Philosophy of Action -- Seminar  - Spring 2005


Philosophy 736-960-001

University of Wisconsin/Milwaukee Spring 2005
Instructor: Luca FERRERO
Schedule : Th 6:30-9:10pm
Office: Curtin Hall 627
Lecture Room: CRT 607
tel. (414) 229-5903/4719
Office hour: T 12:30-1:30


and by appointment


Cours e Description

The notion of reason is crucial to the distinction between actions and mere happenings. The questions that we can ask about mere happenings are only of the 'how?' kind—"how did this event come about?" For act ions, however, we can always ask a differe nt and distinctive why-question, "Why did the agent do so-and-so?" The latter is a request for the reason that led the agent to act as she did. It could be claimed (with good reasons...) that actions are the sort of events for which explanation in terms o f reasons, rather than just causes, is in order. Mere physical occurrences are not to be interpreted, comprehended, justified or criticized, but actions are. Interpretation, understanding, justification and crit icism are directed primarily at actions and make sense only because one takes that there are reasons for these actions.

In this seminar we will explore the nature of the relation between agency and reason. Among the questions that we will investi gate are: what is it for an agent to have a reason and be guided by it? Is guidance by reason distinctive only of intentional c onduct by adult human beings, or it is also present in the agency of either other animals or children? Are reasons objective ma tters of fact or rather psychological attitudes of the agent (such as her beliefs and desires)? How does the answer to the latte r question bear on the distinction between objective and subjective reasons? Are reasons for action primarily (if not exclusiv ely) of the instrumental kind (i.e., reasons how to best achieve a given end, rather than reasons for the selections of ends)? Ho w does the answer to the latter question affect our understanding of the guiding force of reasons on our conduct? Is there a distinction between reasons for action and rational or normative requirements? Finally, if time permits, we might briefly consider how different rational considerations might come together to give the reason for a particular action, i.e., the all-things-c onsidered reason for it.

The seminar is not specifically focused on moral agency, but on agency in its broadest sense. It should thus be of interest for anyone who is concerned with the relations between agency, reason, and normativity as they ar e currently discussed in a varie ty of fields (such as philosophy of mind, moral philosophy and epistemology). Readings will be drawn from recent books and papers in the analytical tradition.


If you are trying to access the readings from on off-campus computer, you might have to go through this page first



Make sure to check for
Study Aid and On-line Resources in Philosophy



This is a tentative list. 
Changes will be made as the discussion unfolds in the seminar. 
Changes will be announced in class. I do not guarantee the regular update of the online schedule

All readings will be available to download 
If there is no link from this page, please check the course page on

01/27 I Introduction  
02/03 II Reasons and Self-Knowledge -- Velleman, D. Introduction to The Possibility of Practical Reason
Velleman, D. "The Possibility of Practical Reason" Ethics
02/10 III Reasons and Self-Constitution Korsgaard, C. "Self-Constitution in the Ethics of Plato and Kant in The Journal of Ethics 3: 1-29, 1999 
-- Korsgaard Self-Constitution: Action, Identity and Integrity -- The John Locke Lectures 2002 (selections)
02/17 IV Instrumentalism -- Korsgaard, C. (1997) "The Normativity of Instrumental Reason.", Ethics and Practical Reason, eds. Garrett & Culity, Oxford: Clarendon, pp. 215-254.
-- Hubin D. "The Groundless Normativity of Instrumental Rationality", The Journal of Philosophy 98:9(2001) 445-468
-- Millar A. "Reasons for Action and Instrumental Reasoning', in José Bermúdez and Alan Millar (eds.) Reason in Nature: Essays in the Theory of Rationality. (Oxford: Clarendon Press), 113-32
02/24 V


-- Railton P. Facts, Values and Norms, Ch. 10 pp. 293-321
-- Railton P. "Normative Force and Normative Freedom: Hume and Kant, But Not Hume versus Kant" Ratio, December 1999, vol. 12, no. 4, pp. 320-353
--Lavin "Practical Reason and the Possibility of Error" Ethics
--Setyia "Explaining Action" Philosophical Review
--Haugeland "Truth and Rule-Following" in Having Thought
03/03 VI

Normative Requi rements

--Broome "Normative Requirements"
--Broome "Reasons"
--Dancy Practical Reality (selections)
03/10 VII --Kolodny "Why Be Rational?"
--Schroeder "The Scope of Instrumental Reason"
03/17 VIII --Wallace "Normativity, Commitment, and Instrumental Reason," Philosophers' Imprint 1, no. 3 (December 2001) http://www.philoso
--Wallace "Normativity and the Will," in John Hyman and Helen Steward, eds., Agency and Action (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 2004).

