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Anscombe, Elizabeth, , . Intention
, London: Harvard University Press.
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Added by: Jie Gao, Contributed by:

Summary: Three core problems about intention are discussed: (i) expressions of intention; (ii) the intentional or non-intentional character of action; (iii) the intention of an action, or with which it is done. The book attempts to show in detail that the natural and widely accepted picture of what we mean by an intention gives rise to insoluble problems and must be abandoned.

Comment: Intention is one of the masterworks of the twentieth-century philosophy in English. Donald Davidson, for instance, has called it the most important philosophical work on action since Aristotle. It is a must-have for courses on philosophy of action and philosophy of mind (broadly construed). As other classics, it is a book that is not easy to understand. It might be a good idea to supplement it with some guide or notes.

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Anscombe, Gertrude Elizabeth Margaret, , . Action, Intention and ‘Double Effect’
2005, In Geach, M., Gormally, L. (eds.), Human Life, Action and Ethics. Exeter: Imprint Academic.
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Added by: Simon Fokt, Contributed by:

Introduction: It is customary in the dominant English and related schools of philosophy to restrict the terms “action” or “agency.” That is, when the topic is ‘philosophy of action’. This is often done by an appeal to intuition about a few examples. If I fall over, you wouldn’t usually call that an action on my part; it’s not something that I do, it is rather something that happens to me. Donald Davidson has made a more serious attempt than this at explaining a restriction on the term “action,” or what he means by “agency.” “Intentional action” is an insufficient designation for him: it determines no class of events, because an action which is intentional under one description may not be intentional under another. And anyway there are unintentional actions, which he doesn’t want to say are not actions in the restricted sense in which he wants to apply the term. So he suggests that we have an action (in the restricted sense) if what is done (no restriction on the ordinary sense here) is intentional under some description. This allows pouring out coffee when I meant to pour out tea to be an action, being intentional under the description “pouring out liquid from this pot.” I fear, however, that it may allow tripping over the edge of the carpet to be an action too, if every part of an intentional progress across the room is intentional under that description. But Davidson doesn’t want to count tripping as an action. If this is right, then his account is wrong because it lets in what he wants to exclude. Furthermore, I don’t think it comprises omissions, which are often actions.

Comment: Useful in teaching about the doctrine of double effect in general, and about its application to ethical issues at the end of life in particular. Contains a good discussion of the difference between action and omission, which is useful in teaching about killing and letting die.

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Chari, V.K., , . Validity in Interpretation: Some Indian Views
1978, Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 36(3): 329-340.
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Added by: Meilin Chinn, Contributed by:

Summary: An outline of the theory of interpretation within the language philosophies of ancient India. Chari organizes this extensive history according to topics such as verbal autonomy, intention, unity of meaning, polysemy, contextualism, and interpretation.

Comment: This text is appropriate for discussions of language and meaning in aesthetics, as well as philosophy of language.

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Eaton, Marcia Muelder, , . Art, Artifacts, and Intentions
1969, American Philosophical Quarterly 6(2): 165 – 169
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Added by: Simon Fokt, Contributed by:

Content: The paper is written in support of the claim that artworks have to be artefacts. In a series of thought experiments involving driftwood and poems typed by monkeys, Eaton argues that linguistic objects such as warnings or poems have to result from intentional actions. She supports this argument by distinguishing linguistic objects from linguistic actions. To understand an utterance, it is necessary to not only explicate the meaning of the words used, but also to interpret the linguistic action which resulted in it. Literary works require interpretation, and interpretation requires reference to the linguistic actions of the work’s creator – their intentions. So literary works need to result from intentional actions, i.e. be artefacts. Similarly, artworks are objects of interpretation and thus must be artefacts.

Comment: The artefactuality requirement is involved in various definitions of art and thus Eaton’s paper can be used in many contexts. With its narrow topic and a lack of introduction to any particular definitions, in the context of undergraduate teaching it remains a rather specialised reading. It is best used as a further reading, or as a required reading in higher level modules which already introduced more general works on art classification.

