Events, agents, and settling whether and how one intervenes

Philosophical Studies 173 (6):1629-1646 (2016)
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Event-causal libertarians maintain that an agent’s settling of whether certain states-of-affairs obtain on a particular occasion can be reduced to the causing of events by certain mental events or states, such as certain desires, beliefs and/or intentions. Agent-causal libertarians disagree. A common critique against event-causal libertarian accounts is that the agent’s role of settling matters is left unfilled and the agent “disappears” from such accounts—a problem known as the disappearing agent problem. Recently, Franklin has argued that an “enriched” event-causal account can overcome this problem. Franklin, however, doesn’t consider whether, as Pereboom argues, the agent as decider of “torn decisions” disappears from even enriched accounts. As I show here, Franklin’s enriched account takes some modifying if it is to overcome Pereboom’s torn decision problem—a special case of the disappearing agent problem. However, as I also show, there is a more fundamental problem facing event-causal libertarian accounts. It is implausible that an agent qua event or state simultaneously settles whether and how she intervenes. The upshot is that events and/or states lack an ability essential to completely fulfilling an agent’s role qua settler. This isn’t a problem for agent-causal accounts like the one offered by Steward because in as much as an agent qua substance settles whether her body moves in certain ways on certain occasions she simultaneously settles whether and how she intervenes. As a consequence, event-causal libertarians face a dilemma, or rather several, that agent-causal libertarians do not. This may ultimately be explained by the irreducibility of causation by agents to causation by events

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Jason D. Runyan
Indiana Wesleyan University


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