Philosophy of action

Basic Information

Course modules 2023/2024
Josep Lluís Prades
Module 6. Theories of Rationality


Mondays, 16:00 - 19:00


Non philosophers seem to have no problem accepting that we often act without reasons. This phenomenon –intentionally acting without reasons- is not easily accounted for by standard philosophical explanations of intentional action and practical reasoning. The purpose of the course will be to dispel the common philosophical illusion that intentional action requires having, or believing we have, reasons to act, and that practical reasoning is a way of considering the reasons we have to form certain intentions.

The course will try to show that this misconception underlies contemporary neo-Humean theories of motivation, standard versions of decision theory, and most common non-Humean accounts of intentional action. Attention will be paid to the basic linguistic data that show that the role of rationalizing explanations of intentional action is only to determine the purpose with which the agent acts. The successful rationalization of an intentional action does not show that the agent needs to believe that she had reasons of any kind. This teleological approach will be used to show that practical reasoning is the process of endorsing a purpose, not necessarily the process of weighting reasons.

The course does not presuppose any previous familiarity with the topic


  1. Humean theories of motivation.
  2. Motivating and normative reasons
  3. Having a reason and acting for a reason
  4. The rationalistic conception of motivation
  5. The teleology of intentional action
  6. Intentional Action and Practical Rationality

Learning outcomes

The aim of the course is to familiarize participants with the main issues and positions in the contemporary debate, and to put them into a position where they can begin to defend a view of their own.

More specifically, this includes:

· understanding the main positions in contemporary Philosophy of Action

· understanding most of the key notions and arguments used in contemporary Philosophy of Action.

· practicing the competent application of these notions in a philosophical debate.

· developing the ability to articulate one’s own position in this debate (at least provisionally), and to defend it in argument.

This contributes to the following competences promoted by the APhil master programme:

· Competent use of the terminology, concepts and methods used in contemporary analytic philosophy, and their employment in the argumentative defence of a position.

· Ability to identify the current state of a particular philosophical debate, and form a reasoned view, even if provisional, about it.

· Ability to conduct a philosophical discussion (orally and in written form), by putting forward, for example, general arguments or specific examples, in support of one’s position.

· Ability to work independently as well as in a team, in an international context.

· Independent and creative application of one’s knowledge to new problems, i.e. the ability to employ knowledge and abilities acquired in one area in order to address new problems or problems in different areas.

· Development of the ability to conduct philosophical research in an independent and autonomous way (as is required, for example, in pursuing doctoral studies).



There will be 12 sessions of a weekly seminar –about 3 hours each one. Each week there will be a one-hour lecture-style presentation, and a one-hour seminar in which specific assigned reading will be discussed.



36 hours : 12 collective sessions of 3 hours.

2 hours of individual tutorials.



Every week, one of the students will be asked to introduce the discussion of a topic, connected to some reading previously determined.

Also, students will be asked to write one critical essay of between 3000 and 5000 words length, on a relevant question to be agreed with the convener, who will also be available for advice on essay plans.

A reevaluation will be possible for students whose final mark is superior to "3/10". It will consist in the resolution of a questionnaire about basic issues of the course and the essay they will have already submitted




Anscombe, G. E. M., 1957, Intention, Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Hume, D., 1978, A Treatise of Human Nature, second edition, in L. A. Selby-Bigge and P. H. Niditch (eds.), Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Hyman, J. 2015. Action, Knowledge and Will. Oxford: OUP.

Thompson, M., 2008, Life and Action, Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Wittgenstein, L., 1958, Philosophical Investigations, Oxford: Basil Blackwell.


Chapters of Books

Davidson, D., 1982 “Actions, Reasons and Causes”, in his Essays on Actions and Events, Oxford: Clarendon.

Davidson, D., 1982 “Intending”, in his Essays on Actions and Events, Oxford: Clarendon.

Korsgaard, C., 1997, “The Normativity of Instrumental Reason”, in Garrett Cullity & Berys Gaut (eds.), Ethics and Practical Reason. Oxford: Clarendon.

Quinn, W. 1993. ”Putting Rationality in its Place” in Frey R. and C. Morris (eds.): Value, Welfare and Morality. Cambridge: CUP

Wiggins, D., 1987, “A Sensible Subjectivism”, in his Needs, Values, Truth, Oxford: Basil Blackwell

Williams, B., 1981, “Internal and External Reasons”, in his Moral Luck, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.



Broome, 1999: ‘Normative Requirements’. Ratio. 12, pp. 398-419.

Hurtshouse, R. 1991: ‘Arational Actions’. Journal of Philosophy, 88., pp.57-68.

Kolnai, A. 1962: ‘Deliberation is of Ends’. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 62, pp. 195–218.

Smith, M., 1987, “The Humean Theory of Motivation”, Mind 96: 36-61.

Other considerations

It might be necessary, following the instructions of the health authorities, to implement some online teaching activities. Students would be timely informed of any relevant change.