What is the difference between a wink and a blink? The answer is important not only to philosophers of mind, for significant moral and legal consequences rest on the distinction between voluntary and involuntary behavior. However, "action theory" -- the branch of philosophy that has traditionally articulated the boundaries between action and non-action, and between voluntary and involuntary behavior -- has been unable to account for the difference.
Alicia Juarrero argues that a mistaken, 350-year-old model of cause and explanation -- one that takes all causes to be of the push-pull, efficient cause sort, and all explanation to be prooflike -- underlies contemporary theories of action. Juarrero then proposes a new framework for conceptualizing causes based on complex adaptive systems. Thinking of causes as dynamical constraints makes bottom-up and top-down causal relations, including those involving intentional causes, suddenly tractable. A different logic for explaining actions -- as historical narrative, not inference -- follows if one adopts this novel approach to long-standing questions of action and responsibility.
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Alicia Juarrero is Professor of Philosophy at Prince George's Community College, Maryland. She is a member of the National Council on the Humanities, the governing board of the National Endowment for the Humanities.Review:
Juarrero's lively text skillfully applies the kinds of causal analyses required in non-equilibrium, complex systems theory to the problems of action theory.(Stanley N. Salthe, Biological Sciences, Binghamton University)
This fascinating book makes an important contribution to a central topic in the philosophy of mind. It is also a fine introduction to the 'new' philosophy of science, which has set aside outworn models from the Cartesian and Newtonian domination and taken its place in the front line of scientific debate, along with a biological vision of information and complex systems.(Stephen Toulmin, Henry R. Luce Professor, University of Southern California)
As Juarrero's excellent and comprehensive review of the literature shows, conceptual analyses of what constitutes the difference between a wink and a blink, a free action, and a mere movement, continue to be hampered by too disembodied a conception of freedom and too mechanistic a conception of nature. Juarrero's pioneering use of complex systems dynamics and information theory breaks through this barrier, showing that conceptual analysis need not be a place where old scientific theories go to die when they cannot solve the problems that mean most to us. An extraordinary enlightening and liberating performance.(David Depew, Department of Communication Studies, University of Iowa)
A vast amount of ink has been spilled trying to reconcile our control over own actions -- our free will -- with the physical, causal nature of brain processes. Alicia Juarrero has taken us much closer to a solution to this puzzle, reconstructing the self and its agency as emergent constraints on the dynamic of the complex physical system that is our brain. She has brought one of the oldest questions in philosophy into contact with some of the most exciting recent work in the sciences of the mind. Every philosopher interested in the nature of human agency should read this book.(Paul E. Griffiths, Director, Unit for History and Philosophy of Science, Faculty of Science, University of Sydney, Australia)
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