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Summary Agent causation is a kind of causation distinct from event causation. The first relatum of the causal relations we tend to regard as paradigmatic - billiard balls striking one another, say - is an event; the event of one ball hitting another. The first relatum of an agent caused action is an agent herself. Almost all agent causal theorists are libertarians: they hope that agent causation gives to the agent a kind or degree of control over their actions that would be missing were actions event-caused (deterministically or indeterministically). A very few compatibilist theorists have also advanced agent-causal theories. The existence and the conceptual coherence of agent causation is subject to dispute.
Key works Agent causal theories date back to Reid 1863. An important defence of theories of this sort was offered by Roderick Chisholm, in Chisholm 1976 (among other works). In the contemporary debate, the most important defender of agent causation is Timothy O'Connor; O'Connor 2000 is his most important work on the topic. Clarke 2003 contains an important sympathetic but ultimately skeptical discussion. Mele 2005 argues that agent-causation does not solve the problem of reduced control that it was introducing to address; Clarke 2005 replies. Markosian 1999 is a defence of compatibilist agent-causation.
Introductions O'Connor 1995
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  1. Robert F. Allen, Agent Causation and Ultimate Responsibility.
    Positions taken in the current debate over free will can be seen as responses to the following conditional: If every action is caused solely by another event and a cause necessitates its effect, then there is no action to which there is an alternative. The Libertarian, who believes that alternatives are a requirement of free will, responds by denying the right conjunct of C’s antecedent, maintaining that some actions are caused, either mediately or immediately, by events whose effects could be (...)
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  2. D. M. Armstrong (1966). TAYLOR, Richard: "Action and Purpose". Australasian Journal of Philosophy 44:231.
  3. Mark Balaguer (2002). A Coherent, Naturalistic, and Plausible Formulation of Libertarian Free Will. Noûs 36 (3):379-406.
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  4. Richard Baron (2010). Deliberation and Reason. Matador.
    The topic of this book is the thinking in which we engage when we reflectively decide what to do, and when we reflectively reach conclusions as to the correct answers to questions. The main objective is to identify a way of looking at ourselves and at our deliberations that is adequate to our lives. It must accommodate both our conception of ourselves as free, rational and self-directed subjects, and our feeling that we deliberate freely. It must also identify a place (...)
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  5. S. Bassford (1974). Enigmas of Agency: Studies in the Philosophy of Human Action. By Irving Thalberg. London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd.; New York: Humanities Press Inc., 1972. Pp. 229. $14.75. [REVIEW] Dialogue 13 (03):619-621.
  6. Michael Bergmann (2003). Agent Causation and Responsibility. Faith and Philosophy 20 (2):229-235.
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  7. John Bishop (2014). Causal Pluralism and the Problem of Natural Agency. Res Philosophica 91 (3):527-536.
  8. John D. Bishop (2003). Prospects for a Naturalist Libertarianism: O'Connor's Persons and Causes. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 66 (1):228-243.
  9. John D. Bishop (1986). Is Agent-Causality a Conceptal Primitive? Synthese 67 (May):225-47.
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  10. John D. Bishop (1983). Agent-Causation. Mind 92 (January):61-79.
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  11. Laurence BonJour (1976). Deeterminism, Libertarianism, and Agent Causation. Southern Journal of Philosophy 14 (2):145-56.
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  12. Johannes L. Brandl, Marian David & Leopold Stubenberg (2001). Agents and Their Actions. Rodopi.
    IntroductionE.J. LOWE: Event Causation and Agent CausationRalf STOECKER: Agents in ActionGeert KEIL: How Do We Ever Get Up? On the Proximate Causation of Actions and EventsMaria ALVAREZ: Letting Happen, Omissions, and CausationFrederick STOUTLAND: Responsive Action and the Belief-Desire ModelMarco IORIO: How Are Agents Related to Their Actions? The Existentialist ResponseJens KULENKAMPFF: What Oedipus Did When He Married Jocasta or What Ancient Tragedy Tells Us About Agents, Their Actions, and the WorldRüdiger BITTNER: Agents as RulersMonika BETZLER: How Can an Agent Rationally (...)
