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Success and Knowledge in Action: Saving Anscombe’s Account of Intentionality

Markus Kneer


According to Anscombe, acting intentionally entails knowledge in action. This thesis has been near-universally rejected due to a well-known counterexample by Davidson: a man intending to make ten legible carbon copies might not believe with confidence, and hence not know, that he will succeed. If he does, however, his action surely counts as intentional. Damaging as it seems, an even more powerful objection can be levelled against Anscombe: while acting, there is as yet no fact of the matter as to whether the agent will succeed. Since his belief that he will is not yet true while his action is in progress, he cannot possibly know that he is indeed bringing about the intended goal. Knowledge in action is not only unnecessary for intentional action, it seems, but-at least as regards success-bound types of action-impossible to attain in the first place.

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