13 September 2008

A Puzzle about Hornsby

I've read some more of Hornsby's "Simple Mindedness" -- I'm up to the fifth essay. I'm not sure I see why she's so well-liked by other people who like the sorts of things I like. She's okay? I don't feel like I've gained much when I finish one of her essays; the depth of argument always feel a bit shallow. (Though the conclusions are generally agreeable.) I suppose I generally don't get excited about philosophy of mind/action stuff that much, but I'm not sure if that accounts for it. I think I might be missing something.

Anyway, I'm not sure I understand her account of action. Here's two quotes from essay five in the book.

The first quote: "We have an event which is both someone's trying to do something and her actually doing something."

The second quote: "In the philosophy of action, I have claimed that an action (when it has effects beyond the agent) is a cause of a bit of the agent's body moving, and that an action (very nearly always) is an event of the agent's trying to do something."

She uses the example of hammering: "Suppose that her hammering of the nail is her trying to fix it in the wall. Then we have (in my view) the identity of her hammering... with her trying to... [sic, elipses in original]".

So: when Jill hammers, there is an event which is her action, and which is her trying to hammer. I would be inclined to say that (if she is hammering successfully) that this event is also her hammering of the nail, her moving of her arm, her arm's being moved, her driving of the nail into the wall, the nail's being driven into the wall, etc. Which seems to be a way the first quote could be read. But it seems to me that Hornsby wants to say something different: When Jill hammers, ithere is an event which is her action, and which is her trying to hammer, and which is the cause of her hammering, her moving of her arm, etc. This seems to be what's clearly stated in the second quote.

So, to make the two consistent, the "actually doing something" of the first quote seems to just be "actually trying" -- which is not unreasonable in itself, since a trying is a doing-something. But in her example, she seemed to identify the "trying" and the "hammering", so the "actually doing something" seems like it has to be both the hammering and the cause of the bodily movement that is the hammering. Is the hammering/trying supposed to be causa sui? That would seem odd -- I'd think it right to say that they were caused not by themselves, but by the reasons Jill had for hammering. I don't know why Hornsby would want to say something else.

In general, I don't see why she wants to say that actions cause bodily movements, rather than (certain sorts of) actions just being (kinds of) bodily movements, these being two ways to describe the one event. I don't see why anyone would want to say "Actions are inside the body", as Hornsby did in 1980 (and only semi-retracts in "Simple Mindedness", p.232 n.1). What's the point of that sort of slogan, if one doesn't want to try to stick actions "inside", where "mental" things are -- and surely Hornsby is innocent of that urge?

Does Hornsby just want to say that actions (which are bodily movements) generally cause other bodily movements? I suppose that's true, but I don't see why it's worth drawing attention to. Actions cause all sorts of things.

So, I'm puzzled. Some help?

On a side-note: Chicago is cold and wet so far, except for when it's hot and wet. At least my allergies are doing better up here. Less then 24 hours until class-related things start: watching Romeo + Juliet sunday afternoon, then dinner.


J said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ben Wolfson said...

"So: when Jill hammers, there is an event which is her action, and which is her trying to hammer"

Her trying to fix the nail in the wall.

Daniel Lindquist said...

"Her trying to fix the nail in the wall."

I suppose that might be it: Hornsby's "tryings" are fine-grained enough that the "trying" only "takes" one description of what's going on. (I recall her saying that an action causes a noninferential belief that one is performing that action, which would also point this direction.)

If that's the case, then I think I just want to disagree with her. I'm happy to leave it indeterminate just what the action being done is -- just how to describe it, just what its intention was. Sure, we do a lot of things by doing others, and some things we do without such intermediary actions, but I don't see why we should need to draw the line between them too finely. I see no reason not to think that actions aren't indeterminate in the way beliefs are.

In any case, I put her book down when I got to the epilogue of chapter six. Hopefully the good parts weren't all towards the end.