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Foot, Philippa, , . The Problem of Abortion and the Doctrine of the Double Effect
1967, Oxford Review 5:5-15, reprinted in Virtues and vices. Oxford: Blackwell.
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Added by: Simon Fokt, Contributed by:

Introduction: One of the reasons why most of us feel puzzled about the problem of abortion is that we want, and do not want, to allow to the unborn child the rights that belong to adults and children. When we think of a baby about to be born it seems absurd to think that the next few minutes or even hours could make so radical a difference to its status; yet as we go back in the life of the foetus we are more and more reluctant to say that this is a human being and must be treated as such. No doubt this is the deepest source of our dilemma, but it is not the only one. For we are also confused about the general question of what we may and may not do where the interests of human beings conflict. We have strong intuitions about certain cases; saying, for instance, that it is all right to raise the level of education in our country, though statistics allow us to predict that a rise in the suicide rate will follow, while it is not all right to kill the feeble-minded to aid cancer research. It is not easy, however, to see the principles involved, and one way of throwing light on the abortion issue will be by setting up parallels involving adults or children once born. So we will be able to isolate the ‘equal rights’ issue and should be able to make some advance.

Comment: The text introduces some crucial distinctions, discussing the difference between ‘doing’ and ‘allowing to happen’ and the related negative and positive duties. Foot argues that what matters in the Doctrine is not the directness of the actor’s intention, but whether they intend to follow a negative or positive duty. This paper is most useful in teaching on the ethics of abortion and euthanasia, as well as the doctrine of double effect in general.

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Heuer, Ulrike, , . Intentions and the Reasons for Which we Act
2014, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 114(3pt3): 291-315.
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Added by: Jie Gao, Contributed by:

Abstract: Many of the things we do in the course of a day we don’t do intentionally: blushing, sneezing, breathing, blinking, smiling – to name but a few. But we also do act intentionally, and often when we do we act for reasons. Whether we always act for reasons when we act intentionally is controversial. But at least the converse is generally accepted: when we act for reasons we always act intentionally. Necessarily, it seems. In this paper, I argue that acting intentionally is not in all cases acting for a reason. Instead, intentional agency involves a specific kind of control. Having this kind of control makes it possible to modify one’s action in the light of reasons. Intentional agency opens the possibility of acting in the light of reasons. I also explain why when we act with an intention we act for reasons. In the second part of the paper, I draw on these results to show that the dominant view of reasons to intend and the rationality of intentions should be rejected.

Comment: This paper critically considers the relation between reasons for action and reasons to form an intention. It rejects the dominate symmetry view according to which a reason to φ is ipso factoia reason to intend to φ. It is a paper suitable for courses on philosophy of action.

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Spaulding, Shannon, , . Mirror Neurons and Social Cognition
2013, Mind and Language 28 (2):233-257
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Added by: Andrea Blomqvist, Contributed by:

Abstract: Mirror neurons are widely regarded as an important key to social cognition. Despite such wide agreement, there is very little consensus on how or why they are important. The goal of this paper is to clearly explicate the exact role mirror neurons play in social cognition. I aim to answer two questions about the relationship between mirroring and social cognition: What kind of social understanding is involved with mirroring? How is mirroring related to that understanding? I argue that philosophical and empirical considerations lead us to accord a fairly minimal role for mirror neurons in social cognition.

Comment: What processes enable mindreading is a prominent debate in social cognition. A view that has been proposed in recent years is that mirror neurons play a role in mindreading (for example suggested by Goldman, 2006). However, exactly which conclusions mirror neuron research allows us to draw is controversial, and here Spaulding provides interesting objections to a prominent mirror neuron study. This paper is particularly suitable in a social cognition module.

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Wiseman, Rachael, , . Routledge Philosophy GuideBook to Anscombe’s Intention
2016, Routledge.
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Added by: Andrea Blomqvist, Contributed by: Will Hornett

Publisher’s Note: G. E. M. Anscombe’s Intention is a classic of twentieth-century philosophy. The work has been enormously influential despite being a dense and largely misunderstood text. It is a standard reference point for anyone engaging with philosophy of action and philosophy of psychology.

In this Routledge Philosophy GuideBook, Rachael Wiseman situates Intention in relation to Anscombe’s moral philosophy and philosophy of mind considers the influence of Aquinas, Aristotle, Frege, and Wittgenstein on the method and content of Intention adopts a structure for assessing the text that shows how Anscombe unifies the three aspects of the concept of intention considers the influence and implications of the piece whilst distinguishing it from subsequent work in the philosophy of action

Ideal for anyone wanting to understand and gain a perspective on Elizabeth Anscombe’s seminal work, this guide is an essential introduction, useful in the study of the philosophy of action, ethics, philosophy of psychology and related areas.

Comment: Wiseman’s guidebook is essential reading for a course directly on Anscombe’s work and chapters or sections could be set alongside pieces by Anscombe. Early chapters could also be set for First Year introductory readings on Anscombe’s approach to the philosophy of action and her place in the history of philosophy.

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