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Alvarez, Maria, , . Kinds of Reasons: An Essay in the Philosophy of Action
2010, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
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Added by: Jie Gao, Contributed by:

Publisher’s Note: Understanding human beings and their distinctive rational and volitional capacities is one of the central tasks of philosophy. The task requires a clear account of such things as reasons, desires, emotions and motives, and of how they combine to produce and explain human behaviour. In Kinds of Reasons, Maria Alvarez offers a fresh and incisive treatment of these issues, focusing in particular on reasons as they feature in contexts of agency. Her account builds on some important recent work in the area; but she takes her main inspiration from the tradition that receives its seminal contemporary expression in the writings of G.E.M. Anscombe, a tradition that runs counter to the broadly Humean orthodoxy that has dominated the theory of action for the past forty years. Alvarez’s conclusions are therefore likely to be controversial; and her bold and painstaking arguments will be found provocative by participants on every side of the debates with which she engages. Clear and directly written, Kinds of Reasons aims to stake out a distinctive position within one of the most hotly contested areas of contemporary philosophy.

Comment: This book is on the ontological nature of reasons for which we act carries on. The first two chapters are very good introductory readings on reasons broadly. Chapters 3 to 5 explore the connection between reasons and motivation. Topics include what motivates actions, whether desires are motivating reasons, and whether motivating reasons are belief. They are proper introductory reading material for courses on ethics, reasons and philosophy of action.

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Anscombe, G. Elizabeth M., , . Causality and Determination
1981, In Anscombe, G. E. M. Metaphysics and the Philosophy of Mind: Collected Philosophical Papers Volume II. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.
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Added by: Jamie Collin, Contributed by:

Summary: A classic text in which Anscombe argues for a realist view of causation. Specifically, Anscombe holds that causation is both directly perceivable and not subject to philosophical analysis. Anscombe seeks to establish that causal relations do not presuppose laws, and that causal relations can be perceived in a direct way.

Comment: This would be useful in a course on metaphysics, philosophy of science or philosophy of action. Anscombe is not always an easy writer, but this paper is not technical and is widely considered to be a classic. This could be used at any undergraduate or graduate level.

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Hurley, Susan, , . Animal Action in the Space of Reasons
2003, Mind and Language 18(3): 231-256.
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Added by: Nick Novelli, Contributed by:

Abstract: I defend the view that we should not overintellectualize the mind. Nonhuman animals can occupy islands of practical rationality: they can have contextbound reasons for action even though they lack full conceptual abilities. Holism and the possibility of mistake are required for such reasons to be the agent’s reasons, but these requirements can be met in the absence of inferential promiscuity. Empirical work with animals is used to illustrate the possibility that reasons for action could be bound to symbolic or social contexts, and connections are made to simulationist accounts of cognitive skills.

Comment: An excellent argument in favour of a less-intellectual criteria for reason-having. The arguments are clear and compelling, though at least some familiarity with action theory would be helpful to give proper context. Recommended for higher-level or more in-depth examinations of reasons, as its relevance is partly dependent on some of the other arguments made on the subject.

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Steward, Helen, , . A Metaphysics for Freedom
2012, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
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Added by: Emily Paul, Contributed by:

Publisher’s note: A metaphysics for freedom argues that determinism is incompatible with agency itself–not only the special human variety of agency, but also powers which can be accorded to animal agents. It offers a distinctive, non-dualistic version of libertarianism, rooted in a conception of what biological forms of organisation might make possible in the way of freedom.

Comment: Specific chapters (e.g. 1 and 4) would be useful for an advanced philosophy of mind/action course, but also it could be really nice to read the whole book in a dedicated Masters course – reading and discussing one chapter per seminar. Chapter 1 is especially useful because it outlines Steward’s position, ‘agency incompatibilism’ which it could be useful to have students discuss and compare with classical compatibilism and incompatibilism. Chapter 4 is also a great one to use because it discusses animal agency – this could perhaps come towards the end of an intermediate philosophy of mind course – once students have already learned something about agency when considered in relation to humans.

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