Kickoff Workshop

Theoretical aspects of indeterminism and agency

With this first workshop, we are looking for input for the different aspects of our research project.

The workshop will take place on Thursday/Friday, 12/13 January 2012. At the workshop, eight international speakers will be presenting their work in a variety of areas, ranging from freedom and the philosophy of action to determinism, metaphysics, and philosophy of science. The workshop will end with a round table discussion, in which the various ideas relating to the project will be collected, discussed, and connected. All this will take place in the centre of Utrecht, in close proximity to where our philosophy department is located.

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 Thursday, January 12th and Friday, January 13th, 2012. The workshop will be held at Drift 21 (see images). For more information about the location, see Time Table and Getting There.

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.


The workshop is organized by Daan Evers, Thomas Müller and Jesse Mulder.

Time Table

Talks are 45 minutes, with 15 minutes time for discussion. Click the speaker names below for abstracts.

Time Thursday Friday
10.00-11.15 CoffeeThomas Müller
Martin van Hees
Degrees of Responsibility
11.15-12.30 Tuomas Tahko
On the Very Idea of Substance Causation
Annemarie Kalis
The things I could do…
12.30-14.00 Lunch Lunch
14.00-15.15 Hans Briegel
On machine creativity and the notion of free will
Markus Schlosser
The luck objection to event-causal
libertarianism: it is here to stay
15.15-16.30 Alexander Reutlinger
Interventionist Theories of Causation and Free Will
Anna Marmodoro
Power structuralism in ancient ontologies
16.30-17.00 Break Plenary Discussion
17.00-18.15 Charlotte Werndl
Deterministic versus indeterministic models:
underdetermination and indirect evidence



Hans Briegel – On machine creativity and the notion of free will

We discuss the possibility of freedom of action in embodied systems that are, with no exception and
at all scales of their body, subject to physical law. We relate the discussion to a model of an artificial
agent that exhibits a primitive notion of creativity and freedom in dealing with its environment. The agent
uses projective simulation, a recently introduced scheme of information processing, as a constitutive element. This provides an explicit proposal on how we can reconcile our understanding of universal physical
law with the idea that higher biological entities can acquire a notion of freedom that allows them
to increasingly detach themselves from a strict causal embedding into the surrounding world.

Martin van Hees – Degrees of Responsibility

Drawing on recent work on causation and responsibility (Braham and Van Hees 2009, 2011; Van Hees 2010), I present an account of moral responsibility that allows us to make judgements about the degree in which a person is responsible for the realization of some state of affairs. The account is discussed in terms of its implications for the analysis of responsibility voids (outcomes for which no one is responsible) and of moral luck.

Annemarie Kalis – The things I could do…

Exercising agency at least sometimes requires making a choice between different options for action: for example, in going to this conference I need to decide whether I will go by train or by car. But how did I come to see these as options in the first place? And why do I not consider coming by foot, or by plane, or on a horse? In this talk I will reflect on the question what it means to consider something an option for action, and develop some thoughts on the role of option generation in the decision-making process. As I will show, we have only limited control over what we see as possible – nevertheless, our capacity to generate options for action is crucial for understanding what is active about agency.

Alexander Reutlinger – Interventionist Theories of Causation and Free Wil

Many libertarians would like to rely on a theory of causation that is (a) compatible with indeterminism and probabilistic causation, and (b) does not require universal laws, i.e. causal notions can be applied to a domain that is governed by ceteris paribus laws. A promising candidate is Woodward’s interventionist theory of causation. The key idea underlying interventionist account – which also defines other causal notions besides direct causation – is that, roughly, X is a cause of Y iff there is a possible intervention on X that changes Y (cf. Woodward 2003: 59).

However, I will argue that the key notion of the interventionist approach – the notion of a possible intervention – turns out to be deeply problematic. In particular, I will argue that Woodward’s notion of an intervention is problematic because of the modal character of possible interventions. I will argue for two claims against Woodward:

1. Either merely logically possible interventions are dispensable for the semantic project of providing an account of the meaning of causal statements. If interventions are indeed dispensable, the interventionist theory collapses into (some sort of) a counterfactual theory of causation. Thus, the interventionist theory is not tenable as a theory of causation in its own right.

2. Or, if one maintains that merely logically possible interventions are indispensable, then interventions with this modal character lead to the fatal result that interventionist counterfactuals are evaluated inadequately. Consequently, interventionists offer an inadequate theory of causation.

Markus Schlosser – The luck objection to event-causal libertarianism: it is here to stay

According to libertarianism about free will, an action is free only if it is not determined by antecedent states and events. One of the most serious challenges to this view is the so-called luck objection. Roughly, if an action is undetermined, then it appears to be partly a matter of luck whether or not one performs it. And if the performance of an action is partly a matter of luck, then it is not performed with free will. This objection is most effective against event-causal libertarianism. Recently, Evan Franklin (2011, Phil. Stud.) has defended a version of event-causal libertarianism against four specific formulations of the luck argument (and against the related “Mind argument”). I will propose a general formulation of the luck argument, and we will see that Franklin’s specific responses fail to address the general formulation. Further, I will argue that three of the four specific responses are unsuccessful.

Tuomas Takho – On the Very Idea of Substance Causation

The idea of substance causation is central to libertarian accounts of free will in particular, as the possibility of substance causation is required for agent-causal accounts, which are perhaps the most promising choice for libertarians. In this paper I will assess some arguments against the possibility of substance causation and also attempt to clarify E. J. Lowe’s idea that all causation is substance causation – without committing myself to this view. My goal is to determine how Lowe can or should reply to usual arguments against substance causation, and to see what kind of prospects agent-causal accounts have based on all this.

Charlotte Werndl – Deterministic versus indeterministic models: underdetermination and indirect evidence

This talk starts by introducing mathematical results which show that there is observational equivalence between deterministic and indeterministic models (even for standard systems modelled by Newtonian mechanics). That is, the relevant deterministic and indeterministic models give the same predictions. Hence there is a choice between a deterministic and an indeterministic model. Therefore, the question arises: which model, if any, is preferable relative to evidence? I will criticise the extant answers to this question; in particular, the answers by Winnie (1998) and Suppes (1993). Finally, a new answer will be presented: suppose you can choose between a deterministic model derived from Newtonian mechanics and an indeterministic model which does not follow from any theory. By appealing to indirect evidence based on the unifying power of Newtonian theory, I argue that the deterministic model is preferable and that there is no underdetermination.

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) - 12/01/2012 - 13/01/2012
All Day

Drift 21