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  • Cited by 1
  • Print publication year: 1998
  • Online publication date: May 2010

Dualism in Action


We know what one dualist account of human action looks like, because Descartes gave us one. I want to explore the extent to which present-day accounts of physical action are vulnerable to the charges that may be made against Descartes's dualist account. I once put forward an account of human action, and I have always maintained that my view about the basic shape of a correct ‘theory of action’ can be combined with a thoroughgoing opposition to dualism. But the possibility of the combination has been doubted, and it will remain doubtful until we have a better understanding of what makes an account objectionably dualistic. In this paper, I hope to deflect some of the criticisms aimed against what I shall call my account, and to show that when they are turned onto their proper path their actual target is some physicalist accounts.

I shall have to rely on one intuitive understanding of physical action here. According to this, where there is a physical action, a person moves, and there is a psychological explanation of a certain sort of something that she thereby does. This takes it for granted that human agency is evinced when someone does something intentionally, and that when people do things by moving their bodies, they are involved in events. Using this conception, and assuming a certain account of events' individuation, one can say that any action is some person's moving her body (usually her moving of a bit of it).