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  13. Michael Brent (2014). Understanding Strength of Will. In Fabio Bacchini Massimo Dell'Utri & Stefano Caputo (eds.), New Advances in Causation, Agency, and Moral Responsibility. Cambridge Scholars Publishing 165-178.
    Richard Holton has presented an important criticism of two prominent accounts of action, a criticism that employs a notion of strength of will. Holton claims that these well-known accounts of action cannot explain cases in which an agent adheres to the dictates of a previous resolution in spite of a persistent desire to the contrary. In this chapter, I present an explanation and defense of Holton’s criticism of these accounts of action, and then I argue that while Holton highlights a (...)
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  14. Michael Brent (2012). The Power of Agency. Dissertation, Columbia University
    I present an alternative account of action centered around the notion of effort. I argue that effort has several unique features: it is attributed directly to agents; it is a causal power that each agent alone possesses and employs; it enables agents causally to initiate, sustain, and control their capacities during the performance of an action; and its presence comes in varying degrees of strength. After defending an effort-based account of action and criticizing what is known as the standard story (...)
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  15. Jan Broersen & Leendert van der Torre (2003). What an Agent Ought To Do. Artificial Intelligence and Law 11 (1):45-61.
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  16. Jerome V. Brown (1994). Quodlibetal Questions on Free Will. [REVIEW] Review of Metaphysics 48 (1):140-141.
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  17. Brian J. Bruya (2010). The Rehabilitation of Spontaneity: A New Approach in Philosophy of Action. Philosophy East and West 60 (2):pp. 207-250.
    Scholars working in philosophy of action still struggle with the freedom/determinism dichotomy that stretches back to Hellenist philosophy and the metaphysics that gave rise to it. Although that metaphysics has been repudiated in current philosophy of mind and cognitive science, the dichotomy still haunts these fields. As such, action is understood as distinct from movement, or motion. In early China, under a very different metaphysical paradigm, no such distinction is made. Instead, a notion of self-caused movement, or spontaneity, is elaborated. (...)
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  18. Andrei Buckareff (2001). Can the Agency Theory Be Salvaged? Philosophia Christi 3 (1):217-224.
    Some of the most salient features of Randolph Clarke's causal agent-causal theory of free action are explicated and his theory critiqued. It is shown that invoking agent-causation is unnecessary and makes his theory cumbersome. For insofar as Clarke seeks to render the agency theory more intelligible by appealing to event-causation as contributing to the generation of basic actions, his theory gravitates closer to a causal indeterminist theory of free action.
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  19. Andrei A. Buckareff (2011). How Does Agent-­‐Causal Power Work? Modern Schoolman 88 (1/2):105-121.
    Research on the nature of dispositionality or causal power has flourished in recent years in metaphysics. This trend has slowly begun to influence debates in the philosophy of agency, especially in the literature on free will. Both sophisticated versions of agent-­‐causalism and the new varieties of dispositionalist compatibilism exploit recently developed accounts of dispositionality in their defense. In this paper, I examine recent work on agent-­‐causal power, focusing primarily on the account of agent-­‐causalism developed and defended by Timothy O’Connor’s in (...)
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  20. Todd Buras & Rebecca Copenhaver (eds.) (forthcoming). Mind, Knowledge and Action: Essays in Honor of Reid’s Tercentenary.
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  21. C. A. Campbell (1967). In Defence of Free Will. London, Allen & Unwin.
  22. Erik Carlson (2004). Review of Randolph Clarke, Libertarian Accounts of Free Will. [REVIEW] Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews 2004 (10).
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  23. W. R. Carter (1979). Agent Causality. Tulane Studies in Philosophy 28:71-79.
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  24. Marc Champagne (2015). Don’T Be an Ass: Rational Choice and its Limits. Reason Papers 37 (1):137-147.