-- Scanlon What We Owe to Each Others. Ch . 1 "Reasons"
-- Scanlon "Structural Irrationality" in G. Brennan, R. Goodin and M. Smith (eds.), Common Minds (Oxford: Oxford University Press, forthcoming).

---- ----


03/31 XIX

--- slack ---

04/07 X Putting Reasons Together  -- Raz, J. Practical Reason and Norms Ch.1
-- Dancy, J. 'Enticing Reasons', forthcoming in Reason and Value: Themes from the 
Moral Philosophy of Joseph Raz, ed. R. Jay Wallace, Philip Pettit, Samuel&nbs p;
Scheffler, and Michael Smith (OUP 2003)
-- Dancy, J. "What Do Reasons Do?" Southern Journal of Philosophy
Dancy, J. Ethics Without Principles (selections)
04/14 XI
04/21 XII

Reasons, Explanation and Psychological States

Anscombe Intention (selections)
--C. McGinn " Action and Its Explanation"
--Davidson "Action, Reasons, and Causes"
--F. Dretske "Reasons and Causes" Philosophical Perspectives, Vol. 3, Philosophy of Mind and Action Theory. (1989), pp. 1-15
04/28 XIII Mele TBA
Schueler TBA
05/05 XIV --Stoutland "Re asons for Action"
--A. Collins "The Psychological Reality of Reasons" Ratio, X.2, 1997
Dancy Practical Reality (selections)
05/12 XV

Writing Workshop




2 Presentations based on the assigned readings
     Each presentation must be accompanied by an outline to be distributed to the participants

10% (total)

5 Outlines of the assigned readings (450-700 words each)

  • Outlines are due on the day when the reading is assigned
    The first outline is due on the second meeting (Feb 03)
    Two more outlines must be done before Spring break
    Th e final two outlines must be done after Spring break

10% (total)
Participation in the seminar discussion


Comments on peer-writing (see Writing Workshop) 10%

Final Research Paper (4500-6000 words // approximately 15 - 20 pages)



click here to see the GRADING GUIDELINES

Please note that P LAGIARISM is a serious instance of Academic Misconduct

Plagiarism includes:

  1. Directly quoting the words of others without using quotation marks or indented format to identify them; or,
  2. Using sources of informati on (published or unpublished) without identifying them; or,
  3. Paraphrasing materials or ideas of others without identifying the sources.

UWM Policy concerning Plagiarism is available at 



In this class, you are given the opportunity to benefit from the comments of your peers on the first draft of your papers. You must submit the first draft of the paper together with a detailed outline on the first day of the writing workshop. Two or three other students will be assigned to you as commentators. You will meet with them at the writing workshop and discuss with them how to improve your draft. You then have some more days to revise your draft before submitting the final version for grading (for the exact deadlines, see the schedule above). You will also be commenting on the work of two or three other students. You will receive their drafts on the day when your draft is due. You will turn in your written comments at the writing workshop.

Please note that the active participation in the writing workshop is REQUIRED in order to pass the class. Detailed instructions about the writing workshop will be distributed during the term and made available on my homepage at ing-workshop.htm


CLASS REFLECTOR: a class reflector ( ) has been set up up for general announcements. Notice that, if you do not use your ePanther/alpha account regularly, it is your responsibility to make sure that your UWM mail is forwarded to your preferred email account (for instructions on UWM eP anther accounts go to


Academic Misconduct Policy: see

Drop/Audit Policy: Students will be allowed to drop the course up through the last day permitted by the Registrar. Likewi se, students may elect to audit the course up through the last day permitted by the Registrar

Grievance and Appeals Policy: The Department of Philosophy has procedures for handling student grievance and grade-appeals. Information is available in the Department office, 612 Curtin Hall

Special Assistance: If you need special assistance, please contact me the first day of class


Last Modified