International Workshop Agency, Past and Future University of Hamburg 18 - 20 July 2019
Talks Simona Aimar (UCL) - Causation and Causatives Julian Bacharach (UCL) - Agent-regret and the fixity of the past Alison Fernandes (Dublin) - Future-self bias Florian Fischer (Siegen) - The shape of things to come Jennifer Hornsby (London) - Events and the passage of time Julia Jorati (Ohio) - Leibnizian agency and the importance of teleology for the direction of time Roberto Loss (Hamburg) - Grounding the future (and the future of grounding) Erasmus Mayr (Erlangen-Nürnberg) - tba Anne Sophie Meincke (Southampton) - Agency and Time: A Process Account David Hugh Mellor (Cambridge) - Causes and effects are facts Calvin Normore (Los Angeles) - tba L.A. Paul (Chapel Hill) - Direction of time as a fundamental cognitive category Thomas Pink (London) - Freedom as a power Sebastian Rödl (Leibzig) - tba Magali Roques (Hamburg) - False Prophecies Antje Rumberg (Constance) - Agency and branching time: Acting in the tree of possibilities Michael Thompson (Pittsburgh) - tba
Organisation Julian Bacharach, Florian Fischer and Magali Roques
The SPoT is very thankful to the Fritz Thyssen Foundation for the generous funding of this event!
Future-self bias Alison Fernandes
Consider a bias in our attitudes towards the past and future: we prefer bad things to be in the past, and good things to be in the future. What accounts for this asymmetry? It’s tempting to think that the asymmetry reflects some deep feature of time itself. The past is fixed, while the future is open, and this accounts for why care more about the future. Here I’ll explore an alternative causal account: we care more about future events because we can (potentially) control them. Recently causal accounts have been criticised because they fail to deliver intuitive results in hypothetical cases of backwards causation: we prefer pains to be in our pasts, even if we can control the past (Tarsney 2017). However, what the argument points towards is the need to enrich the casual account to take into account the causal relations between our past and future selves. We care more about event we control that impact our causally later selves. This enriched causal account has a number of advantages. It gets the intuitive results in a broader range of cases of backwards causation, compared to both the temporal account and the simple causal account. It also fits better with the form that evolutionary explanations of attitude asymmetries take. Finally, the account makes interesting testable predictions: it suggests the preference asymmetry will be first-personal, and vary with how connected we feel to our future and past selves. This enriched account is unlikely to be the full story. But it points to the need to pay more attention to our causal connectedness through time to make sense of agential asymmetries.
Leibnizian agency and the importance of teleology for the direction of time Julia Jorati
Teleology, or end-directedness, is enormously important for Leibniz’s philosophy of action. Action, in turn, is a key notion in Leibniz’s theory of time: all substances change constantly in ways that are closely analogous to human agency; without such change, there would be no time. My paper explores the role that the teleological activity of substances plays in Leibniz’s philosophy of time. I argue that the end-directedness of this activity grounds the directionality of time. Substances always change in order to realize the ends toward which they are naturally directed. Hence, the doctrine that all change is teleological allows Leibniz to explain the otherwise puzzling directionality of time.
Grounding the future (and the future of grounding) Roberto Loss According to what may be labelled ‘serious Ockhamism’, (i) the future is open, (ii) the openness of the future consists in the fact that what exists is insufficient to determine the truth-value of (at least some) future-directed statements, and yet (iii) future-directed statements all possess a determinate truth-value. Serious Ockhamism appears to be in tension with the idea that truth is grounded in reality. Some serious Ockhamists bite the bullet and accept some truths to be indeed ungrounded. Others prefer, instead, a more sophisticated approach and claim that even if future-contingent statements are not grounded in the way reality is, they are nevertheless not ungrounded, as they are ‘cross-temporally’ grounded in the way reality will be. In this talk I will construe the grounding challenge faced by serious Ockhamists as involving the notion of metaphysical grounding and I will argue that, although the kind of ‘cross-temporal grounding’ serious Ockhamists appeal to is in tension with a set of rather ‘orthodox’ grounding principles, serious Ockhamists appear to have independent reasons to embrace at least a certain kind of grounding ‘heresy’.
Agency and Time: A Process Account Anne Sophie Meincke
In this paper, I give an ontologically robust account of the forward-looking temporal structure of agency on the basis of a process ontology of both actions and agents. I proceed in two steps. First, I present this ontology, which entails arguing for the following three claims: (i) agents-as-we-know-them are bio-agents, i.e., organisms endowed with a global capacity to act (bio-agency), (ii) organisms are stabilised higher-order processes whose stability results from their continuous interaction with processes in the environment, (iii) actions are a particular form of such self-stabilising interactions. Second, then, I defend the claim that actions, qua bio-actions, are temporally forward-looking just as, and because, bio-agents are. A bio-agent’s actions modulate the interactive process of self-stabilisation which is the bio-agent, transposing the temporal dynamics of this process into movement in or through space. These temporal dynamics flow from a bio-agent’s generative directedness towards possibilities. To act means to enact possibilities created in, and embodied by, the agent-constituting process of agent-environment interactions. Agents are their possibilities. Hence, actions cannot be reduced to events in time but are to be understood as intrinsically temporal, future-directed processes.
Causes and effects are facts David Hugh Mellor
It is both odd and unfortunate that singular causation is routinely represented by a relational predicate, ‘causes’, linking singular terms ‘c’ and ‘e’. It is unfortunate because the extensionality of ‘c causes e’ makes it hard to account for: (i) negative causes and/or effects, as in ‘The bullet’s missing him caused him not to die’; (ii) the difference between causing something and affecting it, as in ‘Her parachute’s opening slowed her fall’; (iii) intensional causal statements like ‘His payment of his fine caused his release’, and hence (iv) much mental causation. These problems vanish if causation is represented not by a predicate but by a connective, ‘because’, linking truths, ‘C’ and ‘E’, as in: (i) ‘He didn’t die, because the bullet missed him’; (ii) ‘She fell slowly because her parachute opened’; and (iii) ‘He was released because he paid his fine’. This is because ‘C’ and ‘E’, unlike ‘c’ and ‘e’, can be (i) negative existentials, (ii) ascriptions of inessential properties to events, (iii) non-extensional, and hence (iv) no reason, given the non- extensionality of ‘E because C’, to distinguish mental from physical agency. Taking singular causes and effects to be events rather than facts (in the minimal sense of ‘It’s a fact that P iff “P” is true’) is not only unfortunate because it generates spurious problems. It is also odd, because the two basic theories of singular causation, in terms of (a) instances of covering laws or (b) counterfactuals, both make causes and effects facts in the above sense. Why, given this, the myth of event-causation ever arose and still persists is a mystery I shan’t discuss: my object here is not to explain its appeal but to discredit it.