Moore highlighted the connection between asserting and believing by making note of how odd, "It's raining but I don't believe it" (as if to say "I don't believe it's raining but it is") sounds. Now is, "Do this but don't choose to do this," likewise odd, so that we "see" some connection between choice and action? This might be trivial (assuming both concepts) whereas if one doesn't believe in choice but does believe in action, one might just never happen to speak the other way.

On the next deeper level, there could be a tie between the concept of imperatives at all, and choices as such (i.e. using imperatives requires attributing choice of compliance to addressees). But that is another issue for another time...

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    I am unsure what the question is exactly. "Do this but don't choose to do this" does not sound as paradoxical as the Moore sentence because as we know since Ryle and Wittgenstein the idea that all voluntary actions are "chosen" leads to infinite regress, and many actions are performed without a "willing" preceding them. For example, one writes many a-s when writing a sentence without "choosing" to write any a-s. So does this mean that the link between choice and action generally is not always of the same nature as the link between belief and assertion?
    – Conifold
    Aug 12, 2020 at 4:15
  • See philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/966/…
    – user47436
    Aug 12, 2020 at 7:59
  • Reid’s philosophy is the premise that choices and intentions are actions; they are mental events over which the agent has power—the evidence for this claim is that agents are conscious of the effort of exerting their power when they choose. Furthermore, choices and intentions are necessary means to performing effects. iep.utm.edu/reid-act
    – user47436
    Aug 12, 2020 at 8:10
  • See the paper The AcT of choice by Richard Holton philpapers.org/rec/HOLTAO
    – user47436
    Aug 12, 2020 at 8:20
  • Your question seems more one of wonderous rhetorical interjection rather an interrogative strictly speaking, but ordinary language philosophy begs you to not cereberalize the distinction too much with grand and sweeping Metaphysics.
    – J D
    Aug 12, 2020 at 15:28

1 Answer 1


Now is, "Do this but don't choose to do this," likewise odd, so that we "see" some connection between choice and action?

The answer to this question is a very emphatic no. Both athletic psychologists and Zen practitioners believe in a state of what Zen calls no-mind or mushin. Simply put, one acts not from deliberative conscious thought, but rather from what might be viewed as habit, instinct, or spontaneity. In the martial arts, if one has to will a blow to land on an opponent, one is likely to allow the opponent to land the blow first. But one needn't use combat for examples. Normally when driving stick, a driver manipulates the clutch, brake, accelerator, and gear shifter without willing the individual actions, but rather willing the outcome. That is to say, a driver chooses to pass a car, avoid a pedestrian, recover from a fishtail on ice, not engage the clutch, switch from 1st to 2nd and so on. The same can be applied to professional sports performance, acting, and host of activities and is related to the psychology of flow which is an altered state of consciousness.

In psychology, action that is devoid of choice is known as compulsion and is mirrored if one considers thoughts a behavior by obsessions, and the DSM-V recognizes two personality disorders based a spectrum of obsessive-compulsive behavior, OCD and OCPD. Other exotic diagnoses exist including Tourette syndrome and alien hand syndrome. Thus, philosophy of mind has been validated by the scientific method in regards to choice and action being decoupled. Both The philosophical and psychological recognition that not all human behavior is consciously chosen goes back a long way into literature and predates the Western Canon of philosophy.

But how do philosophers cope with this more broadly? They tackle it under the concept of intention and intentionality, two related terms that mean very different things. The first means roughly a conscious desire to act to achieve a goal, and the latter is used by philosopher of minds to talk about how the mind is able to be "about things", how the mind represents or reflects the state of affairs in the world. Many people are familiar with this philosophical distinction through legal philosophy and mens rea, where a criminal has acted, but it is a question of whether it was a choice. Without the conscious choice, there arises an affirmative defense.

Ultimately, however, most people have had the experience of learning and forgetting skills. Learning to ride a bicycle can be a difficult enterprise, but once it is internalized, the coordinated actions required to enter a state of successful use are handled subconsciously, by what Searle simply the Background. If you fluently drive manual and suddenly looked at your feet when the light turned green and realized you have no idea how to operate the pedals, you've experienced the disconnect between choice and action.

  • Although I think there ought to be a qualification added in, your and Conifold's answers do illustrate the point to be made Aug 13, 2020 at 15:12
  • I'm certainly curious as to the qualification you think should be made.
    – J D
    Aug 14, 2020 at 4:13
  • I don't have time to convo in chat but the gist of the idea is that imperative sentences involve representing addressees as capable of both compliance and non-compliance, so at least actions represented via imperatives are tied to choice. Aug 14, 2020 at 14:00
  • Oh, I'll address that. In the meanwhile, if you're not familiar with Austin's illocutionary and perlocuationary, you might be interested.
    – J D
    Aug 14, 2020 at 15:22
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    Illocutionary I recall, I think I've seen the other word but... I would want to lay out my argument but I don't want to ask a question and present it as a seminar though 😅 Aug 14, 2020 at 16:28

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