Causation and agency in our indeterministic world

How can anything at all happen in an indeterministic world? And how can that which happens, be something specific? In an indeterministic world (like ours, arguably), it is not determined what will happen — but how can that which happens, become determinate then? Can we learn about this problem by considering agency, or can we sharpen our understanding of agency by considering this problem? Is it fruitful to approach the problem from the point of view of things actualizing their potentialities (their dispositions and powers), or should we use some framework of indeterminstic event causation, or some other framework? These will be the main questions of the second workshop of our research project.

Please contact us if you require additional information.

Where & When

The kickoff workshop is organized in the historic city center of Utrecht – one of the oldest towns in the Netherlands. It will take place on Friday, March 1st 2013, at Achter de Dom 7 and Saturday, March 2nd, 2013 at Drift 21. For more information about the location, see Getting There.

A related event, prof. Jennifer Hornsby’s ZENO Lecture, takes place on Thursday February 28th. Participants in the workshop are cordially invited to also attend the ZENO Lecture.

Speakers & Participants

Below is a list of the speakers at the workshop. If you are interested in attending, please let us know. Attendance is free, but places are limited.

Rani Lill Anjum (Norwegian University of Life Sciences)
Pim Haselager (Radbout University Nijmegen)
David Horst (Hebrew University of Jeruzalem)
Robert Kane (University of Texas at Austin)
Marcus Kracht (Bielefeld University)
Christian List (London School of Economics)
Stephen Mumford (The University of Nottingham)
Timothy O’Connor (Indiana University)
Constantine Sandis (Oxford Brookes University)
Timothy Schroeder (Ohio State University)
Helen Steward (University of Leeds)
Alberto Zanardo (University of Padua)


The workshop is organized by Niels van Miltenburg and Thomas Müller.

Time Table

Talks are 40 minutes, with 20 minutes time for discussion. After each talk there is minimally a 15 minute coffee break.

– Thanks to all participants for making this event a success. Where available, handouts or slides have been linked to the timetable.

Time Friday March 1st Saturday March 2nd
9.00-9.30 Coffee & registration
9.30-10.00 Introduction by Thomas Müller Coffee
10.00-11.00 Helen Steward
Two-Way Powers
Timothy Schroeder
Acting for Reasons in an Indeterministic World
11.15-12.15 Pim Haselager
Weird creatures: Caught in between being fully determined and being random
Anjum & Mumford
Free Will and Modality
12.15-13.00 Lunch Lunch
13.00-14.00 Alberto Zanardo
Expressing Belnap’s STIT in purely temporal languages
Constantine Sandis
What Do Agents Cause and are they Caused to Cause it?
14.15-15.15 Marcus Kracht
(De)Constructing the Frame
Christian List
Free Will, Determinism, and the Possibility of Doing Otherwise
15.15-15.45 Coffee break Coffee break
15.45-16.45 David Horst
Agency and Knowledge
Robert Kane
Of One’s Own Free Will: Rethinking an Ancient Philosophical Problem in the Light of Modern Science
17.00-18.00 Timothy O’Connor
Indeterministic Agency in a Neo-Aristotelian Metaphysics
Plenary Discussion


David Horst — Agency and Knowledge

According to the Causal Theory of Action (CTA), the kind of control an agent exercises in doing something intentionally is a matter of her behavior being caused by certain of her mental states (e.g., by her intention). More precisely, the requirement for an agent’s exercise of control is that (a) her behavior accords with the content of her intention and (b) that her behavior is caused by her intention. The second condition is crucial for her control, because it is to rule out that the accord between her behavior and her intention is just a matter of luck. In my talk I will argue for two points: first, I want to show that the CTA in fact fails to secure the relevant kind of non-accidental accord between the agent’s behavior and her intention; second, I shall argue that, in order to specify the relevant sort of non-accidental accord, we have to understand that and how an agent knows what she is doing in acting intentionally. In short, my suggestion is that the notion of an agent’s practical knowledge is the key to understanding the kind of control an agent exercises in acting intentionally.

Robert Kane — Of One’s Own Free Will:
Rethinking an Ancient Philosophical Problem in the Light of Modern Science

In the 1960s, when I first began grappling with issues about free will, the general assumption among philosophers was that if you had scientific leanings, you would naturally be a compatibilist about free will, believing it to be compatible with deter­minism. And if, by contrast, you defended a libertarian or incompatibilist view of free will, requiring indeterminism, you would have to appeal to some mysterious forms of agency or other, e.g., to uncaused causes, immaterial minds, noumenal selves, prime movers unmoved or the like, that had no place in the scientific picture of the world. The question I set for myself back then was how one might reconcile a traditional libertarian free will, requiring indeter­minism, with modern science without thus reducing it to either mere chance or to mystery. It turned out that this project, spanning four decades, required rethinking many facets of the traditonal problem of free will from the ground up. I report of some results of this rethinking in this paper. The project requires attention to 20th and 21st century developments in the physics, psychology, neuroscience and other scientific fields. But it also requires rethinking traditional philosophical ideas about the nature of the will, rationality, selfhood, action, responsibility and other traditional notions.

Marcus Kracht — (De)Constructing the Frame

When proposing a semantics in terms of frames, we propose to back up modal talk by talk about some “real” entities such as worlds. However, these notions need justification before they become real. This is true also for the accessibility relation and, above all, individuals. I shall look at some ways modal logicians have tried to come to terms with these notions and how the different interpretations stand with respect to each other.

