Persons and Causes: The Metaphysics of Free Will

Persons and Causes: The Metaphysics of Free Will

Persons and Causes: The Metaphysics of Free Will

Persons and Causes: The Metaphysics of Free Will

Synopsis

This provocative book refurbishes the traditional account of freedom of will as reasons-guided "agent" causation, situating its account within a general metaphysics. O'Connor's discussion of the general concept of causation and of ontological reductionism v. emergence will specially interest metaphysicians and philosophers of mind.

Excerpt

The topic of this study is one of the oldest, most contentious, and most difficult topics in philosophy. That it should prove to be all of these things is itself very puzzling, at first glance. For the goal is merely to make explicit our everyday picture of ourselves as agents who adopt specific purposes in freely choosing how we shall act, choices that trigger and help sustain our actions. If virtually all of us think of ourselves as freely acting, purposive beings -- when out living our lives, if not always when reflecting on the matter in our studies -- why haven't philosophers of the past managed to bequeath to us a perspicuous and immediately recognizable articulation of that thought? Granted, whether any such philosophical account answers to the facts of the springs of ordinary human behavior is an open empirical question: the truly puzzling matter is that there should remain deep controversy over what empirical researchers should be looking for to answer the question.

Like other enduring philosophical conundrums, the problem of understanding the idea of free, purposive, responsible activity (free will) is difficult in part because it touches on other fundamental ideas: causation, explanation, and the nature of intentional states such as beliefs, desires, and purposes -- just to start. Another source of difficulty is that we tend to assume that free agency admits of degrees. Philosophers not only disagree about the scope of free will in ordinary human beings (as opposed to God). They also dispute how genetics and environment influence a person's freedom of action. That is, once one fixes a basic concept of free will, it remains puzzling how free will so understood can be qualified.

The two features of the problem I've just mentioned pose difficulties for the individual philosopher in coming to his own view on the nature of free will (and so, a fortiori, for the community of philosophers to come to a shared view). A final obstacle directly to the goal of consensus stems from the fact that this project is rarely pursued in isolation. Philosophers want to do more than paint a commonly held picture of ourselves. We also want to put forth a vision of human beings and their place in the wider scheme of things. And for some (no doubt . . .

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