Refraining, agents, and causation




Harrington, Chelsea-Anne Linzee

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I consider two versions of an argument against (so-called) negative action, both of which take it that causation is a defining feature of actions. The first asserts that when an agent refrains, her mental states do not cause the absence of an event; as such, the refraining does not qualify as an action. The second asserts that when an agent refrains, she does not cause the apparent results of her refraining, and so again, the refraining does not qualify as an action. The idea motivating the second argument appears to improve on the first, insofar as it allows for the agent to play a role in her actions. I argue that both accounts rely on a narrow conception of causation, framed in terms of a physical connection between cause and effect. This narrow conception does not appear to be justified, and the focus on physical connection causation leads both accounts to misconceive agency. Fortunately, there is available a broader conception of causation, which is both intuitively plausible and better able to capture the phenomenon.




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