Acting in Light of One's Acting: Practical Reasoning and the Excellences
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This dissertation draws from certain recent accounts of action, action explanation and reasons to illuminate our conceptions of practical reasoning, fallibility, expertise, virtues, advising, and practical intelligence. My thesis is that, in the course of her ongoing acting, an agent can respond to evaluative features by deliberately adjusting her acting, and that this represents a form of practical reasoning that casts significant light on the nature of action, the practice of advising, and on the prospects for Aristotelian naturalism more generally. The majority of the dissertation is devoted to articulating and defending this idea. I proceed by first describing Michael Thompson’s, John McDowell’s, and Jonathan Dancy’s work in action theory, thus providing context and introducing central ideas. Chapter Two responds to Bernard Williams’s concerns about the role of virtues in first-personal deliberation by defending a novel, but controversial, conception of practical reasoning. Chapter Three asks and answers the question of how we should understand the nature of the evaluative features and our responsiveness to them in exercises of practical intelligence, and supports the general account of knowledge of goodness developed by those who claim goodness is attributive. Chapter Four defends the positions that practical reasoning can conclude in acting and can take the form of fully absorbed acting, replying to Joseph Raz, John Broome, and Hubert Dreyfus’ arguments to the contrary. Chapter Five examines how, in a way analogous to testimony, giving advice can convey practical knowledge and argues that advising’s greater action-guiding potential lies in the cultivation of understanding and practical intelligence. Chapter Six presents and criticizes Judith Thomson’s views on how evaluative features inform practical reasoning and advising, contrasting her in-respects-similar positions with this dissertation. The work concludes by considering McDowell and Williams’ objections to Aristotelian naturalism and reflecting on how the dissertation’s achievements might change one’s assessment of the position.