About the Project

This project aims at a comprehensive theory of the structure and development of how humans, in particular children, understand the actions and reasons of others. It is thus restricted in the sense that only the understanding, not the performance of action is concerned, and that the focus is on understanding the actions and reasons of others, not one’s own. To this end, philosophical and empirical subprojects are interlocked in order to conceptually develop and empirically test a theoretical framework in one and the same collaborative project. 

The project can be divided into 3 subprojects: 

  1. Philosophical investigations of a naturalistic non-psychologistic conception of a reason for action (working hypothesis a): A conception of reasons as objective facts still allows for both action explanations in terms of objective reasons (facts) and of subjective reasons (beliefs), if the latter reflect an understanding of belief as a perspective on the objective states of affairs, in which false beliefs represent potential facts (Zürich: Glock). 
  2. The theoretical development and empirical testing of a layered teleological framework for describing how we develop an understanding of others by distinguishing types of action explanation (working hypothesis b): Between 6 to 12 months, infants understand goal-directed actions of others only as regularities, lacking a sensitivity to reasons. At ca. 18 months, children acquire a teleological understanding of actions based on evaluations of the desirability of goals, i.e. an objective goal of an action worth pursuing. At 18-24 months, children understand that intentional actions of others can be motivated by subjective reasons, i.e. they understand actions on the basis of belief-ascriptions as perspectives on an objective situation (Bochum: Schlicht, Salzburg: Perner). 
  3. The philosophical formulation of a cognitive architecture based on the notion of mental files which is applied to the development of understanding beliefs and reasons (working hypothesis c): Mental files theory tells us how knowledge about the world and others is represented and organized and explains the developmental paradox that infants from 7-15 months seem to be able to pass implicit false-belief tasks but can only pass explicit tasks at the age of 4 years (Bochum: Newen, Salzburg: Perner).

All philosophical projects are interdependent and interlocked with empirical research. This ambitious project makes substantial and original contributions to central debates in the philosophy of mind and action and the cognitive science of social cognition. To pursue this project, experts from Bochum, Salzburg and Zürich will collaborate closely in this unique interdisciplinary constellation which promises to yield a comprehensive, conceptually sound, and empirically supported theory of the structure and development of understanding actions and reasons, opening further empirical investigations in this area.