor under the person’s control, but when we do something, we think we initiate and control the bodily events. Hence, it seems that an action is, minimally, a bodily performance that is (i) initiated by the agent and (ii) under the agent’s control. Moreover, it also seems to be part of the sense of an initiated action that it is aimed at some end, at realizing an (apparently) good (desirable) state of affairs. Hence, it seems also that for a physical performance to be an action it must be (iii) aimed at an end. So, for example, when I unthinkingly reach for my glass to take a sip of water or when I take a break from writing and stand before an open refrigerator trying to remember what I came to get, I initiate and control the action, and the action is aimed at the end of quenching my thirst or satisfying my hunger, even if I am not explicitly aware of the end while reaching for the glass or walking to the refrigerator.

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