Friday, February 26, 2010

An adverbial model for agent causation

The big problem for libertarian views of free will, especially agent-causal ones, is how to make the action come from both the agent and the agent's reasons. The compatibilist gives up on the agent part—or, more charitably, we should say that, roughly, she analyzes the action's originating from the agent in terms of the action's originating from the agent's reasons.

Here is a model. In the world, there is nomically explained causation. Maybe, charged particle A causes charged particle B to move away, because of the laws of electromagnetics. Maybe, massive particle A causes massive particle B to approach, because of the law of gravitation. Here is a very natural way to say what is happening here:

  1. A electromagnetically causes B to move away.
  2. A gravitationally causes B to approach.
The laws that are explaining the causation can be included adverbially in the causal statements. The laws from which the causation comes tag the causation, modify it. (In Aristotelian terms, we might even be tempted to say that electromagnetic causation and gravitational causation are analogically cases of causation—causation takes multiple forms.) The adverbial part here is crucial—the law really is doing much of the explaining here. In some sense, even, I would say that the lawmaker (that in virtue of which the law is a law) causes the movement of B or maybe causes A's causing of that movement. (I somehow like the latter, but in the free will case I think the former works better.) For some relevant background, see an unpublished paper of mine.

Suppose now that Plato writes a book because of love of truth and Euthydemus fools Callias out of a desire to impress. Then, very roughly:

  1. Plato's love of truth Platonically causes Plato's writing of the book.
  2. Euthedemus' desire to impress Euthydemically causes Euthydemus' fooling Callias.
The nomic case provides us with a way in which causation has three relata[note 1]: the reasons, the agent and the action. But the agent and the reasons enter differently.

Strictly speaking, the analogy shouldn't be between the agent and the law, but between the agent and the lawmaker, or, even better, between the agent's form and the lawmaker.

1 comment:

Alexander R Pruss said...

Alternately, one might make the reasons be like the laws.