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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. Mark Balaguer (2002). A Coherent, Naturalistic, and Plausible Formulation of Libertarian Free Will. Noûs 36 (3):379-406.
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  3. 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.
  4. Michael Bergmann (2003). Agent Causation and Responsibility. Faith and Philosophy 20 (2):229-235.
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  5. John D. Bishop (2003). Prospects for a Naturalist Libertarianism: O'Connor's Persons and Causes. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 66 (1):228-243.
  6. John D. Bishop (1986). Is Agent-Causality a Conceptal Primitive? Synthese 67 (May):225-47.
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  7. John D. Bishop (1983). Agent-Causation. Mind 92 (January):61-79.
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  8. Laurence BonJour (1976). Deeterminism, Libertarianism, and Agent Causation. Southern Journal of Philosophy 14 (2):145-56.
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  9. 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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  10. Jerome V. Brown (1994). Quodlibetal Questions on Free Will. [REVIEW] Review of Metaphysics 48 (1):140-141.
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  11. 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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  12. 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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  13. Todd Buras & Rebecca Copenhaver (eds.) (forthcoming). Mind, Knowledge and Action: Essays in Honor of Reid’s Tercentenary.
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  14. C. A. Campbell (1967). In Defence of Free Will. London, Allen & Unwin.
  15. Erik Carlson (2004). Review of Randolph Clarke, Libertarian Accounts of Free Will. [REVIEW] Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews 2004 (10).
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  16. Roderick Chisholm (1976). The Agent as Cause. In M. Brand & D. Walton (eds.), Action Theory. Reidel. 199-211.
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  17. Roderick Chisholm (1966). Freedom and Action. In Keith Lehrer (ed.), Freedom and Determinism. Random House.
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  18. 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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  19. Roderick M. Chisholm (1971). Reflections on Human Agency. Idealistic Studies 1 (1):33-46.
  20. John Ross Churchill (2004). Reasons Explanation and Agent Control. Philosophical Topics 32 (1/2):241-253.
  21. Randolph Clarke (2013). Understanding Human Agency, by Erasmus Mayr. Mind 122 (486):fzt045.
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  22. Randolph Clarke (2010). Personal Agency: The Metaphysics of Mind and Action, by E. J. Lowe. Mind 119 (475):820-823.
  23. Randolph Clarke (2005). Agent Causation and the Problem of Luck. Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 86 (3):408-421.
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  24. Randolph Clarke (1996). Agent Causation and Event Causation in the Production of Free Action. Philosophical Topics 24 (2):19-48.
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  25. Randolph Clarke (1993). Toward a Credible Agent-Causal Account of Free Will. Noûs 27 (2):191-203.
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  26. 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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  27. 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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  28. Ralph Cudworth (1838/1992). A Treatise of Freewill and an Introduction to Cudworth's Treatise. Routledge/Thoemmes Press.
  29. Lawrence H. Davis (1979). Theory of Action. Prentice Hall.
  30. 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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  31. 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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  32. 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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  33. Ralph D. Ellis (1983). Agent Causation, Chance, and Determinism. Philosophical Inquiry 5 (1):29-42.
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  34. 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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  35. John Martin Fischer (ed.) (2005). Free Will: Critical Concepts in Philosophy. Routledge.
    Over the last three decades there has been a tremendous amount of philosophical work in the Anglo-American tradition on the cluster of topics pertaining to Free Will. Of course, this work has in many instances built on and extended the historical treatments of this great area of philosophical interest. The issues range from fairly abstract philosophical questions about the logic of arguments about human freedom (and its relationship to prior predictability of our choices and actions, or God's foreknowledge, or causal (...)
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  36. John Martin Fischer (2001). Book Review. Persons and Causes: The Metaphysics of Free Will Timothy O'Connor. [REVIEW] Mind 110 (438):526-531.
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  37. Marina Folescu (forthcoming). Perceptual and Imaginative Conception: The Distinction Reid Missed. In Todd Buras Rebecca Copenhaver (ed.), Mind, Knowledge and Action: Essays in Honor of Reid’s Tercentenary.
    The present investigation concerns Reid’s explanation of how objects (be they real or nonexistent) are conceived. This paper shows that there is a deep-rooted tension in Reid’s understanding of conception: although the type of conception employed in perception is closely related to the one employed in imagination, three fundamental features distinguish perceptual conception (as the former will be referred to throughout this paper) from imaginative conception (as the latter will be called henceforth). These features would have been ascribed by Reid (...)
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  38. Christopher Evan Franklin (2014). Event-Causal Libertarianism, Functional Reduction, and the Disappearing Agent Argument. Philosophical Studies 170 (3):413-432.
    Event-causal libertarians maintain that an agent’s freely bringing about a choice is reducible to states and events involving him bringing about the choice. Agent-causal libertarians demur, arguing that free will requires that the agent be irreducibly causally involved. Derk Pereboom and Meghan Griffith have defended agent-causal libertarianism on this score, arguing that since on event-causal libertarianism an agent’s contribution to his choice is exhausted by the causal role of states and events involving him, and since these states and events leave (...)
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  39. Meghan Griffith (2007). Freedom and Trying: Understanding Agent-Causal Exertions. [REVIEW] Acta Analytica 22 (1):16-28.
