About this topic
Summary Agent causation distincts from Event causation, as the Agent itself is the cause for the event to take place and start another chain of events. In an event causion we tend to regard causal relations 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. An Agent Causation theory of freedom was first introduced by the scottish philosopher Thomas Reid and was adopted by contemporary philosophers such as Roderick Chisholm, Richard Taylor and Timothy O'Connor. Agent causation is Incompatibilist view of Free Will and was adopted by 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. Action and Purpose. [REVIEW]Raziel Abelson - 1969 - Journal of Philosophy 66 (6):178-192.
  2. Agent Causation and Ultimate Responsibility.Robert F. Allen - manuscript
    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 (...)
  3. Causation and the Agent’s Point of View.Sebastián Álvarez - 2014 - Theoria: Revista de Teoría, Historia y Fundamentos de la Ciencia 29 (1):133.
  4. Taylor, Richard: "Action and Purpose".D. M. Armstrong - 1966 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 44:231.
  5. Rejecting Pereboom’s Empirical Objection to Agent-Causation.Jordan Baker - 2017 - Synthese 194 (8):3085-3100.
    In this paper I argue that Pereboom’s empirical objection to agent causation fails to undermine the most plausible version of agent-causal libertarianism. This is significant because Pereboom concedes that such libertarianism is conceptually coherent and only falls to empirical considerations. To substantiate these claims I outline Pereboom’s taxonomy of agent-causal views, develop the strongest version of his empirical objections, and then show that this objection fails to undermine what I consider the most plausible view of agent-causal libertarianism, namely, reconciliatory integrationist (...)
  6. A Coherent, Naturalistic, and Plausible Formulation of Libertarian Free Will.Mark Balaguer - 2002 - Noûs 36 (3):379-406.
  7. Deliberation and Reason.Richard Baron - 2010 - 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 (...)
  8. 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]S. Bassford - 1974 - Dialogue 13 (3):619-621.
  9. A Whiteheadian Theory of the Agent Self.John Bennett - 1973 - Philosophy Today 17 (4):337-342.
  10. Agent Causation and Responsibility.Michael Bergmann - 2003 - Faith and Philosophy 20 (2):229-235.
  11. Excusing Sinners and Blaming God: A Calvinist Assessment of Determinism, Moral Responsibility, and Divine Involvement in Evil.Guillaume Bignon - 2017 - Eugene: Pickwick Publications.
  12. Causal Pluralism and the Problem of Natural Agency.John Bishop - 2014 - Res Philosophica 91 (3):527-536.
  13. Is Agent-Causality a Conceptal Primitive?John Bishop - 1986 - Synthese 67 (May):225-47.
  14. Prospects for a Naturalist Libertarianism: O'Connor's Persons and Causes.John D. Bishop - 2003 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 66 (1):228-243.
  15. Agent-Causation.John D. Bishop - 1983 - Mind 92 (January):61-79.
  16. Determinism, Libertarianism, and Agent Causation.Laurence BonJour - 1976 - Southern Journal of Philosophy 14 (2):145-56.
  17. The Unilateralist’s Curse and the Case for a Principle of Conformity.Nick Bostrom, Thomas Douglas & Anders Sandberg - 2016 - Social Epistemology 30 (4):350-371.
    In some situations a number of agents each have the ability to undertake an initiative that would have significant effects on the others. Suppose that each of these agents is purely motivated by an altruistic concern for the common good. We show that if each agent acts on her own personal judgment as to whether the initiative should be undertaken, then the initiative will be undertaken more often than is optimal. We suggest that this phenomenon, which we call the unilateralist’s (...)
  18. Freedom and Thought.Michael Bourke - 2016 - Modern Horizons:1-22.
    Despite recent neuroscientific research purporting to reveal that free will is an illusion, this paper will argue that agency is an inescapable feature of rationality and thought. My aim will not be to address the methodology or interpretation of such research, which I will only mention in passing. Rather, I will examine a collection of basic concepts which are presupposed by thought, and propose that these concepts are interrelated in ways that makes them both basic and irreducibly complex. The collection (...)
  19. Agents and Their Actions.Johannes L. Brandl, Marian David & Leopold Stubenberg (eds.) - 2001 - 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 (...)
  20. Agent Causation as a Solution to the Problem of Action.Michael Brent - 2017 - Canadian Journal of Philosophy 47 (5):656-673.
    My primary aim is to defend a nonreductive solution to the problem of action. I argue that when you are performing an overt bodily action, you are playing an irreducible causal role in bringing about, sustaining, and controlling the movements of your body, a causal role best understood as an instance of agent causation. Thus, the solution that I defend employs a notion of agent causation, though emphatically not in defence of an account of free will, as most theories of (...)
  21. Understanding Strength of Will.Michael Brent - 2014 - In Fabio Bacchini Massimo Dell'Utri & Stefano Caputo (eds.), New Advances in Causation, Agency, and Moral Responsibility. Cambridge Scholars Press. pp. 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 (...)
  22. Effort and the Standard Story of Action.Michael Brent - 2012 - Philosophical Writings 40:19 - 27.
    In this paper, I present an alternative account of action that improves upon what has come to be known as the standard story. The standard story depicts actions as events that are caused by and made intelligible through the appropriate combinations of the agent’s beliefs, desires, decisions, intentions and other motivational factors. I argue that the standard story is problematic because it depicts the relation between the agent and their bodily actions as causally mediated by their motivational factors. On the (...)
