PHILOSOPHY of Action
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Yudai Suzuki (International Budo University)
This week we publish the answers of Dr Yudai Suzuki who is Assistant Professor in Philosophy at the International Budo University in the scenic Katsuura. Dr Suzuki specialises in action theory, more specifically in questions of teleology, disjunctivism, bodily movements, motivation, and the ontology of actions - focusing on process views -, and he is also interested in Heidegger and meaning of life. He is also a Japan Society for the Promotion Fellow. Enjoy!
1. How did you first become interested in Philosophy of Action?
How I developed an interest in philosophy of action goes back to how I became interested in philosophy in general. In adolescence, I asked myself banal questions, “What are we living for?” and “What is the meaning of life?” These quasi-existential questions led me to read Heidegger; hence, I began my career of philosophical research by investigating Heidegger’s esoteric thought. I put in special efforts to clarify his more abstract ideas by comparing it with Husserl’s Logical Investigations, which had greatly influenced Heidegger. In contrast with the epistemological air of Logical Investigations, Heidegger’s emphasis fell on our practical side, i.e., on what we humans do in the world rather than what we believe about the world. This attracted me. Then, partially because of my original interest in existentialism, I was also led to start research on actions themselves.
2. What are you working on at the moment?
I have been trying to revive teleology in philosophy of action, which causalism has dominated in the recent decades. Although standard causalists admit that every action has a goal (a telos), they infer from an agent having a mental representation of the goal, i.e., a desire or an intention, that this representation causes the action (mostly, the agent’s bodily movement). I argue against this causalist view and maintain that the action relates to the goal - not indirectly through its representation, but directly - because the action itself is directed toward the goal.
Concerning this roughly described teleological view, at the moment, I am working mainly on three correlated topics: (1) disjunctivism, (2) embodiment, (3) and processes.
(1) I am defending an action’s “disjunctivism,” according to which a comparisons of mere bodily movements with intentional movements reveals that they are essentially different because the latter are teleological, whereas the former are not.
(2) I am developing the view that intentions in action are not representations distinct from the action but are embodied in it. Intentions in action are teleological features intrinsic to the action, not causally extrinsic.
(3) Actions are better understood not as events of complete changes, but as processes that can also be progressing changes. Viewing actions as capable of progressing is required for theories of action, and, moreover, enables us to appeal to the analogy between material objects and actions. Material objects, such as a clay statue, can be thought of as different from the lump of clay from which the statue was made. Likewise, an action can be considered a different process from mere bodily movement by which the action is constituted.
3. What is your 5-15 sentence account of what an action is?
Actions are teleological processes, i.e., processes directed toward goals. Processes can be actions not because they relate indirectly to goals by being caused by mental representations about goals, but because they themselves change as they are directed toward goals. Actions are what they are because of their intrinsic feature of being directed toward goals, not because of an extrinsic feature of being caused by something else. Their intrinsic feature of direction toward goals is their capacity to adjust themselves flexibly to the situation to achieve the goals. This teleological feature intrinsic to actions is termed “intention in action”; therefore, intentions are not distinct from actions, but embodied in them. Moreover, having the teleological feature, intentional bodily movements differ essentially from mere bodily movements that constitute them and lack the teleological feature. Intentional bodily movements stand in the same relation to mere bodily movements as the relation between a clay statue and the lump of clay that will constitute the eventual statue.
4. In your view, what were the three most important recent developments in philosophy of action?
(1) The first is the anti-psychologistic approach to reasons for action, spearheaded by Jonathan Dancy. It opened the way of thinking about reasons not as an agent’s mental representations but as something objective about which those representations are. (2) The second is the reappraisal of Anscombe’s work on practical self-knowledge that agents possess about what they are doing. (3) The third is the reconsideration of actions’ ontological status as processes, not as events.
5. What direction would you like to see the field go in?
I hope that philosophy of action becomes more influenced by alternatives that are developing to the mind–brain identity theory (including functionalism), such as embodied cognitive science and enactivism. The causal theory of action and the mind–brain identity theory have so far gone hand in hand. However, now, a new alternative to the causal theory of action should emerge, corresponding to the new wave in philosophy of the mind.
Big thanks to Dr Suzuki for the answers!
2018 October 27
See you all again next weekend with some fresh stuff on actions