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.
The problem of freedom and determinism has vexed philosophers for several millennia, and continues to be a topic of lively debate today. One of the proposed solutions to the problem that has received a great deal of attention is the Theory of AgentCausation. While the theory has enjoyed its share of advocates, and perhaps more than its share of critics, the theory’s advocates and critics have always agreed on one thing: the Theory of AgentCausation (...) is an incompatibilist theory. That is, both believers and nonbelievers in the theory have taken it for granted that the most plausible version of the Theory of AgentCausation is one according to which freedom and determinism are incompatible. In fact, so entrenched is this assumption that no one on either side of the debate has ever questioned it. Yet it turns out that this assumption is wrong – the most plausible version of the Theory of AgentCausation is a compatibilist one. (shrink)
In what follows, I will contend that the commonsense view of ourselves as fundamental causal agents - for which some have used the term “unmoved movers" but which I think might more accurately be expressed as “not wholly moved movers” - is theoretically understandable, internally consistent, and consistent with what we have thus far come to know about the nature and workings of the natural world. In the section that follows, I try to show how the concept of ‘agent’ (...)causation can be understood as a distinct species (from ‘event’ causation) of the primitive idea, which I’ll term “causal production”, underlying realist or non-Humean conceptions of event causation. In section III, I respond to a number of contemporary objections to the theory of agentcausation. Sections IV-V are devoted to showing that the theory is compatible with ordinary reasons explanations of action, which then places me in a position to respond, in the final section, to the contention that we could never know, in principle, whether the agency theory actually describes a significant portion of human activity. (shrink)
In a recent paper I argued that agentcausation theorists should be compatibilists. In this paper, I argue that compatibilists should be agentcausation theorists. I consider six of the main problems facing compatibilism: (i) the powerful intuition that one can't be responsible for actions that were somehow determined before one was born; (ii) Peter van Inwagen's modal argument, involving the inference rule (β); (iii) the objection to compatibilism that is based on claiming that the ability (...) to do otherwise is a necessary condition for freedom; (iv) "manipulation arguments," involving cases in which an agent is manipulated by some powerful being into doing something that he or she would not normally do, but in such a way that the compatibilist's favorite conditions for a free action are satisfied; (v) the problem of constitutive luck; and (vi) the claim that it is not fair to blame someone for an action if that person was determined by forces outside of his or her control to perform that action. And in the case of each of these problems, I argue that the compatibilist has a much more plausible response to that problem if she endorses the theory of agentcausation than she does otherwise. (shrink)
Galen Strawson has claimed that “the impossibility of free will and ultimate moral responsibility can be proved with complete certainty.” Strawson, I take it, thinks that this conclusion can be established by one argument which he has developed. In this argument, he claims that rational free actions would require an infinite regress of rational choices, which is, of course, impossible for human beings. In my paper, I argue that agentcausation theorists need not be worried by Strawson’s argument. (...) For agentcausation theorists are able to deny a key principle which drives the regress. Oversimplifying things a bit, the principle states that if one is responsible for her rational actions, then she was antecedently responsible for the reasons on which she acted. (shrink)
The doctrine of agent-causation has been suggested by many interested in defending libertarian theories of free action to provide the conceptual apparatus necessary to make the notion of incompatibility freedom intelligible. In the present essay the conceptual viability of the doctrine of agent-causation will be assessed. It will be argued that agent-causation is, insofar as it is irreducible to event-causation, mysterious at best, totally unintelligible at worst. First, the arguments for agent-causation (...) made by such eighteenth-century luminaries as Samuel Clarke and Thomas Reid will be considered alongside the defenses of agent-causation proffered in this century by C.A. Campbell, Roderick Chisholm, and Richard Taylor. It will be shown that the case for agent-causation made by these figures is ultimately unconvincing. Two defenses of agent-causation made within the past ten years will then be taken up for examination and critique. First, Timothy O'Connor's attempt at advancing an unrefined and unrepentant doctrine of agent-causation will be shown to suffer from the same maladies as its predecessors. Next, Randolph Clarke's causal agent-causal theory of free action, which seeks a via media between agent-causal theories of free action and causal theories of action, is examined. Clarke's theory is an attempt at providing an account of how both events and agents qua substances can be the codeterminants of free actions. Despite the improvement of Clarke's theory over more conventional agent-causal theories of free action, it will be shown that agent-causation makes his theory more cumbersome than it needs to be. Clarke is able to get as much mileage out of a causal indeterminacy theory of action that does not require him to posit obscure agent-causes. Finally, a sketch of an alternative theory of free action will be offered. While it may suffer from its own conceptual deficiencies, it may not suffer from the same conceptual problems as agent-causal theories of free action. (shrink)
