The Functions of Intentional Explanations of Actions

Erik Weber and Robrecht Vanderbeeken

The Functions of Intentional Explanations of Actions

En: Behavior and Philosophy, 55, 1 -16 (2005).  Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies.


“This paper deals with the functions of intentional explanations of actions (IEAs), i.e., explanations that refer to intentional states (beliefs, desires, etc.) of the agent. IEAs can have different formats. We consider these different formats to be instruments that enable the explainer to capture different kinds of information. We pick out two specific formats, i.e. contrastive and descriptive, which will enable us to discuss the functions of IEAs. In many cases the explanation is contrastive, i.e. it makes use of one or more contrasts between real intentional states and ideal intentional states (ideal from the point of view of the explainer). In many other cases IEAs have a descriptive (covering-law) format. The aim of this paper is to analyze the fiinctions the two kinds of explanations can have. We will show that certain functions are better served by one rather than the other format. This leads to pluralism with respect to formats. We argue that both formats are necessary and that their functions are complementary.”

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