The Ontology of Intentional Agency in Light of Neurobiological Determinism: Philosophy Meets Folk Psychology

Journal of the Indian Council of Philosophical Research 34 (1):129-149 (2017)
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The moot point of the Western philosophical rhetoric about free will consists in examining whether the claim of authorship to intentional, deliberative actions fits into or is undermined by a one-way causal framework of determinism. Philosophers who think that reconciliation between the two is possible are known as metaphysical compatibilists. However, there are philosophers populating the other end of the spectrum, known as the metaphysical libertarians, who maintain that claim to intentional agency cannot be sustained unless it is assumed that indeterministic causal processes pervade the action-implementation apparatus employed by the agent. The metaphysical libertarians differ among themselves on the question of whether the indeterministic causal relation exists between the series of intentional states and processes, both conscious and unconscious, and the action, making claim for what has come to be known as the event-causal view, or between the agent and the action, arguing that a sort of agent causation is at work. In this paper, I have tried to propose that certain features of both event-causal and agent-causal libertarian views need to be combined in order to provide a more defendable compatibilist account accommodating deliberative actions with deterministic causation. The ‘‘agent-executed-eventcausal libertarianism’’, the account of agency I have tried to develop here, integrates certain plausible features of the two competing accounts of libertarianism turning them into a consistent whole. I hope to show in the process that the integration of these two variants of libertarianism does not challenge what some accounts of metaphysical compatibilism propose—that there exists a broader deterministic relation between the web of mental and extra-mental components constituting the agent’s dispositional system—the agent’s beliefs, desires, short-term and long-term goals based on them, the acquired social, cultural and religious beliefs, the general and immediate and situational environment in which the agent is placed, etc. on the one hand and the decisions she makes over her lifetime on the basis of these factors. While in the ‘‘Introduction’’ the philosophically assumed anomaly between deterministic causation and the intentional act of deciding has been briefly surveyed, the second section is devoted to the task of bridging the gap between compatibilism and libertarianism. The next section of the paper turns to an analysis of folk-psychological concepts and intuitions about the effects of neurochemical processes and prior mental events on the freedom of making choices. How philosophical insights can be beneficially informed by taking into consideration folk-psychological intuitions has also been discussed, thus setting up the background for such analysis. It has been suggested in the end that support for the proposed theory of intentional agency can be found in the folk-psychological intuitions, when they are taken in the right perspective.

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