Home | Writing | Talks and Similar | Knowledge Visualisations

Talks and Similar

2022. Introduction to freedom and foreknowledge (The Free Will Show podcast)

Taylor Cyr and Matthew Flummer kindly invited me on to The Free Will Show podcast to talk about divine foreknowledge and human freedom. This episode kicks off their fifth season of the show which is dedicated in its entirety to the problem of divine foreknowledge and human freedom. In the discussion, I lay out the basic argument for the conclusion that divine foreknowledge is incompatible with human freedom, and then go over some of the most common responses. The rest of the season will be dedicated to exploring each response in great depth.

2022. Agential Control and Immersive Action (Varieties of Immersive Experience Conference)

Railton (2009) and Annas (2011) argue that unreflective, skilled action is Anscombean, in that if the agent performing an unreflective skilled action were stopped mid-flow, the agent would be able to answer questions about what they were doing and (to some degree) how they were doing it. Part of the motivation for such a view is that it allows for a unified account of those actions we are concerned with in the moral life, those actions for which we hold each other responsible. This class of actions includes both those that are proceeded by reflective, deliberative choice, and those which are performed with little to no prior reflection, those performed habitually or automatically, as is often the case with skilled action. If Railton and Annas are right, the agents in each case can answer Anscombean questions, giving a unified account of what makes them actions, and therefore why it makes sense to hold each other responsible for actions of both types. This is an attractive feature of the view. On traditional, volitionor will-based accounts of action, the defining mark of action is the presence of a conscious act of will. Such views appear to struggle to account for actions that are performed automatically, habitually, and/or skilfully. At the very least, there are aspects of such action that do not appear to be consciously willed; indeed, it is often claimed that too much conscious thought can impede the skilful performance of an action. An Anscombean view thus promises a unified account in its place. Brownstein (2014) argues against Railton and Annas. He suggests that not all agents performing a skilled action unreflectively can answer such questions. Indeed, Brownstein suggests that this might be the norm; that is, he suggests that skilled agents “might paradigmatically fail to accurately answer Anscombean questions” and that if this is right, a fruitful line of inquiry would be to consider how it is possible for any agent performing an unreflective, skilled action to answer Anscombean questions. Concuring with Brownstein's critique, I show that the traditional volitional view can be developed to give an adequate of habitual and skilled action.

This paper was due to be given in Paris, March 2022, but the conference was cancelled due to covid. However, there is an edited volume being produced from the contributions, and this paper will be submitted to that. If you are interested in seeing a draft, please do email me.

2022. Evaluating the value of free will: some comments on Laura Ekstrom’s God, Suffering, and the Value of Free Will (SCP Eastern Reigional Meeting, Palm Beach Atlantic University Jan 27-29 2022)

In her book, God, Suffering and the Value of Free Will, Ekstrom presents a detailed critique on the appeal to human free will in theodicy, contending that the extant theistic defences are inadequate, and that this should lead us towards agnosticism or atheism. In her book, Ekstrom assumes a reductive account of human action. I offered a critique of that view of human action and freedom, noting that the relationship between human agency and (say) loving relationships may be any from a range of complex dependency relationships. This undermines some of Ekstrom's arguments for the conclusion that love, a meaningful life, good actions, and various other valuable human experiences, do not rely on free will. However, this does not undermine Ekstrom's conclusion with respect to agnosticism/atheism - indeed, it potentially allows her conclusions to be applicable to those who endorse non-reductionist metaphysics.

These comments were given (via Zoom) as part of panel discussion Jan 28, 2022.

2021. A-rational Influence Over Conscious, Free Choice (MANCEPT 2021: The Disputes over Human Agency)

According to one prominent account of human agency, conscious choice is central to the control required for freedom and moral responsibility. And for at least some of versions of this view, the paradigm cases of conscious choice are those which are preceded an agent's deliberation and reflection. However, ordinary experience, as well as some empirical findings, suggest that our choices are affected by a-rational or non-rational influences. In this paper I consider how non-reductive, agent-causal accounts of choice as a two-way power can explain this influence. After motivating the problem, I argue that O'Connor's account of influenced choice (which appeals to objective probabilities of free choice) is unsatisfactory. I chart a different way forward which eschews objective probabilities of free choice and which explains influenced choice indirectly in terms of habits of thought, character, etc, and the effect of the environment on determining the context of choice.

This paper was given (online) in September 2021.

2021. Incompatibilism, Choice, and Unconscious Cognition (Society for Practical Philosophy Conference, Turkey)

The idea that choice is central to human agency has a venerable history. In the 2nd century C. E., Alexander of Aphrodisias wrote that “we assume that we have this power in action, that we can choose the opposite” and that what we choose is “up to us” (Alexander of Aphrodisias 1983: 58). Non-reductionist accounts of choice have been offered which make choice the essential feature of agency itself (Alvarez 2013), of intentional agency (Searle 2001), and of free agency (Arendt 1978; O'Connor 2000; Lowe 2008). Hannah Arendt summed up the latter idea like so: “The touchstone of a free act is always our awareness that we could also have left undone what we actually did” (Arendt 1978: 5).