It is common today to find in philosophical and scientific works the idea of agentcausation dismissed as unintelligible. This article is meant to challenge that view. It argues that the conception of agentcausation that Paul Ricoeur has defended is by no means unintelligible. Indeed there are compelling, even if not definitive, reasons for acknowledging the existence of such causation. The point of departure for this argument is Ricoeur’s reflection on the discursive character of (...) human existence. To make my case, I focus on the discursive practice of offering and receiving recommendations. This sort of practice is integral to important areas of human activity, including scientific activity. Though it is often overlooked, agentcausation is a necessary precondition for the intelligibility of this practice. I acknowledge that just how agentcausation comes to be in the course of the biological evolution of human beings is ontologically enigmatic. Nonetheless, the evidence in its favor is not only intelligible but is too robust to be dismissed merely on the grounds that it is ontologically ‘inconvenient’. (shrink)
In a recent book, The Problem of the Soul, Owen Flanagan discusses the Cartesian, or agentcausation, view of free will. According to this view, when a person acts of his own free will his action is not caused by antecedent events but is caused by the agent himself, and in acting the agent acts as an uncaused cause. Flanagan argues at length that this view is false. In this article, I defend the agent (...) class='Hi'>causation view against Flanagan�s criticisms and I go on to critically address his own �neo-compatibilist� alternative to the agentcausation view. In doing so, I hope to exhibit some common misconceptions about the nature of the agentcausation view and to show that this is a view that deserves more serious consideration. (shrink)
According to what I call the reductive standard-causal theory of agency, the exercise of an agent's power to act can be reduced to the causal efficacy of agent-involving mental states and events. According to a non-reductive agent-causal theory, an agent's power to act is irreducible and primitive. Agent-causal theories have been dismissed on the ground that they presuppose a very contentious notion of causation, namely substance-causation. In this paper I will assume, with the (...) proponents of the agent-causal approach, that substance-causation is possible, as I will argue against that theory on the ground that it fails as a theory of agency. I will argue that the non-reductive agent-causal theory fails to account for agency, because it fails to account for agential control: it cannot explain why the stipulated irreducible relation between the agent and an action constitutes the agent's exercise of control over the action. This objection, I will argue, applies to the agent-causal theory in particular, and to the non-reductive approach in general. (shrink)
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 agentcausation 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, and its challenges. (shrink)
I propose an Aristotelian approach to agentcausation 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 the agent, I then articulate and analyze a dominant objection to agentcausation discussed in neuroscience, which is based upon the observation of the readiness potential (or RP) in the brain. In this context, the RP refers to unconscious neuronal events (in the supplementary motor area) that precede the formation of a (proximal) conscious intention to act. So it appears as if the train of neuronal events has left the depot before the agent can act. In response to this objection, I argue (a) that even if one were to grant that the RP precedes the formation of a conscious intention, it would not follow (on both logical and empirical grounds) that there is no conscious agentcausation; and (b) that the objection disappears when one takes into account distal versus proximal intentions. (shrink)
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 (...) different, even if they were to recur under identical circumstances. We have here a denial of Laplacian Determinism (LD), according to which the condition of the world at any instant makes only one state possible at any other instant.<sup>1</sup> One prominent defender of this view, Robert Kane, holds that unless an agent’s neural mechanisms operated indeterministicly in forming her character she is not responsible for its manifestations.<sup>2</sup> This requirement is entailed by the principle of “ultimate responsibility” (UR) according to which an act is freely willed only if (a) its agent is personally responsible for its performance in the sense of having caused it to occur by voluntarily doing something that was avoidable and (b). (shrink)
The hypothesis of the mental state-causation of behavior (the MSC hypothesis) asserts that the behaviors we classify as actions are caused by certain mental states. A principal reason often given for trying to secure the truth of the MSC hypothesis is that doing so is allegedly required to vindicate our belief in our own agency. I argue that the project of vindicating agency needs to be seriously reconceived, as does the relation between this project and the MSC hypothesis. Vindication (...) requires addressing what I call the agent-exclusion problem: the prima facie incompatibility between the intentional content of agentive experience and certain metaphysical hypotheses often espoused in philosophy. (shrink)
