Dretske on Explaining Behavior

Kirk Ludwig




Fred Dretske has argued, in a highly original book and a series of articles, that action explanations are a very special species of historical explanation, in opposition to the traditional view that action explanations cite causes of actions, which are identical with bodily movements.  His account aims to explain how it is possible for there to be a genuine explanatory role for reasons in a world of causes, and, in particular, in a world in which we have available in principle an explanation for any movement of our bodies in neurophysiological terms.  While Dretske draws attention to an important, and overlooked, feature of the form of the explananda of action explanations, he draws the wrong conclusion from it.  This paper argues argues that his account of the nature of action explanations, and the role of reasons in explaining behavior, cannot be right.  This will force us to re-examine the assumptions that suggest that reason explanations and neurophysiological explanations of our movements cannot coexist.