Can agent-causation be rendered intelligible?: an essay on the etiology of free action

Dissertation, Texas A&M University (1999)
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
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