Agent Causation Within the Context of Libertarianism: The Conditions for Morally Responsible Agency

Dissertation, Loyola University of Chicago (2000)

This dissertation accounts for the conditions for being a morally responsible agent. There are two primary conditions: agent causation as a causal theory of action and libertarianism as an account of freedom. ;The first issue concerns causality and states that an agent can have moral obligations only if she is the direct cause of her actions. There is disagreement as to how an agent accomplishes this task. Event causalists argue that an agent directly causes her actions elliptically by states and events within her. Agent causalists argue that an agent directly causes her action literally by herself. I side with agent causalists for two reasons. First, unless the event causalist can show that the events and states within an agent are identical to the agent, the agent cannot be said to do anything. Secondly, states and events , in so far as they contribute to actions, are possessive by nature and presuppose direct causal activity by the agent. Moreover, against charges made by event causalists, I argue that direct causation by the agent does not leave the agent with no work to do, lead to an infinite series of causal events in the agent or reduces to event causation. ;The second condition concerns the freedom of the agent's direct causal power. Here the agent can have moral obligations only if she has a type of freedom that allows the direct causing of her actions to be uncaused. This kind of freedom allows the agent to be self-determining and rational. A perennial debate exists about whether compatibilism or libertarianism can meet this requirement. However, Galen Strawson argues that no account of freedom is immune from a regress of self-determining choices and thus no agents are ever morally responsible. He argues: There is a clear and fundamental sense in which no being can be truly self-determining in respect of its character and motivation in such a way as to be truly responsible for how it is in respect of character and motivation. Way we act is, in some quite straightforward sense, a function of the way we then are, in respect of character and motivation. We act as we act because of how we then are, in respect of character and motivation. It follows that there is a fundamental sense in which we cannot possibly be truly responsible for our actions. For we cannot be truly responsible for the way we are, and we act as we act because of the way we are. I argue that compatibilism, because of its allegiance to determinism cannot provide self-determination and is particularly vulnerable to Strawson's argument. If determinism is true, not only are no agents free in a self-determining sense, but neither are there any agents that ought to be subjected to moral ascriptions of praise or blame. However, libertarianism is immune to Strawson's argument. To support this claim, all I need to show is that if determinism is false, there are occasions when agents make rationally free decisions that do not stem from their character or other factors that they do not self-determine
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