Dynamics in Action

Intentional Behavior as a Complex System

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.

Table of Contents

  1. Acknowledgments
  2. Abbreviations
  3. Introduction
  4. 1. How the Modern Understanding of Cause Came to Be
  5. 2. Causal Theories of Action
  6. 3. Action and the Modern Understanding of Explanation
  7. 4. Action as Lawful Regularities
  8. 5. Action and Reductive Accounts of Purposiveness
  9. 6. Information Theory and the Problem of Action
  10. 7. Some New Vocabulary: A Primer on Systems Theory
  11. 8. Nonequilibrium Thermodynamics
  12. 9. Constraints as Causes: The Intersection of Information Theory and Complex Systems Dynamics
  13. 10. Dynamical Constraints as Landscapes: Meaning and Behavior as Topology
  14. 11. Embodied Meaning
  15. 12. Intentional Action: A Dynamical Account
  16. 13. Threading an Agent's Control Loop through the Environment
  17. 14. Narrative Explanation and the Dynamics of Action
  18. 15. Agency, Freedom, and Individuality
  19. Notes
  20. References
  21. Index