The Agent-Causal Theory of Action claims that an event counts as an action when, and only when, it is caused by an agent. The central difference between the Causal Theory of Action (CTA) and the Agent-Causal view comes down to a disagreement about what sort of item (or items) occupies the left-hand position in the causal relation. For CTA, the left-hand position is occupied by mental items within the agent, typically construed in terms of mental events (...) (e.g., belief/desire pairs or intentions). For the agent-causal theory, it is the agent herself (that is, a substance) which does the causing. Agent-causal theorists generally concede that some intentional actions involve causal relations that are best understood in eventcausal terms. Such intentional actions are "nonbasic," meaning that the agent does them by doing something else. But for any "basic" intentional action—behavior that, according to the agent-causal theorist, is caused directly by the agent—there is a causal relation between the agent, on the one hand, and the action, on the other, which is (i) primitive (not permitting of analysis) and (ii) irreducible to any other relation (including, importantly, the event-causal relation). -/- . (shrink)
I offer a brief review of, and critical response to, Neil Levy’s fascinating recent book Hard Luck, where he argues that no one is ever free or morally responsible not because of determinism or indeterminism, but because of luck. Two of Levy’s central arguments in defending his free will nihilism concern the nature and role of explanation in a theory of moral responsibility and the nature of akrasia. With respect to explanation, Levy argues that an adequate theory of moral responsibility (...) must be able provide contrastive explanations of why an agent performs one action rather than another, and that libertarians lack the resources to provide such explanations. With respect to akrasia, Levy argues that it is impossible to be directly morally responsible for akratic actions. In response I argue that any sense of contrastive explanation that can reasonably be thought to be a requirement on an adequate theory of moral responsibility is a sense that agent-causal libertarians can secure. I then argue that the agent-causal theory of free will offers an alternative and attractive understanding of motivation and self-control (than offered by Levy) that makes it plausible to think that we can be morally responsible for akratic actions. (shrink)
ABSTRACT: This is a little piece directed at the newcomer to Aristotle, making some general remarks about reading Aristotle at the beginning and end, with sandwiched in between, a brief and much simplified discussion of some common misunderstandings of Aristotle's philosophy, concerning spontaneity, causal indeterminism, freedom-to-do-otherwise, free choice, agentcausation, logical determinism, teleological determinism, artistic creativity and freedom (eleutheria).
I Introduction The question of this paper is, what would it be to act with freedom of the will? What kind of control is inchoately in view when we speak, pretheoretically, of being ‘self- determining’ beings, of ‘freely making choices in view of consciously considered reasons’ (pro and con) - of its being ‘up to us’ how we shall act? My question here is not whether we have (or have any reason to think we have) such freedom, or what is (...) the most robust account of our freedom compatible with late twentieth-century science. Many contemporary philosophers are all too ready to settle for a deflationary account of freedom and declare victory, with some brief remarks reminding us that we were created a little lower than the angels. I am not so sanguine about the ability of such accounts to leave reasonably intact our judgments about human autonomy, dignity, and responsibility. But, as I’ve said, that’s not my concern here. Instead, I want to revisit the question of what exactly ‘self-determination’, on our ordinary conception, comes to. (shrink)
This article examines Nietzsche’s analysis of the phenomenology of agentcausation. Sense of agentcausation, our sense of self-efficacy, is tenacious because it originates, according to Nietzsche’s hypothesis, in the embodied and situated experience of effort in overcoming resistances. It arises at the level of the organism and is sustained by higher-order cognitive functions. Based on this hypothesis, Nietzsche regards the sense of self as emerging from a homeostatic system of drives and affects that unify such (...) as to maintain self-efficacy levels. He relies on the same hypothesis to explain the emergence of an ascetic moral system and its specific, interpretive-affective ‘mechanism of willing’. The article aligns Nietzsche’s account of agentcausation with Albert Bandura’s self-efficacy studies and Antonio Damasio’s recent account of self-systems as homeostatic systems. (shrink)
Wegner (2002) fails to (1) distinguish conscious will and voluntariness; (2) account for everyday willed acts; and (3) individuate thoughts and acts. Wegner incorrectly implies that (4) we experience acts as willed only when they are caused by unwilled thoughts; (5) thoughts are never true causes of actions; and (6) we experience ourselves as first performing mental acts which then cause our intentional actions.
