Conceptual Prolegomena to a Psychological Theory of Intentional Action

  • William P. Alston


During most of this century, psychology has advertised itself, at least in the United States, as the ‘science of behaviour’. Presumably the essential aim of such a science will be to construct theories the dependent variables of which will be types or dimensions of behaviour. Now it is quite unclear, and has been from the early days of behaviourism, just what the term ‘behaviour’ is intended to include. When one finds perception, thought, and feeling ranged under that heading, it is difficult to resist the conclusion that the label ‘behaviour’ is simply used to legitimise anything the psychologist wishes to study. However, whatever else it may include, the category of behaviour has from the beginning been designed to range over familiar examples of human action. The ‘science of behaviour’ is explicitly intended to provide a theoretical understanding (explanation) of the things we do in daily life. Pronouncements to this effect abound from Watson on.


Physicalistic Theory Intentional Action Psychological Theory Success Condition Overt Behaviour 


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  1. 1.
    J. B. Watson, Behaviorism (New York: Norton, 1925) p. 7.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    E. C. Tolman, Purposive Behavior in Animals and Man (New York: Appleton-Century, 1932) p. 8.Google Scholar
  3. 8.
    See H. L. A. Hart, ‘The Ascription of Responsibility and Rights’, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 1948–49, pp. 171–94.Google Scholar
  4. G. E. M. Anscombe, Intention (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1957).Google Scholar
  5. 11.
    For support of this claim see C. Taylor, The Explanation of Behaviour (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1964).Google Scholar
  6. 18.
    For an illuminating discussion see Dorwin Cartwright, ‘Lewinian Theory as a Contemporary Systematic Framework’, in S. Koch (Ed.), Psychology: A Study of a Science (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1959) Vol. II, esp. pp. 68 ff.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Royal Institute of Philosophy 1974

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  • William P. Alston

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