Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Agents and Causes

Here’s a bit of what I am researching currently:

We often think of agents causing particular events or outcomes. This seems pretty straightforward in cases where we have everyday causation: I formed an intention to get up and open the door; I get up and open the door. The event of the door’s opening is caused by me. Seems fairly simple.

But what about the omissions and “negative” causings? Suppose, as in the Frankfurt case, I am driving down the hill, and I remove my hands from the steering wheel. I am seemingly omitting to act with respect to driving the car; I am driving the car by doing nothing, it seems. I have a disposition to act: on the occasion it becomes clear I need to make a course correction, for example, I will place my hands back on the wheel and drive on.

But this failure to act isn’t, seemingly, in line with the causal account mentioned above. It doesn’t look like I’m causing anything, and in cases where I don’t need to course correct, I’m achieving my objective by doing nothing at all. Why might this be a problem? Since we often take intentional actions to be a necessary condition for intentional agency (that is to say, we are responsible for our actions because we intentionally caused them; if we don’t intentionally cause them, we may lack agency, and hence, responsibility).

But perhaps Andrei Buckareff’s recent journal article “I’m Just Sitting Around Doing Nothing: On Exercising Intentional Agency in Omitting to Act,” might be able to help.

In it, he argues an intentional action should be identified as an outcome of causings (causingsàoutcome; outcome=intentional action). A causing has all the causal powers interacting, maybe directed toward some end or goal, and an outcome is what is produced by these interactions of causal powers.

Intentional agency should be identified with causal processes. A causal process is both a causing and outcome together (that is, the causing and the outcome are proper parts of a causal process). So for Buckareff, intentional agency=causal process, which =causing + outcome; an intentional action=outcome; it seems to follow intentional actions are parts of intentional agency.

In the case of omissions, an intention is directed toward either an omission or an outcome that itself requires an omission. If an intention is directed toward an omission, then we have a causing + an outcome, which is a causal process and hence intentional agency. If an intention is directed toward an outcome that requires an omission, then we have a causing + an outcome, which is a causal process and hence intentional agency. What remains is whether we think Buckareff’s account is subject to objections.