  23. The Power of Agency.Michael Brent - 2012 - 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 (...)
  24. What an Agent Ought To Do.Jan Broersen & Leendert van der Torre - 2003 - Artificial Intelligence and Law 11 (1):45-61.
  25. Quodlibetal Questions on Free Will. [REVIEW]Jerome V. Brown - 1994 - Review of Metaphysics 48 (1):140-141.
  26. The Rehabilitation of Spontaneity: A New Approach in Philosophy of Action.Brian J. Bruya - 2010 - 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. (...)
  27. Persons & Causes: The Metaphysics of Free Will by Timothy O'Connor.A. A. Buckareff - 2003 - Auslegung 26 (1):69-76.
  28. How Does Agent-­‐Causal Power Work?Andrei A. Buckareff - 2011 - 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 (...)
  29. Can the Agency Theory Be Salvaged?Andrei A. Buckareff - 2001 - 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.
  30. Can Agent-Causation Be Rendered Intelligible?: An Essay on the Etiology of Free Action.Andrei A. Buckareff - 1999 - Dissertation, Texas A&M University
    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 (...)
  31. Thomas Reid on Mind, Knowledge and Value.Todd Buras & Rebecca Copenhaver (eds.) - 2015 - Oxford University Press.
    This volume offers a fresh view of the work of Thomas Reid, a leading figure in the history of eighteenth-century philosophy. A team of leading experts in the field explore the significance of Reid's thought in his time and ours, focusing in particular on three broad themes: mind, knowledge, and value. Together, they argue that Reid's philosophy is about developing agents in a rich world of objects and values, agents with intellectual and active powers whose regularity is productive. Though such (...)
  32. The Agency Theory of Causality, Anthropomorphism, and Simultaneity.Marco Buzzoni - 2014 - International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 28 (4):375-395.
    The purpose of this article is to examine two important issues concerning the agency theory of causality: the charge of anthropomorphism and the relation of simultaneous causation. After a brief outline of the agency theory, sections 2–4 contain the refutation of the three main forms in which the charge of anthropomorphism is to be found in the literature. It will appear that it is necessary to distinguish between the subjective and the objective aspect of the concept of causation. This will (...)
  33. F. Castellani and J. Quitterer (Eds.), Agency and Causation in the Human Sciences.Marco Buzzoni - 2009 - Epistemologia 32 (1):162.
  34. In Defence of Free Will.C. A. Campbell - 1967 - London: Allen & Unwin.
  35. Review of Randolph Clarke, Libertarian Accounts of Free Will[REVIEW]Erik Carlson - 2004 - Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews 2004 (10).
  36. Agent Causality.W. R. Carter - 1979 - Tulane Studies in Philosophy 28:71-79.
  37. Don’T Be an Ass: Rational Choice and its Limits.Marc Champagne - 2015 - Reason Papers 37 (1):137-147.
    Deliberation is often seen as the site of human freedom, but the binding power of rationality seems to imply that deliberation is, in its own way, a deterministic process. If one knows the starting preferences and circumstances of an agent, then, assuming that the agent is rational and that those preferences and circumstances don’t change, one should be in a position to predict what the agent will decide. However, given that an agent could conceivably confront equally attractive alternatives, it is (...)
  38. A Personalist Defense of a Libertarian Account of Free Will.Ekron Chen - 1999 - 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 (...)
  39. Self, Action and Passivity.Tony Cheng - 2015 - 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” (...)
  40. The Agent as Cause.Roderick Chisholm - 1976 - In M. Brand & D. Walton (eds.), Action Theory. Reidel. pp. 199-211.
  41. Freedom and Action.Roderick Chisholm - 1966 - In Keith Lehrer (ed.), Freedom and Determinism. Random House.
  42. Person and Object: A Metaphysical Study.Roderick M. Chisholm - 1976 - Open Court.
  43. Reflections on Human Agency.Roderick M. Chisholm - 1971 - Idealistic Studies 1 (1):33-46.
  44. Reasons Explanation and Agent Control.John Ross Churchill - 2004 - Philosophical Topics 32 (1/2):241-253.
  45. Free Will, Agent Causation, and “Disappearing Agents”.Randolph Clarke - forthcoming - Noûs.
    A growing number of philosophers now hold that agent causation is required for agency, or free will, or moral responsibility. To clarify what is at issue, this paper begins with a distinction between agent causation that is ontologically fundamental and agent causation that is reducible to or realized in causation by events or states. It is widely accepted that agency presents us with the latter; the view in question claims a need for the former. The paper then examines a “disappearing (...)
  46. Understanding Human Agency, by Erasmus Mayr. [REVIEW]Randolph Clarke - 2013 - Mind 122 (486):fzt045.
  47. Alternatives for Libertarians.Randolph Clarke - 2011 - In Robert Kane (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Free Will, 2nd edition. pp. 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.
  48. Personal Agency: The Metaphysics of Mind and Action, by E. J. Lowe. [REVIEW]Randolph Clarke - 2010 - Mind 119 (475):820-823.
  49. Agent Causation and the Problem of Luck.Randolph Clarke - 2005 - 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 (...)
  50. Libertarian Accounts of Free Will.Randolph Clarke - 2003 - Oxford University Press USA.
    This comprehensive study offers a balanced assessment of libertarian accounts of free will. Bringing to bear recent work on action, causation, and causal explanation, Clarke defends a type of event-causal view from popular objections concerning rationality and diminished control. He subtly explores the extent to which event-causal accounts can secure the things for the sake of which we value free will, judging their success here to be limited. Clarke then sets out a highly original agent-causal account, one that integrates agent (...)
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