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Workshop free and accountable agency

10 May @ 13:00 - 17:00

| Free

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The free will-debate from an action-oriented perspective Andreas Schönau (University of Freiburg) In recent years, neurophysiological findings have had an increased influence on the philosophical understanding of the self, concepts of agency, and normative evaluations. Focussing on the free will debate, I will show that every philosophical position (compatibilist, incompatibilist, libertarian) is able to arguably verify its stance by appealing to empirical facts such as the readiness potential. Thus we have no good reason to favor one position over the…
The free will-debate from an action-oriented perspective Andreas Schönau (University of Freiburg) In recent years, neurophysiological findings have had an increased influence on the philosophical understanding of the self, concepts of agency, and normative evaluations. Focussing on the free will debate, I will show that every philosophical position (compatibilist, incompatibilist, libertarian) is able to arguably verify its stance by appealing to empirical facts such as the readiness potential. Thus we have no good reason to favor one position over the other through empirical evidence alone. Since the question whether there is such a thing as free will in the ontological sense generates no explanatory value regarding the role of automatic and unconscious processes for agentive behaviour, we should rather turn to what we actually mean when we speak of free will. When it comes to the phenomenon of free will, its usage in common sense language is bound to the phenomenal fact that our actions are accompanied by a sense of agency, i.e. the subjective awareness that one is initiating, executing, and controlling one's own volitional actions in the environment. I will argue that by turning to the philosophical field of action theory we gain a better understanding of the causal relation between intentions and movements, ranging from rational deliberation over conscious cognition to the unconscious and automatic neurophysiological mechanisms of motor control. If this causal chain is not interrupted we attribute a sense of agency to ourselves and feel free in expressing our movements. Various disorders (e.g. anarchic-hand-syndrome, Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, aboulia) show how a disruption of this causal flow influences the sense of agency and consequently the patient's perspective of being able to act freely. I will conclude that free will should not be tackled as a mere ontological issue but as a description we use to grasp the relation between intentions and movements. Sharing Responsibility and the Moral Sentiments Maureen Sie (Tilburg University) In this talk I address the communicative and coordinative role and importance of tokens of appraisal such as frowns and compliments, blame and praise, and resentment and gratitude (the moral sentiments) to our moral practices. A clear understanding of this role and importance enables us to explain why and in what sense (1) we share responsibility for our moral practices and (2) why and in what sense changing these practices is a collective enterprise. My main aim in this talk is to do this explanatory work and to establish that we can affirm the importance of tokens of appraisal regardless of our answer to the question whether, in one sense or another, we deserve them. I specifically elaborate on two aspects of our practices of moral responsibility, namely that it is by being held responsible that: (1) we are enabled to develop certain agential capacities and (2) we are able to co-determine, consolidate, and fine-tune our normative expectations of one another. Although the first aspect has been observed by several compatibilist philosophers, the second aspect has not received enough attention. This second aspect explains why and in what respect changing and improving our everyday practices is bound to be a difficult, painstaking and above all collective enterprise. I illustrate this last observation with a brief comment on discussions concerning our responsibility for biased behavior in the domain of social cognition. I argue that once we have a firm grip on the social dimension of moral responsibility we can explain what is problematic about this behavior in a natural and less contrived way than this has hitherto been explained. Guidance, automatic action, and the role of intentions Lieke Asma (VU University Amsterdam) Some claim that the dominant theory of action, the causal theory, is not able to account for automatic actions being actions as well, since it seems that these actions are not caused by intentions or reasons (e.g. Di Nucci 2013, Zhu 2004). Instead, the proposal is that the theory of guidance, based on work by Frankfurt (1978), might be better able to deal with these cases (e.g. Di Nucci 2013; Zhu 2004). On this theory, it does not matter how bodily movements were caused as long as the agent is prepared and in a position to intervene if necessary.  Unfortunately, this theory has not been developed in sufficient detail to see whether it is a viable account. In this paper my aim is (to start) to fill this gap. I first develop the theory in more detail, after which I assess specifically whether it can account for automatic actions. I argue that it cannot, since both guidance and whether something counts as an action does depend on psychological states. Finally, I examine the implications for automatic actions and the kind of control we have over these actions. Agent Causation and the Causal Theory of Action Leon de Bruin (Radboud University Nijmegen) What is the distinguishing feature of free action? According to the dominant view, the causal theory of action (CTA), behavior qualifies as action just in case it is caused in the right way by the right kind of psychological cause. However, one pressing problem is that the CTA is unable to account for deviant causal chains, i.e. cases in which beliefs, desires and intentions cause behavior in such a way that it clearly does not qualify as action. Most philosophers argue that the challenge is to spell out what non-deviant causation consists in, without resorting to a substantial notion of agent causation. The aim of this talk is to present an alternative approach, which is based on an agency theory of causation. I will discuss the consequences of this approach for the conceptualization of action and how it deals with the problem of deviant causal chains.

