In this lecture we have begun to think about instrumental action from the point of view of theories of animal learning, distinguishing habitual from goal-directed processes. And we have considered action from the point of view of philosophy of action, focussing on The Problem of Action and the notion of intention.
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The challenge for the whole course is to discover why people act, individually and jointly.
In this lecture we encountered two questions about action:
Question 1: What is the relation between an instrumental action and the outcome or outcomes to which it is directed? (see Goal-Directed and Habitual Processes)
Question 2: What distinguishes your actions from things that merely happen to you? (The Problem of Action, see Philosophical Theories of Action)
Philosophers standardly answer both questions by invoking intention. This supports the Simple Picture of why people act. But is it the whole story?
We can coherently answer the first question by appeal to habitual processes without invoking intention at all. This suggests that the standard philosophical answer is not the whole story.
Our next step is to examine whether the existence of habitual processes creates a problem for philosophical answers to the second question.
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You may encounter variations on this definition of instrumental in the literature. For instance, Dickinson (2016, p. 177) characterises instrumental actions differently: in place of the teleological ‘in order to bring about an outcome’, he stipulates that an instrumental action is one that is ‘controlled by the contingency between’ the action and an outcome. And de Wit & Dickinson (2009, p. 464) stipulate that ‘instrumental actions are learned’.