Non-reductive accounts of choice have many virtues. But it is sometimes alleged that these accounts fare badly when it comes to accounting for choices which appear to be affected by a-rational or non-rational factors of which the agent is unaware. In this paper I aim to get clear about why and when the freedom of a particular choice is threatened by a-rational or non-rational influences.

This paper was delivered (online) September 4th, 2021. A video recording of the talk is available on YouTube, and videos of all the talks from that conference are available here.

2021. Incompatibilist Free Will and Cognitive Biases (HEAT 2021 Conference)

Free will requires the conscious subject to possess a choice about what to do. Free will is incompatible with both causal determinism and theological determinism. If free will of this sort is to bestow useful control, several additional cognitive capacities are required: accurate conscious access to one’s propositional attitudes and the ability to weigh and process the contents of those attitudes according to rational standards. However, some empirical concerning the nature of some unconscious cognitive processes - viz., those that lead to biases and errors of judgement - suggest that the nature of human cognition and action is affected by a-rational factors, sometimes without the conscious subject realising it. This paper suggests that to the degree to which our free will is affected by such factors, to that degree is our freedom undermined, and the correct response to conclude we may be less than we often think.

This talk was given (online) in May, 2021.

2021. God is (probably) a Cause Among Causes (Leeds)

In the literature on science and religion, there has been a resurgence of theorists defending the Thomist notion of primary causation, and using that notion to develop an account of non-interventionist special divine action. In this talk I chart the connection between primary causation and divine concurrence and then raise an objection to concurrence, namely, that it requires one effect to be produced totally and immediately by two causes. I argue that one prominent response to this objection - the appeal to analogical predication - amounts to little more than special pleading, wrapped up in an appeal to mystery. I also show why, even if we assume a workable account of divine concurrence, it does not help in developing an account of non-interventionist special divine action, as some of its proponents claim.

This talk was given (online) at the Centre for Philosophy of Religion at the University of Leeds on February 4th, 2021.

2020. Incompatibilist Free Will and the Brain/Mind Sciences (AAR)

I argue that while there are some conceptual problems in the Libet-style experiments on the conscious will in the field of neuroscience, these and similar results do nevertheless pose a challenge to incompatibilist accounts of free will, since there is pressure on incompatibilists to say, as Campbell (1957) did, that free will requires that a person's choice be the only cause of a person's action.

This talk was given (online) at a workshop associated with the 2020 American Academy Religion meeting in December 2020.

2019. Grace and Free Will: On Original Sin and Avoiding Semi-Pelagianism (York)

A talk on the problem of providing an account of the interaction of divine grace and human free will given a commitment to theological incompatibilism, and a desire to hew closely to the Christian tradition. I discussed two accounts of free will, distinguished three roles quiescence plays in the debate, and suggested that one's preferred account of grace and free will is likely significantly affected by one's preferred view of free will, which is in turn significantly affected by what one considers the source of the agent's true identity.

This talk was given at a conference entitled Divine Grace, Human Freedom, and the Way of Salvation in York, June 2019.

2018. Divine Freedom, Personhood and Time (Innsbruck)

A talk on whether atemporalists about God can develop a satisfactory account of divine freedom. Focusing on the work of Katherin Rogers, I argued that atemporalism precludes divine freedom (conceived of in terms of choice), because determinate existence is incompatible with the ability to do otherwise. And this was developed into an argument that atemporalism therefore precludes divine personhood, because personhood requires freedom.

This talk was originally given at a conference entitled Personal and A-Personal Concepts of God in Innsbruck, August 2018.

2018. Free Will, Foreknowledge and Four-Dimensionalism (Haifa)

A talk on whether atemporalism about God and so God's foreknowledge facilitates the compatibility of divine foreknowledge and human freedom. I considered the views of Michael Rota and Katherin Rogers, and argued that neither yielded a satisfactory compatibilism. The problem is that the kind of abilities these views see as relevant to free will are not the right kind of abilities required by free will

This talk was originally given at The Haifa Conference on Philosophy of Religion in Israel, June 2018.

2017. Control, Avoidability and the Ability to do Otherwise (Berlin)

A talk on the choice-based theory of free will or control, arguing that an agent's control is determined in part by how he or she represents the world - i.e. that we should not distinguish between a 'control condition on moral responsibility' and an 'epistemic condition on moral responsibility', because control, at least for the choice-based theorist, is mediated through decisions, and therefore through the actual representations the agent has of the world.

This talk was given at a conference entitled The Agency Dimension of Moral Responsibility at Humboldt University, August 2017.

2017. Grace, Free Will and Necessity in Aquinas (Brixen)

A talk on the question of whether a person can deserve praise or blame for something willed necessarily. I look first of all at what Aquinas says about this, focusing on the Disputed Questions on Truth and the Summa Theologiae, before offering a critique of Aquinas’s views on this.

One version of this talk was given at a workshop on Aquinas and Free Will held in Brixen, Italy, in 2017.

A different version of the talk is available as an MP3 here, and comes in at just over 40 minutes.

2014. The Robustness of Alternative Possibilities (Moscow)

Talk on the robustness of alternative possibilities given at a summer school hosted by the Moscow Centre for Consciousness Studies, 2014.

A video recording of the talk is available on YouTube.