The Modern Problem with the Power of Agency


  • Hasse Hämäläinen Jagiellonian University



This article focuses on the question whether humans have the power of agency. The modern version of this question is traceable to the 18th century, when Hume began to doubt the ability of human mind to cause events in the material world, and d’Holbach rejected it altogether. Since recent neuroscience has shown that certain neural events precede conscious experiences of agency (e.g. Libet 1983, Hallet 2008), many contemporary theorists of action follow d’Holbach in reducing the power of agency to illusion (e.g. Smilansky 2000, Wegner 2002, Dennet 2003). However, I shall suggest that there is also a non-reductive way to explain the human experience of agency that is compatible with the discoveries of neuroscience. The 18th century thinkers were concerned with the Cartesian conception of agency, according to which agency is an efficient causal power. However, a contemporary action theorist does not need to endorse this conception. A conception, according to which human agency does not have to involve efficient, but final causality would be an alternative that would not force the theorist to dismiss the power of agency as an illusion. I attempt to show, with help of Aristotle, that this conception suffices for asserting that we can cause events in the world, regardless of the efficient cause of those events.






Human nature, mind, action