My work aims to address metaphysical issues that arise at the intersection of philosophy of action and mind.  The guiding thread that unites much of my current research is the notion of effort.


Agent Causation as a Solution to the Problem of Action in the Canadian Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 47, No. 5,  pp. 656-673

Review of M. Vargas and G. Yaffe (eds.), “Rational and Social Agency: The Philosophy of Michael Bratman”, in the Journal of Moral Philosophy

Understanding Strength of Will in Fabio Bacchini, Stefano Caputo, and Massimo Dell’Utri (eds.), New Advances in Causation, Agency, and Moral Responsibility (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2014)

In Progress (titles modified to protect blind review)

  “Mental Action and the Metaphysics of Mind”

This paper presents an account of mental action.  I argue that when you are performing a mental action you are causing content to become present to consciousness, and that you do so by exerting effort in the process of utilizing the relevant cognitive capacities. The paper begins with a discussion of the skeptical claim that much of what happens in the conscious mind does so automatically, where mental events occur as merely reflexive responses to stimuli. I argue that the skeptical account of mental action does not capture the full extent of our powers of agency within the domain of the mental, since it employs a problematic notion of intentional action. Then, I defend an account of mental action described in terms of the cognitive capacities that you use by exerting effort and offer examples of mental action that cannot be accommodated by the skeptical view. I end by arguing that if the account of mental action presented here is correct, there is good reason to revise the fundamental ontological categories that are typically employed when understanding the conscious mind.

 “You Are Not an Event”

This paper presents a new version of the problem of the absent agent, an important objection to the standard story of action.  According to the standard story of action, your bodily movements are caused by your mental events.  If your bodily movements are caused by your mental events, then to say that you are causing the movements of your body, we must assume that you are identical with the relevant mental events. But this assumption, I argue, is not plausible, on the grounds that you are a specific kind of living organism that has various properties and parts, that stands in relations to other objects, that undergoes change without annihilation, that persists through time while occupying space, and thus, is not an event. If so, it is not the case that your bodily movements are caused by your mental events, and the standard story of action must be rejected.

 “Causation, Agent Causation, and Free Will”,

Agent-causal libertarianism is the controversial idea that free will is incompatible with determinism, and that because at least some human beings exercise free will, determinism does not obtain. Many defenders of agent-causal libertarianism argue that possessing free will requires that you control what you are doing when acting in the requisite manner. Typically, such libertarians believe that this control resides in your indeterministic causation of an intention to act. Recently, Timothy O’Connor has argued that indeterministic causation exists simply in virtue of the causal powers used by the free agent when she is causing an intention to act. This paper defends O’Connor’s account of agent-causal libertarianism against a recent argument to the contrary, and, by showing how that argument fails to undercut O’Connor’s position, presents a more convincing case against existing accounts of agent-causal libertarianism, on the grounds that such views misconstrue the causal relation between the agent and her actions.

  “The Self in Self-Control”

At first glance, strength of will appears puzzling because it suggests that you simultaneously most want to act on a particular desire and most want to resist that desire, which seems straightforwardly impossible. Chandra Sripada criticizes two prominent attempts at resolving this puzzle of synchronic self-control, on the grounds that they unduly constrain what kinds of self-control are possible, and thus what strength of will could be. In light of their problems, Sripada defends a ‘divided mind’ account of strength of will, where our psychological architecture is divided between a deliberative motivational system and an emotional motivational system, and strength of will is a mental action performed exclusively by the deliberative system. I argue that, though Sripada has effectively undermined the popular accounts of strength of will, his own account should be rejected for two related reasons. First, the mental action performed exclusively by the deliberative system arises exclusively from that part of our psychological architecture, thereby undermining the sense in which it be said to belong to you, the whole agent. And, second, the account falls victim to the problem of the absent or missing agent, thereby undermining the sense in which what Sripada calls strength of will could ever amount to an intentional action performed by an individual agent.

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