Research

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.  A paper defending an account of action in which your exerting effort plays an ineliminable causal role in bringing about and sustaining every bodily action that you perform is now forthcoming.

Forthcoming

Agent Causation as a Solution to the Problem of Action in the Canadian Journal of Philosophy

My primary aim is to defend a nonreductive solution to the problem of action. I argue that when you are performing an overt bodily action, you are playing an irreducible causal role in bringing about, sustaining, and controlling the movements of your body, a causal role best understood as an instance of agent causation. Thus, the solution that I defend employs a notion of agent causation, though emphatically not in defence of an account of free will, as most theories of agent causation are. Rather, I argue that the notion of agent causation introduced here best explains how it is that you are making your body move during an action, thereby providing a satisfactory solution to the problem of action.

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

Published

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)

Richard Holton has presented an important criticism of two prominent accounts of action, a criticism that employs a notion of strength of will. Holton claims that these well-known accounts of action cannot explain cases in which an agent adheres to the dictates of a previous resolution in spite of a persistent desire to the contrary. I present an explanation and defense of Holton’s criticism of these accounts of action, and then I argue that while Holton highlights a crucial deficiency in both, his own explanation of strength of will is problematic. I end by suggesting what’s missing from Holton’s account and sketching an improved alternative.

In Progress (titles withheld to protect blind review)

“An Alternative Account of Agent Causation”

According to proponents of agent causation, when you perform an action you play a unique role in its causal production.  I argue that current accounts of agent causation are incomplete insofar as they overlook the role of a distinctive kind of effort involved in the performance of every action and which explains the distinctively active nature of action.  The alternative account of agent causation developed here exploits the notion of effort, understood as the employment of a causal power, to explain the self-generating nature of the activity that is characteristic of action.  I argue that the exertion of effort is neither a bodily nor a cognitive capacity, but something distinct in its own right, functioning so as to enable you causally to initiate, sustain, and control your capacities during the performance of an action.

“Against the Standard Story of Action”

I present an argument against what has come to be known as the standard story of action.  The standard story assumes that bodily actions are events that are non-deviantly caused by your mental attitudes like belief, desire, and intention.  I attempt to undermine the standard story in two ways.  First, I claim that it fails to explain situations in which you succeed in continuing to perform an action while overcoming a persistent desire to do otherwise.  Second, I claim that in order to explain why you performed an action, we need not assume that the relevant mental attitudes cause your performance thereof.  Rather, we can explain the action in terms of your deliberation and subsequent understanding of the motivational factors at play, as well as the effort that you exert so as to use the relevant bodily capacities.

“Mental Action and Agency”

I introduce and defend an explanation of mental action that builds upon the account of agent causation developed in an earlier paper.  In defending this explanation of mental action, I argue against Galen Strawson, who has suggested that mental action is restricted to ensuring that representational content comes to mind.  I claim that Strawson has overlooked a crucial distinction between the notion of content passively coming to mind and the notion of content actively coming to mind as a result of your exertion of effort, thereby misrepresenting the very activity of thinking itself.  I end by arguing that mental actions are best understood in terms of the agent, her cognitive capacities, and the effort by which she causally initiates, sustains, and controls the activation thereof.

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