Context

(Student Guide to World Philosophy)

Among the perennial ontological issues that philosophers have addressed are the relation between the mental and the physical and the fundamental categories of reality. The former issue, the relation of the mental and the physical, is often termed “the mind-body problem” and involves questions concerning the nature of the mind and how, if at all, a nonphysical entity (mind) can influence or be influenced by a physical entity (body). The latter issue, the fundamental categories of reality, can be traced back to the pre-Socratic philosophers, who questioned whether there was some single unifying reality that underlay the multiplicity of entities of everyday experience. In addressing this issue, philosophers have asked questions such as whether the physical world is “really real” and whether the world is made up basically of things, as opposed to, for example, processes. Are properties (such as being tall) real? Are relations (such as being taller than another person) real? Are events, as opposed to things, real? These are the types of issues and questions that Donald Davidson addresses in these essays.

This book consists of fifteen essays, written between 1963 and 1978, grouped into three clusters covering intention and action, event and cause, and philosophy of psychology. In the book’s introduction, Davidson enunciates a common theme to the essays: the role of causal concepts in the description and explanation of human action. He also insists that there is one, ordinary notion of cause employed both in scientific accounts of human action and in commonsense experiential accounts. As Davidson puts it: “The concept of cause is what holds together our picture of the universe.”