  25. Ekron Chen (1999). A Personalist Defense of a Libertarian Account of Free Will. Dissertation, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
    This is a defense of a libertarian account of free will from a theistic personalist perspective. The overall argument is in two parts, which is set forth in three chapters. The first part disputes the ability of compatibilism to reconcile to objective moral responsibility. It aims to expose the weakness of compatibilism, the rival theory to libertarianism. The interconnectedness of freedom, causality, and moral responsibility points to the importance of defending the libertarian view. Compatibilism is then critiqued on its subjective (...)
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  26. Tony Cheng (2015). Self, Action and Passivity. Philosophical Writings 44 (1):01-19.
    In a series of works Hubert Dreyfus argues that phenomenological considerations can show the falsity of John McDowell’s claim that ours actions are permeated with rationality. Dreyfus changes the details of his objections several times in this debate, but I shall argue that there is an implicit false assumption lurking in his thinking throughout his exchanges with McDowell. Originally Dreyfus proposed a distinction between “detached rule-following” and “situation-specific way of coping,” and later he replaces it with the distinction between “subjectivity” (...)
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  27. Roderick Chisholm (1976). The Agent as Cause. In M. Brand & D. Walton (eds.), Action Theory. Reidel 199-211.
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  28. Roderick Chisholm (1966). Freedom and Action. In Keith Lehrer (ed.), Freedom and Determinism. Random House
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  29. Roderick M. Chisholm (1976). Person and Object: A Metaphysical Study. Open Court.
    First published in 2002. Routledge is an imprint of Taylor & Francis, an informa company.
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  30. Roderick M. Chisholm (1971). Reflections on Human Agency. Idealistic Studies 1 (1):33-46.
  31. John Ross Churchill (2004). Reasons Explanation and Agent Control. Philosophical Topics 32 (1/2):241-253.
  32. Randolph Clarke (2013). Understanding Human Agency, by Erasmus Mayr. Mind 122 (486):fzt045.
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  33. Randolph Clarke (2011). Alternatives for Libertarians. In Robert Kane (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Free Will, 2nd edition. 329-48.
    This essay examines several varieties of libertarian accounts of free will. Some require free actions to be uncaused, some require agent causation, and some require non-deterministic event causation. Difficulties are raised for all of these varieties.
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  34. Randolph Clarke (2010). Personal Agency: The Metaphysics of Mind and Action, by E. J. Lowe. Mind 119 (475):820-823.
  35. Randolph Clarke (2005). Agent Causation and the Problem of Luck. Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 86 (3):408-421.
    : On a standard libertarian account of free will, an agent acts freely on some occasion only if there remains, until the action is performed, some chance that the agent will do something else instead right then. These views face the objection that, in such a case, it is a matter of luck whether the agent does one thing or another. This paper considers the problem of luck as it bears on agent‐causal libertarian accounts. A view of this type is (...)
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  36. Randolph Clarke (1996). Agent Causation and Event Causation in the Production of Free Action. Philosophical Topics 24 (2):19-48.
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  37. Randolph Clarke (1993). Toward a Credible Agent-Causal Account of Free Will. Noûs 27 (2):191-203.
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  38. Samuel Clarke (1998). A Demonstration of the Being and Attributes of God and Other Writings. Cambridge University Press.
    Samuel Clarke was by far the most gifted and influential Newtonian philosopher of his generation, and A Demonstration of the Being and Attributes of God, which constituted the 1704 Boyle Lectures, was one of the most important works of the first half of the eighteenth century, generating a great deal of controversy about the relation between space and God, the nature of divine necessary existence, the adequacy of the Cosmological Argument, agent causation, and the immateriality of the soul. Together with (...)
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  39. Aaron D. Cobb (2010). Natural Philosophy and the Use of Causal Terminology: A Puzzle in Reid's Account of Natural Philosophy. Journal of Scottish Philosophy 8 (2):101-114.
