Determinism and Agent Causation

The general topic of this research is the philosophical explanations of human action. My goal is to analyse contemporary contrasting theories, the agent and the event causal account of action, against the background of recent empirical evidence. According to agent causal account, agents can start new causal chains that are not pre-determined by the events of the immediate or distant past and the physical laws of nature. On the other hand, on event causal accounts the events within the agent (desires, motives or brain process) cause bodily motion to happen, which can be described as an action. Nevertheless, the main focus of my research will not be the analysis of philosophical arguments in favour for and against agent causation, but an analysis of the interpretations of empirical research in this area. The philosophical work, instead, shall provide the framework for tackling this research adequately and for determining underlying philosophical assumptions.
Philosophers who defend a reductive event causal approach usually appeal to empirical evidence from the fields of cognitive psychology and neurosciences (for example, Libet’s experiments and John-Dylan Haynes’s variants) in order to support the claims of event causal theory. My hypothesis is that the empirical evidence available at the moment does not necessarily support a reductive account, rather its significance is over-estimated. I also suggest that these experiments can be interpreted in alternative ways. In addition, I will search for other available results from empirical sciences that support an agent-causal understanding of human action.

Host University
Department of Christian Philosophy, University of Innsbruck, Austria

Academic Sponsors
Prof Josef Quitterer and Dr Georg Gasser

Fall 2015 – Winter 2016