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American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly

Volume 88, Issue 3, Summer 2014

Roger Teichmann
Pages 465-486
DOI: 10.5840/acpq201463020

The Voluntary and the Involuntary
Themes from Anscombe

More light is thrown on the voluntary/involuntary distinction by considerations concerning actual or possible reasons than by ones concerning possible-doing-otherwise (or possible prevention), or by ones concerning causal powers, of the agent or of mental states. An example of Anscombe’s of the “physiologically involuntary” shows how being voluntary under a description can be a matter, not of anything true at the time, but of the background circumstances, whose relevance can be seen in answers given by the agent to various “Why?” questions. The notion of possible prevention is relevant because of the way in which answers to “Why didn’t you prevent/stop that?” can reflect on a person’s general orientation of will. The sense in which someone’s actions themselves embody a weighing of practical reasons is discussed; as is the force and function of “It didn’t occur to me” as an explanation of not-doing (including not-preventing).