    Thomas Reid thinks of natural philosophy as a purely nomothetic enterprise but he maintains that it is proper for natural philosophers to employ causal terminology in formulating their explanatory claims. In this paper, I analyze this puzzle in light of Reid's distinction between efficient and physical causation – a distinction he grounds in his strict understanding of active powers. I consider several possible reasons that Reid may have for maintaining that natural philosophers ought to employ causal terminology and suggest that (...)
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  40. Ralph Cudworth (1838/1992). A Treatise of Freewill and an Introduction to Cudworth's Treatise. Routledge/Thoemmes Press.
  41. Stefaan E. Cuypers (1998). Robust Activity, Event-Causation, and Agent-Causation. In J. A. M. Bransen & S. E. Cuypers (eds.), Human Action, Deliberation and Causation. Dordrecht: Kluwer 271--294.
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  42. L. H. Davis (1975). Actions. Canadian Journal of Philosophy, Supplementary Volume 1 (2):129.
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  43. Lawrence H. Davis (1979). Theory of Action. Prentice Hall.
  44. Louis De Bello (1985). The Free Will Controversy. Dissertation, Rutgers the State University of New Jersey - New Brunswick
    What I try to do in this inquiry is to provide some basis for believing that we are able to act freely. The main reason for believing that we may not be able to derives from the doctrine put - forth by the hard determinist: the doctrine which holds that we cannot perform any of our actions freely since they are ultimately the result of antecedent conditions over which we have no control--conditions that existed before we were born. I attempt (...)
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  45. Lara Denis (2010). Review: McCarty, Kant's Theory of Action. [REVIEW] Journal of the History of Philosophy 48 (4):533-535.
    This significant, stimulating contribution to Kantian practical philosophy strives to interpret Kant’s theory of action in ways that will increase readers’ understanding and appreciation of Kant’s moral theory. Its thesis is that Kant combines metaphysical freedom and psychological determinism: our actions within the phenomenal world are causally determined by our prior psychological states in that world and are appearances of our free action in the noumenal world. McCarty argues for a metaphysical, “two-worlds” interpretation of Kant’s transcendental distinction between appearances and (...)
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  46. John Dilworth (2008). Free Action as Two Level Voluntary Control. Philosophical Frontiers 3 (1):29-45.
    The naturalistic voluntary control (VC) theory explains free will and consciousness in terms of each other. It is central to free voluntary control of action that one can control both what one is conscious of, and also what one is not conscious of. Furthermore, the specific cognitive ability or skill involved in voluntarily controlling whether information is processed consciously or unconsciously can itself be used to explain consciousness. In functional terms, it is whatever kind of cognitive processing occurs when a (...)
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  47. Alan Donagan (1977). Chisholm's Theory of Agency. Journal of Philosophy 74 (11):692-703.
    The fundamental causal concept in Chisholm's theory of agency is that of causally contributing to, a generic concept covering both event-causal contributors (members of sets of nonredundant jointly sufficient conditions) and agent-causal contributors (not members of sets of jointly sufficient conditions). Chisholm's elucidation of agent-causation is explored and defended against objections. It is then argued that Chisholm's ontology, in particular in its treatment of the concept of an evert, generates difficulties for his theory of agency oi which two are explored: (...)
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  48. Reno Edward (1966). Richard Taylor, Action and Purpose. [REVIEW] Review of Metaphysics 20 (1):161-162.
  49. Ralph D. Ellis (1983). Agent Causation, Chance, and Determinism. Philosophical Inquiry 5 (1):29-42.
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  50. Richard H. Feldman & Andrei A. Buckareff (2003). Reasons Explanations and Pure Agency. Philosophical Studies 112 (2):135-145.
    We focus on the recent non-causal theory of reasons explanationsof free action proffered by a proponent of the agency theory, Timothy O'Connor. We argue that the conditions O'Connor offersare neither necessary nor sufficient for a person to act for a reason. Finally, we note that the role O'Connor assigns toreasons in the etiology of actions results in further conceptual difficulties for agent-causalism.
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