    In this paper, I argue that trying is the locus of freedom and moral responsibility. Thus, any plausible view of free and responsible action must accommodate and account for free tryings. I then consider a version of agent causation whereby the agent directly causes her tryings. On this view, the agent is afforded direct control over her efforts and there is no need to posit—as other agent-causal theorists do—an uncaused event. I discuss the potential advantages of this sort of view, (...)
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  40. Meghan E. Griffith (2005). Does Free Will Remain a Mystery? A Response to Van Inwagen. Philosophical Studies 124 (3):261-269.
    In this paper, I argue against Peter van Inwagen’s claim (in “Free Will Remains a Mystery”), that agent-causal views of free will could do nothing to solve the problem of free will (specifically, the problem of chanciness). After explaining van Inwagen’s argument, I argue that he does not consider all possible manifestations of the agent-causal position. More importantly, I claim that, in any case, van Inwagen appears to have mischaracterized the problem in some crucial ways. Once we are clear on (...)
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  41. Jarosław Gryz (1988). Eseje o działaniach i zdarzeniach Donalda Davidsona (Donald Davidson, Essays on Actions and Events). [REVIEW] Etyka 23:177-181.
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  42. Ishtiyaque Haji (2004). Active Control, Agent-Causation and Free Action. Philosophical Explorations 7 (2):131-148.
    Key elements of Randolph Clarke's libertarian account of freedom that requires both agent-causation and non-deterministic event-causation in the production of free action is assessed with an eye toward determining whether agent-causal accounts can accommodate the truth of judgments of moral obligation.
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  43. Noel Hendrickson (2002). Against an Agent-Causal Theory of Action. Southern Journal of Philosophy 40 (1):41-58.
  44. Eric Hiddleston (2005). Critical Notice: Timothy O'Connor, Persons and Causes. Noûs 39 (3):541-56.
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  45. Monte Ransome Johnson (2009). Spontaneity, Democritean Causality and Freedom. Elenchos 30 (1):5-52.
    Critics have alleged that Democritus’ ethical prescriptions (“gnomai”) are incompatible with his physics, since his atomism seems committed to necessity or chance (or an awkward combination of both) as a universal cause of everything, leaving no room for personal responsibility. I argue that Democritus’ critics, both ancient and contemporary, have misunderstood a fundamental concept of his causality: a cause called “spontaneity”, which Democritus evidently considered a necessary (not chance) cause, compatible with human freedom, of both atomic motion and human actions. (...)
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  46. Robert H. Kane (ed.) (2002). The Oxford Handbook of Free Will. Oxford University Press.
    This comprehensive reference provides an exhaustive guide to current scholarship on the perennial problem of Free Will--perhaps the most hotly and voluminously debated of all philosophical problems. While reference is made throughout to the contributions of major thinkers of the past, the emphasis is on recent research. The essays, most of which are previously unpublished, combine the work of established scholars with younger thinkers who are beginning to make significant contributions. Taken as a whole, the Handbook provides an engaging and (...)
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  47. Robert H. Kane (ed.) (2001). Oxford Handbook on Free Will. Oxford University Press.
    This comprehensive reference provides an exhaustive guide to current scholarship on the perennial problem of Free Will--perhaps the most hotly and voluminously debated of all philosophical problems. While reference is made throughout to the contributions of major thinkers of the past, the emphasis is on recent research. The essays, most of which are previously unpublished, combine the work of established scholars with younger thinkers who are beginning to make significant contributions. Taken as a whole, the Handbook provides an engaging and (...)
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  48. Geert Keil (2013). Substanzen als Ursachen? Zeitschrift für Philosophische Forschung 67 (1):143-148.
    In his book Understanding Human Agency (OUP 2011), Erasmus Mayr defends the idea of agent causation against various objections. The article, which is a commentary on a précis of Mayr’s book, argues that his defence is unsuccessful on a number of counts. Mayr claims that even inanimate substances possess and exert active causal powers, but he fails to give an acceptable criterion that demarcates active from passive powers. Secondly, his approach does not answer Broads datability objection, according to which causes (...)
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  49. Eric LaRock (2013). Aristotle and Agent-Directed Neuroplasticity. International Philosophical Quarterly 53 (4):385-408.
    I propose an Aristotelian approach to agent causation that is consistent with the hypothesis of strong emergence. This approach motivates a wider ontology than materialism by maintaining (1) that the agent is generated by the brain without being reducible to it on grounds of the unity of experience and (2) that the agent possesses (formal) causal power to affect (i.e., mold, sculpt, or organize) the brain on grounds of agent-directed neuroplasticity. After providing recent empirical evidence for the strong emergence of (...)
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  50. Jos Lehmann, Joost Breuker & Bob Brouwer (2004). Causation in AI and Law. Artificial Intelligence and Law 12 (4):279-315.
    Reasoning about causation in fact is an essential element of attributing legal responsibility. Therefore, the automation of the attribution of legal responsibility requires a modelling effort aimed at the following: a thorough understanding of the relation between the legal concepts of responsibility and of causation in fact; a thorough understanding of the relation between causation in fact and the common sense concept of causation; and, finally, the specification of an ontology of the concepts that are minimally required for (automatic) common (...)
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