Action Theory pp 241-270 | Cite as

‘Can’ in Theory and Practice: A Possible Worlds Analysis

  • Keith Lehrer
Part of the Synthese Library book series (SYLI, volume 97)

Abstract

The word ‘can’ stands at the intersection of our theoretical and practical interests. In science and rational inquiry, we seek to explain human behavior and assume there to be natural laws to be discovered in this domain as in others. Given such laws and suitable antecedent conditions every human action may be explained in such a way that it appears that the agent could have performed no other action than the one he did. Our legal and moral concerns, on the other hand, lead us to assume that people sometimes could have fulfilled their obligations when, in fact, they did not do so. To resolve the conflict, philosophers have argued that statements about what a person could have done should be analyzed in terms of conditionals. Others have demurred. The present moment is a propitious one for reconsideration because of recent research on conditionals using possible world semantics. Using such methods, I shall argue that ‘can’ and ‘could have’ statements should not be analyzed in terms of conditionals. I shall, moreover, provide an analysis of ‘can’ and ‘could have’ statements within the framework of possible world semantics. Finally, I shall argue that under the analysis provided, conflict between theory and practice, between freedom and determinism, may be resolved. The resolution shows that truth of the statement that a person could have done otherwise is independent of the truth of determinism.

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Bibliography

  1. Aune, B., ‘Hypothetical and “can”: Another Look’, Analysis 27 (1967), 191–195.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Aune, B., Tree Will, “can”, and Ethics: A Reply to Lehrer’, Analysis 30 (1970), 77–83.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Austin, J. L., ‘Ifs and Cans’, Proc. of The British Academy 42, Oxford University Press, 1956, reprinted in Brand (5). Baier, K., ‘Could and Would’, Analysis suppl. vol. 1 (1963), pp. 20–29, and reprinted with modification in Feigl, Sellars, and Lehrer (9).Google Scholar
  4. Brand, M., The Nature of Human Action, Scott, Foresman and Co., 1970.Google Scholar
  5. Brand, M., ‘On Having The Opportunity’, Theory and Decision 2 (1972), 307–313.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Campbell, C. S., ‘Is “Free Will” a Pseudo-Problem?’, Mind 60 (1951), 441–465.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Dore, C., ‘On a Recent Discussion of Ifs and Cans’, Philosophical Studies 21 (1970), 33–37.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Feigl, H., Sellars, W., and Lehrer, K., New Readings in Philosophical Analysis, Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1972.Google Scholar
  9. Goldman, H., A Theory of Human Action, Prentice Hall, 1970, pp. 199–200.Google Scholar
  10. Grice, P. H., ‘The Causal Theory of Perception’, Proc. Ar. Soc. supp. vol. 20 (1946).Google Scholar
  11. Hilpinen, R., ‘Can and Modal Logic’, Ajatus 32 (1970), 7–17.Google Scholar
  12. Hume, D., An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Open Court, 1956, p. 103.Google Scholar
  13. Kaufman, A. S., ‘Ability’, Journal of Philosophy 60 (1963), 537–551, reprinted in Brand (5).Google Scholar
  14. Lehrer, K., Freedom and Determinism, Random House, 1966.Google Scholar
  15. Lehrer, K., ‘An Empirical Disproof of Determinism?’ in Lehrer (15). Lehrer, K., ‘“Could” and Determinism’, Analysis 24 (1964), 159–160.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Lehrer, K. and Taylor, R., ‘Time, Truth, and Modalities’, Mind 74 (1965), 390–398.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Lewis, D., Counter/actuals, Harvard University Press, 1973.Google Scholar
  18. Moore, G. E., Ethics, Chapter VI, Clarendon Press, 1912, reprinted in Brand (5).Google Scholar
  19. Nowell-Smith, P. H., ‘Ifs and Cans’, Theoria 26 (1960), 85–101.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Pears, D. F., ‘Ifs and Cans’, Canadian Journal of Philosophy 1 (1972), 369–391.Google Scholar
  21. Pollock, J. L., Subjective Reasonings, Reidel, forthcoming.Google Scholar
  22. Pollock, J. L., ‘Four Kinds of Conditionals’, American Philosophical Quarterly 12 (1975), 51–60.Google Scholar
  23. Salmon, W. C., Statistical Explanation and Statistical Relevance, University of Pittsburgh, 1971.Google Scholar
  24. Sanford, D. H., ‘Causal Necessity and Logical Necessity’, Philosophical Studies, forthcoming.Google Scholar
  25. Sellars, W., ‘Fatalism and Determinism’, in Lehrer (15).Google Scholar
  26. Stalnaker, R., ‘A Theory of Conditionals’, American Philosophical Quarterly, monograph series, Vol. 2 (1968), 98–112.Google Scholar
  27. Taylor, R., ‘I Can’, Philosophical Review 69 (1960), 78–89, reprinted in Feigl, Sellars, and Lehrer (9).Google Scholar
  28. van Inwagen, P., ‘A Formal Approach to The Problem of Free Will and Determinism’, Theoria 60 (1974), 9–22.Google Scholar
  29. van Inwagen, P., ‘The Incompatibility of Free Will and Determinism’, Philosophical Studies 27 (1975), 185–199.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Walton, D., ‘The Logic of Ability’, Philosophy Research Archives, forthcoming. Walton, D., ‘“Can”, Determinism, and Modal Logic’, The Modern Schoolman 52 (1975), 381–390.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© D. Reidel Publishing Company, Dordrecht-Holland 1976

Authors and Affiliations

  • Keith Lehrer
    • 1
  1. 1.University of ArizonaUSA

Personalised recommendations