Exceptionalist naturalism: human agency and the causal order

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This paper addresses a fundamental question in folk metaphysics: how do we ordinarily view human agency? According to the transcendence account, we view human agency as standing outside of the causal order and imbued with exceptional powers. According to a naturalistic account, we view human agency as subject to the same physical laws as other objects and completely open to scientific investigation. According to exceptionalist naturalism, the truth lies somewhere in between: we view human agency as fitting broadly within the causal order while still being exceptional in important respects. In this paper, I report seven experiments designed to decide between these three competing theories. Across a variety of contexts and types of action, participants agreed that human agents can resist outcomes described as inevitable, guaranteed, and causally determined. Participants viewed non-human animal agents similarly, whereas they viewed computers, robots, and simple inanimate objects differently. At the same time, participants judged that human actions are caused by many things, including psychological, neurological, and social events. Overall, in folk metaphysics, human and non-human animals are viewed as exceptional parts of the natural world.
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Archival date: 2020-06-30
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