Dynamics in Action
What is the difference between a wink and a blink? The answer is important not only to philosophers of mind, for significant moral and legal consequences rest on the distinction between voluntary and involuntary behavior. However, "action theory"—the branch of philosophy that has traditionally articulated the boundaries between action and non-action, and between voluntary and involuntary behavior—has been unable to account for the difference.
Alicia Juarrero argues that a mistaken, 350-year-old model of cause and explanation—one that takes all causes to be of the push-pull, efficient cause sort, and all explanation to be prooflike—underlies contemporary theories of action. Juarrero then proposes a new framework for conceptualizing causes based on complex adaptive systems. Thinking of causes as dynamical constraints makes bottom-up and top-down causal relations, including those involving intentional causes, suddenly tractable. A different logic for explaining actions—as historical narrative, not inference—follows if one adopts this novel approach to long-standing questions of action and responsibility.
About the Author
Alicia Juarrero is Professor of Philosophy at Prince George’s Community College, Maryland. She is a member of the National Council on the Humanities, the governing board of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
"Juarrero's lively text skillfully applies the kinds of causal analyses required in non-equilibrium, complex systems theory to the problems of action theory."
—Stanley N. Salthe, Biological Sciences, Binghamton University