Christian List — Free Will, Determinism, and the Possibility of Doing Otherwise

I argue that free will and determinism are compatible, even when we take free will to require the ability to do otherwise and even when we interpret that ability modally, as the possibility of doing otherwise, and not just conditionally or dispositionally. My argument draws on a distinction between physical and agential possibility. Although in a deterministic world only one future sequence of events is physically possible for each state of the world, the more coarsely defined state of an agent and his or her environment can be consistent with more than one such sequence, and thus different actions can be “agentially possible”. The agential perspective is supported by our best theories of human behaviour, and so we should take it at face value when we refer to what an agent can and cannot do. On the picture I defend, free will is not a physical phenomenon, but a higher-level one on a par with other higher-level phenomena such as agency and intentionality.

Stephen Mumford and Rani Lill Anjum — The Modality of Free Will

Do we live in a deterministic world? Some treat this as an empirical question, left to science to
decide. While classical physics seems to support determinism, quantum physics suggests that
there are at least some indeterministic cases. Instead of linking determinism to causation and
indeterminism to chance, we suggest to treat the problem of free will as a problem of modality.
Modal dualism is the philosophical view that there are only two modalities; necessity and pure
contingency. The problem of free will can then be framed as follows: If my decisions are necessary,
they couldn’t have been otherwise, and I seem to have no genuine choice. But if my decisions
are merely contingent, I seem to have no control over them, so no genuine choice. In this paper
we argue that free will, agency and even causation require a third modality of dispositionality or
tendency. Essential for tendencies is that they allow that actions as well as causal processes can be counteracted and interfered with. As a result causation could not be the vehicle of determinism. This paper offers the outlines of a dispositional foundation for a libertarian theory.

Tim O’Connor — Indeterministic Agency in a Neo-Aristotelian Metaphysics

I briefly argue that a broadly neo-Humean metaphysics is not hospitable to freedom of action (for reasons distinctive to the metaphysics, quite apart from indeterminism), while a broadly neo-Aristotelian metaphysics is. I then go on to develop my central argument, which is that different versions of the neo-Aristotelian metaphysics lead to rather different metaphysical accounts of free and responsible action. Specifically, I will argue that (1) the most satisfactory account of human freedom within any broadly neo-Aristotelian metaphysics is agent-causal, but that (2) two different versions of the general metaphysics will lead to importance differences in the agent-causal account of freedom. Adjust the details of your general metaphysics, and the details of your account of freedom are transformed in significant ways.

Timothy Schroeder — Acting for Reasons in an Indeterministic World

In some recent projects, Nomy Arpaly and I have tried to describe what it is to act for reasons (Arpaly and Schroeder 2012; in preparation). According to this work, to act for a reason (in the relevant, subjective sense) is to be caused to act by attitudes that provide some (non-zero) positive reason to perform the action, and to be so caused in virtue of the fact that those attitudes provide that reason. The question then arises: is it possible for this causal relationship to hold in a world that is fundamentally indeterministic? I will argue that it is indeed possible. So far as our agency is concerned, the world can be fundamentally deterministic or indeterministic. Some might think that fundamental indeterminism would be a boon, but I will conclude by arguing that, so far as our agency is concerned, this cannot be correct.

Helen Steward — Two-Way Powers

In this paper, I try to make some headway with understanding and clarifying the notion of a two-way power which has sometimes been used in the attempt to understand the distinctive powers which are exercised in agency. My aim will be to try to understand whether, as some think, the notion is neutral as between compatibilism and incompatibilism – or whether, on the contrary, it represents a distinctively incompatibilistic resource for the understanding of agency.

Alberto Zanardo — Expressing Belnap’s s.t.i.t in purely temporal languages

Belnap’s logic of agency s.t.i.t. (seeing to it that) is developed in a branching-time
framework. Prior’s Ockhamist and Peircean temporal languages are unable to express s.t.i.t.
concepts, also in their simplest forms like deliberative and Chellas s.t.i.t.. The main reason of
this weakness is that Prior semantics for those languages do not involve the notion of choice,
which is crucial in Belnap’s work. Richer structures are then needed. This can be achieved by
assuming that, for any agent a, the set of possible futures of any given moment t is partitioned
into equivalence classes. These are called indistinguishability classes (for the agent a at the
moment t). The agent a cannot distinguish two possible futures if they belong to the same class.
Trees with indistingushability relations provide a semantics for a language L I with Peircean tense
operators, and an S5 modal operator quantifying over indistinguishability classes. This semantics
has Ockhamist and Peircean semantics as limit cases. When indistinguishability is a choice relation,
deliberative and Chellas s.t.i.t. are easily expressed in LI. Whereas, in order to express achievement
s.t.i.t., a modal simultaneity operator and the formalism of hybrid logic seem to be necessary. In
this framework, achievement s.t.i.t. “witnessed by chains” is expressible as well.

Getting There

Utrecht is at the very center of the Netherlands’ extensive railway network, and is therefore easily reachable by train from a variety of international cities. For those coming in by plane, connections between Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport and Utrecht Central Station run every twenty minutes. Utrecht Central Station is at fifteen minutes walking distance from the historic city center, where the workshop will be held.

The hotels, workshop/lecture rooms and dinner locations are all located in the city center, within walking distance of each other. However, public transportation within Utrecht is also available. Buses stop throughout the city center and beyond. The bus stop “Janskerkhof” is closest to all the important locations. Buses run between Janskerkhof and Central Station almost continually during weekdays – buses 11 and 4 run most often.

This page has detailed information on public transportation in the Netherlands, as well as on reaching Utrecht from Schiphol. You might also find the public transportation journey planner convenient if you plan on traveling by bus or train within the Netherlands.

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Date(s) - 01/03/2013 - 02/03/2013
All Day

Achter de Dom