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Les formes de l’action

Patrick Pharo
Louis Quéré


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1This paper retums to the source of thinking about practical reason, i.e. Aristotle’s Ethics. The author underlines the distinction introduced by Aristotle between practical and theoretical reason. Practical reason or phronesis is the form of intervention of reason in action. Ladrière stresses the importance of maintaining this distinction at the present moment.

2The author is looking for a framework within which to treat individual and social actions without conceptual discontinuity. He examines the manner in which the identification of the

3 Davidson’s semantics answers Wittgenstein’s problem – do our intentional actions escape from the domain of what can be said? – by a theory of events and their causal explanation, which avoids introducing intentionality. The author’s thesis is that Davidson’s contribution to action theory is precisely a battle against intentionality. Rejection of intentionality is at the same tinte the main feature and the limit of Davidson’s semantics of action, as well as of any semantics applied to social action.

4Can the sociological analysis of social practices and behaviors use the natural semantics of action as a framework for inquiry and description? The answers depends upon the status confered to the ordinary discourse on action. Using the problem of intention as a guiding line, the author shows how descriptions, explanations and rationalizations of action are themselves part of the process of construction of the objectivity of the behavioral field.

5This paper is concerned with the ways in which people represent their actions, in the framework of devices which create both means and constraints for expression. After defining the hermeneutical position of his work, the author indicates his main methodological guidelines, combining in situ observation of fragments of action and the analysis of the series of operations by which the actors account for what they do. Examining two different administrative situations, the paper shows the moments of "resistances to representation" of actions according to procedural rules, and the costs incurred by the agents for consenting to translate their acts into imposed formulae. On the other hand, it describes those accounts which are considered by the agents themselves as corresponding more exactly to their real actions.

6Can situated action be reduced to the implementation of a plan? Most of the research in AI answers positively to this question, when it has to formalize human practices and behaviors. This paper criticizes this assumption and suggests to consider actions not as determined by previous plans, but by a continuons process of adjustment to the ongoing situation, which the actor discovers from within, through the development of action.

7If social action implies a distance between the actor and himself, it is important to know to what extent a rational discussion on action can be developed between actors and researchers, and to what extent such a debate is able to produce knowledge. The organization of this discussion requires that methodological rules are followed and that sociologists accept to submit themselves to interpretive constraints. This paper builds upon research on social movements and the construction of social experiences.

8The understanding of the other’s action seems to depend primarily upon the public character of the intentionality of the actor’s behavior. From this results the possibility to see and to describe this behavior as oriented by moral and normative requirements. This paper shows that the description of what an autistic individual does in terms of ordinary courses of action implies to see it as that of a moral agent, who exhibits in his acts that he is behaving in conformity with institutionnalized forms of the daily life.

9How to conceive the relationship between action and its description? Spontaneously we are led to see "doing" and "talking" as two different phenomena and to try to link them in terms of correspondence. This paper criticizes this model and proposes to analyze "talking" as part and parcel of "doing". This proposal is based on an analysis of the way in which actions produce themselves, as a componant of their accomplishment, the visibility and communicability of their identity and structure.

10This paper has been published for the first time in the Proceedings of the Aristotelician Society, London, 1957. It is based on a lecture given by E. Anscombe. In her paper she looks for a criterion allowing to distinguish intentional actions; for this, she analyzes the particular meaning taken by the question "why? " when it is applied to intentional actions.

11The purpose of this paper is to analyze the motives of action by looking at the semantic constraints of its expression and accomplishment. The existence of these semantic constraints offers a stable ground for the formulation of realistic hypotheses on the intentions, motives and meaning of the action. This approach uses the work of E. Anscombe and particularly her book Intention, which reintroduces in analytic philosophy the Aristotelician theory of action.

12To what extern can the debate about the nature of intentionality, which takes place in the philosophy of mind, matter for the social sciences and make a contribution to the analysis of action? This paper presents Dennett’s cognitive theory of intentionality. The author suggests that this theory may be a new way to solve the classic opposition between causal explanation and interpretation.

© Éditions de l’École des hautes études en sciences sociales, 1990

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