Student Report: Superdeep#13 – “The Question “Why” and Descriptions of Action”

Superdeep #13 is part of Superdeep philosophy workshop series led by Professor Nathan Hauthaler. 

Presented and reported by Dongkun Lyu

(Since this seminar was organized by myself, I have written this special narrative report in first person.)

Photo by Weifan Mo, Class of 2023

The topic and notions that appeared in this seminar were mostly centered on the philosophy of action which is an important field concerning human bodily movement and intention. Both the question “why” and description of action were essential concepts in Anscombe’s work Intention, a classic of 20th-century philosophy.

I started this seminar by resorting to pertinence between daily actions and philosophy-level thoughts to capture the interest of these abstract topics.

I first introduced the question “why” towards actions, the answer to which could distinguish whether one action is intentional or not. For instance, the answer to the question “Why are you knocking at the table” could lead to three possible outcomes. If the answer was “I was not aware I was doing this”, then it refuted the application of “why”. If one answers in this way that “Because I am angry, so I knocked at the table”, then the one was appealing to causation rather than intention. If one described the action as “I am knocking at the table to praise you” then the action was an intentional action.

After that, I delved into descriptions. Since the same action (e.g., knocking at the table) could have many descriptions (“knocking the desk”, “Making noise”, “Hitting my hands” …), it really matters to distinguish actions as actions “under which description”. This directly determines the object of another important concept “practical knowledge” proposed by Anscombe.

Then I mentioned my recent research about practical knowledge which closely relevant to the topics discussed in this seminar. Consequently, participants could understand why I introduced these methodology and notions in Intention. The reason why I introduced the question “why” and descriptions of action is to validate the truth condition of practical knowledge as knowledge which is one of the most essential inferences in my recent research.

Some students raised very useful and relevant questions or doubts. Tekla was confused about what is Teleological understanding. Dmitry wondered how descriptions as a post-mental factor with a component of language function in purely mental states. Professor Nathan (since he was a savant in this area, he could also add plenty of additional thoughts) and I responded to these questions and recorded some doubts to continue my research.

I really appreciate all the friends who participated in this seminar for bringing valuable ideas!