On the surface, the question of free will is seemingly simple. However, this inquiry has sparked much philosophical debate. Determining whether free will truly exists and understanding its implications requires an examination of whom or what controls our actions. This article focuses on concepts presented in Timothy O’Connor’s, “The Agent as Cause.” During this discussion, we will identify O’Connor’s two causal paradigms, and discuss their relationship to free will.
Mechanistic Paradigm of Free Will
O’Connor acknowledges that the causal capacities of objects are linked to their intrinsic properties, rather than being “free floating.” This means that the ability of an object to cause an effect is based on its built-in (natural) attributes. In the case of mechanistic (event) causation, the first paradigm presented by O’Connor, the effects are actually caused by these intrinsic properties according to the laws of nature.
O’Connor further divides mechanistic causation into two categories: indeterministic and deterministic. Indeterministic mechanic causation is characterized by the production of an effect that is but one of many effects in a possible range of outcomes. Alternatively, deterministic mechanistic causation supports the production of a unique effect that was the only possibility.
Agent Causation Paradigm of Free Will
The second paradigm that O’Connor presents is agent causation. With agent causation, the agent determines the effect, rather than the effect being determined by the intrinsic properties of the agent. In essence, the agent themselves is in sole control of establishing the effect within a certain range of options made possible by the agent’s intrinsic properties.
It’s important to note that agent causation, as presented by O’Connor, does not eliminate the idea that the intrinsic properties of objects determine the possible range of effects, but rather, it asserts that the agent determines the effect that was enabled by the intrinsic properties of the object.
Relationship Between the Paradigms and Free Will
So how do mechanistic causation and agent causation relate to free will? In order to have free will, one must have the ability to determine their own choices, as opposed to their choices being pre-determined by an outside force. The specific issue related to free will is one of control.
O’Connor asserts that it is not enough that one has a range of possibilities, but instead they must have complete control over which selection is made in order to be considered as having free will. It is O’Connor’s position that agent causation effectively satisfies the incompatibilist’s view of free will. As such, agent causation is the means to free will.
O’Connor, Timothy. “The Agent as Cause.” In Robert Kane, ed. Free Will (2002). Malden, MA Blackwell Publishing.
Stanford University. “Incompatibilist (Nondeterministic) Theories of Free Will.”