Santiago Amaya (Universidad de los Andes)

This week I have the pleasure to present you with the answers of Dr Santiago Amaya. Dr Amaya is assistant professor at the Department of Philosophy of Universidad de los Andes, Colombia. His w​ork is focused on basic actions, mistakes and slips in actions, philosophy of psychology and metaethics. He is engaged in an investigation with Manuel Vargas on ‘Getting Better at Simple Things’. Enjoy!


1. How did you first become interested in Philosophy of Action?


I came to the philosophy of action wanting to become a scholar in Ancient Greek Philosophy. At the time, I was puzzled by some ideas about practical reasoning and motivation that figured in Aristotle’s Ethics and his Rhetoric. Somebody asked if I had read Anscombe and Davidson. I was embarrassed. Frankly, I didn’t know who they were.


Two weeks later, after reading the few books and articles that were then available in Bogotá, it started dawning on me. I was too interested in developing my own views to become a good Aristotle scholar. There was, on the other hand, a whole area of research in philosophy and I was still young enough to jump straight to it.


2. What are you working on at the moment?


I am interested in understanding how limited agents like us can be simultaneously engaged in a variety of different projects. Key to it, on my view, is the capacity to scatter our agency over time: to focus on ongoing activities, while keeping an eye on forthcoming tasks, in ways that allow you to go back and forth between them. I call this capacity vigilance. Currently, I am writing a couple of papers saying what vigilance is.


I am also interested in figuring out what forgiveness is. As I see it, forgiveness is a process of taking distancing from some of the sentiments that express blame. Understanding that process, therefore, requires understanding the dynamics of emotional change. The view that I am developing is that these dynamics are socially determined in various significant ways. I have just finished working on a paper on this idea and there is a second one on the horizon.


3. What is your 5-15 sentence account of what an action is?


I do not have an account and I am skeptical that we need one. I mostly survive by talking about intentional actions or intentional behaviour. Am I in trouble?


4. In your view, what were the three most important recent developments in philosophy of action?


I do not know about importance but I can tell you which recent developments please me the most.

I welcome the fact that philosophy of action is becoming a more scientifically informed enterprise. I also like that we are now thinking a little bit deeper about the role that memory, attention, and imagination play in structuring our agency. Finally, I am also encouraged that philosophers of action are discussing more about habits, spontaneous actions, and skilled behavior.


5. What direction would you like to see the field go in?


Philosophers of action have talked a lot about full-blooded actions and agency par excellence. I would like us to talk more about our mistakes, our half-hearted efforts, our clumsy attempts, and the like. To my mind, the latter are more telling about who we are as agents.


We have also overlooked the ways in which externals goods or their absences shape our agency. But there is much to be said about this. Identifying or not with your desires might be important for becoming an agent. My bet is that being poor, or sick, or beautiful, or well connected, matters more.


2018 September 15

Many thanks to Dr Amaya!

Hope to see you all back next weekend with another set of interesting answers about Philosophy of Action.