[hist-analytic] Mele, Libet and My Take on Volition etc.

Baynesr at comcast.net Baynesr at comcast.net
Tue Feb 1 19:53:15 EST 2011

I'm going to move on to discuss Effective Intention: The Power of Conscious Will, by Alfred Mele, Oxford, 2010. This is a short book of, roughly, 150 pages. It is concerned mainly with neurology in philosophy and devotes considerable attention to Benjamin Libet's work. If you aren't familiar with Libet, his book Mind and Time: The Temporal Factor in Consciousness, Harvard, 2004 is the book to read. Very good book. If you want to follow my postings you might want to read it or, at least, my review of it at: 


The introductory chapter of Mele's book is an overview of his own position. I will soon begin to examine the general features he lays out; but, first, let me show my cards, but only as much as I usually do, as an indication of my own position, which I shall not digress to discuss but, rather, have them unfold over time. 

My own position includes the following: 

1. The notion that although encouraged by Descartes the preoccupation with event causation in phil. of action is regrettably dependent, at least historically, on the semantic debates over propositional attitudes. I detach myself from the semantics in large measure, preferring instead to look at ontological features related to philosophy of science. 

2. I opt for processes as fundamental over events. 

3. I identify my approach as unique in a couple of respects: first, my dualism is "causal" and neither Cartesian nor of the dual aspect variety. 

4. Second, unlike others, I do not identify systems possessing causal efficacy with systems that are capable of carrying what physicists call "information." (think here, perhaps, of a vector field). 

5. I distinguish causes and explanation: nonphysical things that have physical explanations enter the picture. 

6. I deplore the constriction of the philosophical issue of mental causation to debates over anything that look like quale. I distance myself from supervenience. This gets complex, but is fundamental. 

7. I connect empirical intuitions (the Kantian suggestion is deliberate) and volition somewhat in the way James did, but my position lies somewhere (in some respects, not all) between James and F. H. Bradley. Many contemporary philosophers are attempting to rediscover their ideas. I suppose, then, they won't have to acknowledge them, but they were there first on a number of important issues in phil of action. 

I have completed about 150 pages on the history of the theory of action following Aristotle but before Anscombe. What I hope to lay before you are the rudiments of a nonmonistic theory of action that rejects the primacy of neurology and physicalism at the level of action (and perception) 


STeven R. Bayne 

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