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basic action

alfred r. mele

Subject Philosophy » Metaphysics

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631199991.1995.x


Basic actions, broadly characterized, differ from non-basic actions in not being performed by way of the agent's performing another action. The term was introduced in Danto (1963) , where the following analysis is offered: ‘ B is a basic action of a if and only if (i) B is an action and (ii) whenever a performs B , there is no other action A performed by a such that B is caused by A. ’ This analysis fails for a variety of reasons (see Goldman, 1970 ; Hornsby, 1980 ). The fundamental problem (or a symptom there of) is that the difference between basic and non-basic actions does not hinge on causal transactions of the kind specified in (ii). Typically, when an agent does one thing by doing another, the latter is more basic than the former. If by moving her right index finger upward Jane flips a switch, and by flipping the switch illuminates the room, Jane's moving her finger upward is more basic than her flipping the switch, and both are more basic than her illuminating the room. However, Jane's moving her finger does not cause her flipping the switch. (It does cause the switch's moving upward, but the latter event must be distinguished from Jane's flipping the switch.) Nor does her flipping the switch cause her illuminating the room. Indeed, Jane's flipping the switch and her illuminating the room might not be caused by any action of hers. Still, they are ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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