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Reviving the Logical Connection Argument

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 January 2020

James Otten*
Purdue University


The causal theory of human action that maintains that a person's wants cause his actions has recently gained considerable support in the philosophical community. The so-called logical connection argument, once a seemingly powerful obstacle to this theory, has fallen into disrepute. Roughly stated, this argument claims that since the relation between a want and the supposedly resultant action is logical in nature, whereas the relation between any cause and its effect must be contingent in nature, a want therefore cannot be the cause of an action.

In this paper I shall first of all consider four classical formulations of the logical connection argument (hereinafter the LCA), expounding them step-wise and reviewing various objections, some telling, that have been brought against them. Next I shall present my own formulation of the LCA, which is immune to such objections. Finally I shall propose a natural modification of the causal theory which would enable it to escape the brunt of the LCA. I shall then argue, however, that when the causal theory is modified in this way there are insuperable difficulties to the task of gathering evidence in support of it.

Research Article
Copyright © The Authors 1977

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1 For defenses of the causal theory, see Davidson, DonaldActions, Reasons, and Causes,” The journal of Philosophy 60 (1963), pp. 685-700,CrossRefGoogle Scholar reprinted in Brand, Myles (ed.), The Nature of Human Action(Glenview, III.: Scott, Foresman and Company, 1970), pp. 6769;Google Scholar and Goldman, Alvin I. A Theory of Human Action (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1970), pp. 109-121;Google Scholar my references are to the Brand volume.

2 Taylor, Richard Action and Purpose (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1966), pp. 5152.Google Scholar

3 For instance, Davidson in his landmark article “Actions, Reasons, and Causes” fails to recognize this distinction.

4 Melden, A. I. Free Action(London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1961), p. 114.Google Scholar

5 Davidson, p. 75.

6 Goldman, p. 110.

7 Abelson, RazielDoing, Causing and Causing to Do,” The journal of Philosophy 66 (1969), pp. 183184.Google Scholar

8 Concerning the Socrates-Xanthippe example, see Kim, JaegwonNoncausal Connections,” Nous 8 (1974), pp. 41-52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

9 Abelson, p. 183.

10 Pears, DavidAre Reasons for Actions Causes?”, in Stroll, Avrum (ed.), Epistemology: New Essays in the Theory of Knowledge(New York: Harper and Row, 1967), pp. 204-228;Google Scholar see esp. pp. 219-220.

11 Taylor, RichardI Can,” The PhilosophicalReview 69 (1960), pp. 78-89,Google Scholar reprinted in Sidney Morgenbesser and Walsh, James (eds.), Free Will (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1962), pp. 8190;Google Scholar see esp. p. 88.

12 Goldman, p. 111.

13 Loc. cit.,

14 See Kenny, AnthonyCriterion,” in Edwards, Paul (ed.), The Encyclopedia of Philosophy (New York: Macmillan, 1967), Vol. 2, pp. 258261.Google Scholar Goldman actually vacillates on his construal of the notion of a criterion. At one point (p. 115) he seems to accept the usual construal.

15 On the basis of this one might be able to construct a cogent argument to the effect that one cannot know that the restricted causal thesis is true even if it so happens that it is true. I shall ignore this possible line of argument, since I believe that it can be shown that the restricted causal thesis is false.

16 Many writers tend to confuse the four classical formulations of the LCA. For instance, Browne, D. A. in his article “Can Desires Be Causes of Actions?”, Canadian journal of Philosophy, Supplementary Vol. 1, Part 2 (1974),Google Scholar begins by mentioning an argument very much like Argument Ill (p. 145), then quickly moves to an argument resembling Argument II (p. 146), and ends with an argument quite like Argument IV (pp. 152-154). The failure to distinguish between distinct formulations makes it difficult at certain points to see exactly what is being argued.

17 For instance, see Davidson, p. 74.

18 Madden, Edward H.Human Action, Reasons or Causes: To justify or Explain in History or Social Science?”, Journal for the Theory of Social Behavior 5 (1975), p. 10.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

19 Armstrong, D. M. A Materialist Theory of Mind (New York: Humanities Press, 1968), p. 86.Google Scholar

20 Madden, p. 11.

21 Gean, William D. in his recent article “The logical Connection Argument and De Re Necessity,” American Philosophical Quarterly 12 (1975), pp. 349354,Google Scholar considers three interpretations of the LCA: an entailment interpretation, a de dicto necessity interpretation, and a de re necessity interpretation. He argues that under none of these interpretations does the LCA succeed in establishing its conclusion. Of course, my formulation of the LCA is an entailment interpretation, but it is not subject, as is the entailment interpretation which Gean considers and rejects, to “a confusion between properties which properly attach to propositions and those which properly attach to events in the world” (p. 349). Gean provides no arguments which could be used against my Argument v.

22 Davidson, DonaldMental Events,” in Foster, Lawrence and Swanson, J. W. (eds.), Experience and Theory (Amherst, Mass.: The University of Massachusetts Press, 1970), p. 97.Google Scholar

23 Op. cit., p. 98.

24 I am indebted to Richard Taylor for his helpful comments on this paper.

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