The paper argues that it is a mistake to interpret Thomas Reid as holding a libertarian notion of freedom, and to make use of Reid to argue in support of a libertarian position. More precisely, this paper shows that Reid’s theory of agent-causation may not be what these philosophers take it to be, once such crucial notions as agent-causation and active power in Reid’s theory of free agency have been fully explicated. Reid is more committed to (...) accepting the view of freedom as rational self-control over the determination of the will than a contracausal view of freedom. (shrink)
Introduction : action, thought, pragmatism -- Neo-pragmatism and its critics -- Methodology : reconstructive dialectics -- A history of action theory -- Defining actions -- The explanation of action -- A material explication of agency -- Agency and existence.
Introduction -- Rational explanation of belief -- Rational explanation of action -- (Non-human) animals and their reasons -- Rational explanation and rational causation -- Events and states -- Physicalism.
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 the true nature of the problem of chanciness, agent-causal views do much to eradicate it. (shrink)
If determinism is a threat to freedom, that threat derives solely from its alleged eradication of power. The source incompatibilist mistakenly supposes that special views about the self are required to insure that we are the ultimate source of and in control of our decisions and actions. Source incompatibilism fails whether it takes the form of Robert Kane’s event-causal libertarianism or the various agent-causal varieties defended by Derk Pereboom and Randolph Clarke. It is argued that the sort of control (...) free agents need to possess and exercise can be secured without metaphysical excess. If there is a free will problem, it is the one G. E. Moore addressed in 1912. He concluded that persons can act otherwise in a deterministic world. We should continue to try to figure out whether he was right or wrong. (shrink)
In this paper, I discuss a problem for Kant's strategy of appealing to the agent qua noumenon to undermine the significance of determinism in his theory of free will. I then propose a solution. The problem is as follows: given determinism, how can some agent qua noumenon be 'the cause of the causality' of the appearances of that agent qua phenomenon without being the cause of the entire empirical causal series? This problem has been identified in the (...) literature (Ralph Walker provides what is perhaps the most dramatic presentation of it). But it has never received an adequate solution. In this paper, I argue that Walker’s objection is only decisive if we must understand our responsibility as responsibility for events, but not causal laws. I argue that we need not interpret Kant's theory in this way. I demonstrate that each agent qua noumenon could be responsible for "limited instantiation scope" causal laws which necessitate only the phenomenal actions of that same agent qua phenomenon. Part of this project involves showing that there are relevant constituents of actions which are "rare" enough to instantiate such laws. I demonstrate that, on Kant's view, events in agents’ bodies are not rare enough, but events in agents’ phenomenal souls are. (shrink)
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 of action, I apply my account to situations in which an agent displays strength of will, such as when one struggles to perform an action while overcoming a persistent urge to do otherwise. I conclude by offering an explanation of mental action that demonstrates the extent of our powers of agency within the domain of the mental. (shrink)
A Metaphysics for Freedom argues that agency itself-and not merely the special, distinctively human variety of it-is incompatible with determinism. For determinism is threatened just as surely by the existence of powers which can be unproblematically accorded to many sorts of animals, as by the distinctively human powers on which the free will debate has tended to focus. She suggests that a tendency to approach the question of free will solely through the issue of moral responsibility has obscured the fact (...) that there is a quite different route to incompatibilism, based on the idea that animal agents above a certain level of complexity possess a range of distinctive 'two-way' powers, not found in simpler substances. Determinism is not a doctrine of physics, but of metaphysics; and the idea that it is physics which will tell us whether our world is deterministic or not presupposes what must not be taken for granted-that is, that physics settles everything else, and that we are already in a position to say that there could be no irreducibly top-down forms of causal influence. Steward considers questions concerning supervenience, laws, and levels of explanation, and explores an outline of a variety of top-down causation which might sustain the idea that an animal itself, rather than merely events and states going on in its parts, might be able to bring something about. The resulting position permits certain important concessions to compatibilism to be made; and a convincing response is also offered to the charge that even if it is agreed that determinism is incompatible with agency, indeterminism can be of no possible help. The whole is an argument for a distinctive and resolutely non-dualistic, naturalistically respectable version of libertarianism, rooted in a conception of what biological forms of organisation might make possible in the way of freedom. (shrink)