Organizer

Sanneke de Haan
Email:
Sannekedehaan@gmail.com

Venue

Thomas van Aquinostraat 6
Thomas van Aquinostraat 6
Nijmegen,
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The free will-debate from an action-oriented perspective

Andreas Schönau (University of Freiburg)

In recent years, neurophysiological findings have had an increased influence on the philosophical understanding of the self, concepts of agency, and normative evaluations. Focussing on the free will debate, I will show that every philosophical position (compatibilist, incompatibilist, libertarian) is able to arguably verify its stance by appealing to empirical facts such as the readiness potential. Thus we have no good reason to favor one position over the other through empirical evidence alone. Since the question whether there is such a thing as free will in the ontological sense generates no explanatory value regarding the role of automatic and unconscious processes for agentive behaviour, we should rather turn to what we actually mean when we speak of free will. When it comes to the phenomenon of free will, its usage in common sense language is bound to the phenomenal fact that our actions are accompanied by a sense of agency, i.e. the subjective awareness that one is initiating, executing, and controlling one’s own volitional actions in the environment. I will argue that by turning to the philosophical field of action theory we gain a better understanding of the causal relation between intentions and movements, ranging from rational deliberation over conscious cognition to the unconscious and automatic neurophysiological mechanisms of motor control. If this causal chain is not interrupted we attribute a sense of agency to ourselves and feel free in expressing our movements. Various disorders (e.g. anarchic-hand-syndrome, Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, aboulia) show how a disruption of this causal flow influences the sense of agency and consequently the patient’s perspective of being able to act freely. I will conclude that free will should not be tackled as a mere ontological issue but as a description we use to grasp the relation between intentions and movements.

Sharing Responsibility and the Moral Sentiments

Maureen Sie (Tilburg University)

In this talk I address the communicative and coordinative role and importance of tokens of appraisal such as frowns and compliments, blame and praise, and resentment and gratitude (the moral sentiments) to our moral practices. A clear understanding of this role and importance enables us to explain why and in what sense (1) we share responsibility for our moral practices and (2) why and in what sense changing these practices is a collective enterprise. My main aim in this talk is to do this explanatory work and to establish that we can affirm the importance of tokens of appraisal regardless of our answer to the question whether, in one sense or another, we deserve them. I specifically elaborate on two aspects of our practices of moral responsibility, namely that it is by being held responsible that: (1) we are enabled to develop certain agential capacities and (2) we are able to co-determine, consolidate, and fine-tune our normative expectations of one another. Although the first aspect has been observed by several compatibilist philosophers, the second aspect has not received enough attention. This second aspect explains why and in what respect changing and improving our everyday practices is bound to be a difficult, painstaking and above all collective enterprise. I illustrate this last observation with a brief comment on discussions concerning our responsibility for biased behavior in the domain of social cognition. I argue that once we have a firm grip on the social dimension of moral responsibility we can explain what is problematic about this behavior in a natural and less contrived way than this has hitherto been explained.

Guidance, automatic action, and the role of intentions

Lieke Asma (VU University Amsterdam)

Some claim that the dominant theory of action, the causal theory, is not able to account for automatic actions being actions as well, since it seems that these actions are not caused by intentions or reasons (e.g. Di Nucci 2013, Zhu 2004). Instead, the proposal is that the theory of guidance, based on work by Frankfurt (1978), might be better able to deal with these cases (e.g. Di Nucci 2013; Zhu 2004). On this theory, it does not matter how bodily movements were caused as long as the agent is prepared and in a position to intervene if necessary.  Unfortunately, this theory has not been developed in sufficient detail to see whether it is a viable account. In this paper my aim is (to start) to fill this gap. I first develop the theory in more detail, after which I assess specifically whether it can account for automatic actions. I argue that it cannot, since both guidance and whether something counts as an action does depend on psychological states. Finally, I examine the implications for automatic actions and the kind of control we have over these actions.

Agent Causation and the Causal Theory of Action

Leon de Bruin (Radboud University Nijmegen)

What is the distinguishing feature of free action? According to the dominant view, the causal theory of action (CTA), behavior qualifies as action just in case it is caused in the right way by the right kind of psychological cause. However, one pressing problem is that the CTA is unable to account for deviant causal chains, i.e. cases in which beliefs, desires and intentions cause behavior in such a way that it clearly does not qualify as action. Most philosophers argue that the challenge is to spell out what non-deviant causation consists in, without resorting to a substantial notion of agent causation. The aim of this talk is to present an alternative approach, which is based on an agency theory of causation. I will discuss the consequences of this approach for the conceptualization of action and how it deals with the problem of deviant causal chains.

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The OZSW event calendar lists academic philosophy events organized by/at Dutch universities, and is offered by the OZSW as a service to the research community. Please check the event in question – through their website or organizer – to find out if you could participate and whether registration is required. Obviously we carry no responsibility for non-OZSW events.