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This week we consider the role of motor representation in explaining instrumental action, explore a first Interface Problem concerning how intention and motor representation are related, and link all of this back to The Problem of Action.


This week’s lecture introduces some ideas that could be used for a second, entirely independent way of answering Assignment 2. (Ideas for a first way of answering that assignment were presented in Lecture 02.)

This is the last lecture (for now) on the topic of how discoveries in the behavioural sciences might matter for asking and answering philosophical questions about individual action.

This lecture depends on you having studied a section from a previous lecture:

For the minimum course of study, consider only this section:

If you need more time for studying Lecture 02, you can safely skip this whole lecture for now. It is not essential for answering Assignment 2. And although ideas introduced here will be used in some later lectures (especially motor representation), it would be possible to complete all the assignments without considering them.

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instrumental action : An action is instrumental if it happens in order to bring about an outcome, as when you press a lever in order to obtain food. (In this case, obtaining food is the outcome, lever pressing is the action, and the action is instrumental because it occurs in order to bring it about that you obtain food.)
You may variations on this definition of instrumental in the literature. Dickinson (2016, p. 177) characterises instrumental actions differently: in place of the teleological ‘in order to bring about an outcome’, he stipulates that an instrumental action is one that is ‘controlled by the contingency between’ the action and an outcome. And de Wit & Dickinson (2009, p. 464) stipulate that ‘instrumental actions are learned’.
motor representation : The kind of representation characteristically involved in preparing, performing and monitoring sequences of small-scale actions such as grasping, transporting and placing an object. They represent actual, possible, imagined or observed actions and their effects.
The Problem of Action : What distinguishes your actions from things that merely happen to you? (According to Frankfurt (1978, p. 157), ‘The problem of action is to explicate the contrast between what an agent does and what merely happens to him.’)


de Wit, S., & Dickinson, A. (2009). Associative theories of goal-directed behaviour: A case for animalhuman translational models. Psychological Research PRPF, 73(4), 463–476.
Dickinson, A. (2016). Instrumental conditioning revisited: Updating dual-process theory. In J. B. Trobalon & V. D. Chamizo (Eds.), Associative learning and cognition (Vol. 51, pp. 177–195). Edicions Universitat Barcelona.
Frankfurt, H. G. (1978). The problem of action. American Philosophical Quarterly, 15(2), 157–162.