Transuent causation means that all events are caused by other events, while immanent causation means that agents, rather than events, cause other events. These concepts are related to free will because in order to have free will, one has to have the option to choose freely. If actions are caused by other events, then the individual isn’t making the decision, and therefore he doesn’t have free will.

However, if immanent causation holds true, a person has free will, and therefore can be held morally responsible for their actions. For instance, in his essay “Human Freedom and the Self,” Roderick Chisholm uses the example of a man picking up a staff to illustrate agent causation. He suggests that the man causes a cerebral event to occur, which in turn causes the act of picking up the staff. The man himself caused the action of picking up the staff by causing the cerebral event. Consequently, the notion of immanent causation is consistent with free will.

Chisholm’s Addresses an Objection to Agent Causation

Using the example of a man picking up a staff, one of the objections presented is that since the man doesn’t actually do anything to his brain in the act of picking up the staff, this could not be attributed to immanent causation. Chisholm’s response is that even though the man doesn’t physically do something to his brain whenever he does something, he causes the cerebral event to occur (via immanent causation) that makes the event happen.

Chisholm’s response is compelling because the objection is based on the idea that the agent’s “doing” had to be physical in nature in order to be attributed to immanent causation. By explaining that the immanent causation comes into play when the man triggers the cerebral event, Chisholm eliminates the need for the agent to be aware of all the cerebral aspects of triggering the act. This is perhaps the strongest point of Chisholm’s position.

Weakest Point of Chisholm’s Argument

Arguably, Chisholm’s weakest point was his explanation of the objection “that there is no more to man’s action in causing event A than there is to event A’s happening by itself.” Chisholm answers this objection by saying that there is a distinction in that in once case the event was caused by man, and in the other case the event was caused by another event. He goes on to say that “the nature of transuent causation is no more clear than is that of immanent causation.”

This is a weak point because Chisholm admits himself that this explanation is likely to leave unanswered questions, and the best answer he can give is that we don’t fully understand the phenomena. Consequently, the nature of free will, and thus moral accountability is one that requires further exploration.

Read More About Free Will

Is Agent Causation the Means to Genuine Free Will?

Free Will and the Two Paradigms: Mechanistic and Agent Causation

Is Determinism Compatible With Free Will?


Roderick Chisholm’s ” Human Freedom and the Self.”

Free Will (Blackwell Readings in Philosophy) Robert Kane (ISBN: 0631221026).

A.J. Ayers. “Freedom and Necessity.”

Stanford University Encyclopedia of Philosophy. “Free Will.”