The Jowett Society (Friday - Week 2, HT20)

Philosophical Society

The idea that we are intentional agents, for the most part acting rationally in light of our mental states, possesses strong intuitive appeal. Following on from this, it seems plausible to think that we make good sense of one another’s behaviour by reasoning about what we take them to believe, desire, etc. However, this model is philosophically tendentious and recently some new challenges to our prima facie status as practical agents have emerged. This talk explores two such challenges. First, work in comparative human/animal research which suggests that predicting and explaining another subject’s actions may standardly be a matter of smart behaviour reading alone, rather than involving any attribution of mental states. Second, work in social psychology which seems to show that our own actions are regularly subject to significant influence from sub-conscious, irrational factors. I seek to reject both these new challenges to the intuitive view, arguing that an appropriately undemanding account of reason-responsive action still provides the most attractive account of how we gain access to, and act within, our social world.


After the talks all are invited to socialise and continue discussion over drinks in the Ryle Room. If you would like to join for dinner after the drinks reception, please email