The metaphysics of agency
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Mainstream philosophy of action and mind construes intentional behaviour in terms of causal processes that lead from agent-involving mental states to action. Actions are construed as events, which are actions in virtue of being caused by the right mental antecedents in the right way. Opponents of this standard event-causal approach have criticised the view on various grounds; they argue that it does not account for free will and moral responsibility, that it does not account for action done in the light of reasons, or, even, that it cannot capture the very phenomenon of agency. The thesis defends the standard event-causal approach against challenges of that kind. In the first chapter I consider theories that stipulate an irreducible metaphysical relation between the agent (or the self) and the action. I argue that such theories do not add anything to our understanding of human agency, and that we have, therefore, no reason to share the metaphysically problematic assumptions on which those alternative models are based. In the second chapter I argue for the claim that reason-explanations of actions are causal explanations, and I argue against non-causal alternatives. My main point is that the causal approach is to be preferred, because it provides an integrated account of agency by providing an account of the relation between the causes of movements and reasons for actions. In the third chapter I defend non-reductive physicalism as the most plausible version of the standard event-causal theory. In the fourth and last chapter I argue against the charge that the standard approach cannot account for the agent’s role in the performance of action. Further, I propose the following stance with respect to the problem of free will: we do not have free will, but we have the related ability to govern ourselves—and the best account of self-determination presupposes causation, but not causal determinism.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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