chapter  1
25 Pages

Ordinary language and theoretical explanations

The description and explanation of human behaviour is not the prerogative solely of social scientists. Each of us is already equipped with a set or sets of concepts which enable us to make sense, more or less successfully, of our own behaviour and the behaviour of others. Explanations of human behaviour are given typically by referring to the motives, intentions and dispositions of people and to the reasons they have, or are alleged to have for their behaviour. Arguments frequently centre around the evaluation of the behaviour of others either in an attempt to elicit the meaning of actions or in making moral judgments about them. We ask questions about the significance of remarks, gestures and movements-attempting to see other people's behaviour and our own in terms of some consistent pattern which enables us to typify individuals and to simplify our relationships with them. In morally evaluating the acts of others we are interested in the question of whether they acted freely or under some kind of physical or psychological constraint. The states of affairs which people actively bring about are distinguished from things which happen to them and associated with, or parasitic upon this distinction are such notions as responsibility, culpability, justi­ fication and excuse.