PHILOSOPHY of Action
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Philosophy of Action
Piotr Tomasz Makowski(University of Warsaw)
I’m happy to present you this week the answers of Dr Piotr Tomasz Makowski. Dr Makowski is an associate professor at the University of Warsaw. He is working on praxiology, intentions and shared agency, capacities and reasons for action, as well as on organizational behavior and strategy focusing on routines, capabilities and psychological micro-foundations of strategy. He recently also published a volume titled Tadeusz Kotarbinski’s Action Theory which received very favourable reviews. Enjoy!
1. How did you first become interested in Philosophy of Action?
My interest in the philosophy of action has its origins in my early admiration for the practical philosophy of Immanuel Kant, but to be fully aware that I am really interested in this field I had to wait until the work on my PhD dissertation related to naturalistic metaethics (2010). Besides that the philosophy of action is really absorbing, then I realized that it is less elusive than ethics and its metaethical reflection, especially if one accepts a naturalistic stance.
The true turning point for my philosophical development was the work of the Polish philosopher Tadeusz Kotarbiński from the Lvov-Warsaw School of thought. Paradoxically, I was attracted by his philosophy of action while working on Davidson’s and Bratman’s accounts of action, during my Fulbright fellowship in California. Kotarbiński is a fascinating philosophical figure – almost unknown in the mainstream, but his work on action is no less important than the work of such classics as Anscombe or Davidson. At least, this is the view I defend in my recent book Tadeusz Kotarbiński’s Action Theory – Reinterpretive Studies.
2. What are you working on at the moment?
Beginning from my Polish National Science Centre grant (2012-2015) in which I tried to use action-theoretical ideas on the terrain of management sciences I became more and more interested in organization science. This interest has grown to the extent that my current work is split into Philosophy of Action and Organizational Behavior/Strategy (I have several papers to develop on both fields). I also am working on a bigger project related to intentionality of organizational routines, in which I combine philosophy of action and cognitive psychology with the research on routines in organization science. Besides, I am still willingly engaging in dissemination of my work on Kotarbiński.
3. What is your 5-15 sentence account of what an action is?
Despite my longstanding sympathy for naturalism, I belong to those who like to see human agents as significantly different from other agents such as robots, or non-human primates. I accept this view because then the question of action becomes truly interesting and—as it seems—more important philosophically. I take it that this significance is related to conditions of practical success. (So, my succinct and oversimplifying answer to the question of ‘what is it to act?’ could be: ‘to act is to get things done’).
Human agents are effectiveness-oriented beings in a similar sense as non-human agents are, but the job of the philosophy of action is to unveil the conditions and dimensions of being effective that are specific for humans. The idea of searching for the conditions of effectiveness in action comes from Kotarbiński’s philosophy. It becomes philosophically understandable when we consider the roles of crucial concepts that refer to human agency (e.g. intentions). I believe that the viewpoint proposed by Kotarbiński is still tremendously important—both for action theory and for scientific disciplines that explore the nature human actions (automated and consciously intended, mental and physical, improvised and planned, individual and shared).
4. In your view, what were the three most important recent developments in philosophy of action?
Answer to this question depends on what we mean by 'recent'. If we mean: the 20th century philosophy of action, I would point to Donald Davidson and Elisabeth Anscombe who are considered as classics in the analytic tradition and to Tadeusz Kotarbiński and his 1955 Treatise on a Good Job (edited in English as Praxiology). This book highly deserves republication prepared by a competent translator to make it enter the canon of the philosophy of action (detailed reasons why Kotarbiński’s philosophy of action belongs to the canon can be found in my book).
If by recent developments we mean things that happened in relation to the philosophy of action afterwards, I would point to three:
(1) Michael Bratman’s ‘planning theory’ (especially his 1987 book): it shaped our philosophical understanding of temporarily extended forms of human agency. Although it has several imperfections (one of them I initially discussed in my 2015 paper), it is no doubt one of the most influential books for mature philosophy of action.
(2) Psychological developments of bounded rationality (esp. Daniel Kahneman’s prospect theory, Gerd Gigerenzer’s heuristics): the idea of resource-bounded agents—coming from Herbert A. Simon’s works—changed the way how we understand rationality, decision-making and economization strategies in action. In this sense, the paradigm of bounded resources still has the chance to shed a fresh light on standard problems in action theory.
(3) Cognitive-psychological and neuro-scientific accounts of intentions—the role of psychology and neuroscience for the philosophy of action has become more important than 20th century authors could imagine. In this regard, the work of Elisabeth Pacherie (especially her 2008 paper published in Cognition) appears as an exemplary case of fruitful marrying these fields.
5. What direction would you like to see the field go in?
The influence of cognitive psychology and neurosciences on the philosophy of mind has been growing. If one agrees that action theory is a part of the philosophy of mind, then one should also accept the influence of neurosciences and psychology on action theory as a package deal. There are many dimensions of human agency the theory of which would benefit from meticulous and penetrating psychological work on this area (intentionality of the so-called automatic actions is a good case here). Generally, I take it that the conceptual apparatus developed by cognitive and social psychology focused on human performance is instructive for the philosophy of action as such. Thus, although I am still an enthusiast of standard philosophical theorizing on such issues as intentions, plans, wants or desires, I would be happy to see the philosophy of action as more abundantly nourished by cognitive-psychological research.
2018 September 8
Many thanks to Dr Makowski!
We will welcome you back next weekend with some new answers.