Volume 44, Issue 1, Spring 2016
Essays on the Philosophy of Frederick Stoutland
Bodily Movement and Its Significance
I trace the development of one aspect of Fred Stoutland’s thought about action by considering the central role given by contemporary philosophy of action to bodily movement. Those who tell the so-called standard story of action think that actions are bodily movements (arm raisings, leg bendings, etc.) caused by beliefs and desires, that cause further effects in the world (switch flippings, door movements, etc.) in virtue of which they can be described (as flippings of switches, shuttings of doors, etc.). Those who hold a disjunctive conception of bodily movement think that actions are bodily movements that involve intentions essentially, but they too think that when an agent raises a glass, there is an action (an arm raising, perhaps) that causes a distinct event (a glass rising), in virtue of which the action (= the bodily movement) may be redescribed as a raising of a glass. Against both views, it might be held that actions may constitutively involve the changes wrought on their patients—that action is, in the first instance, transaction. But if action consists fundamentally not in an agent’s moving herself, but in her moving (or otherwise changing) something else, then how should we think about the nature and philosophical significance of bodily movement?