AbstractsPhilosophy & Theology

Causation and the Objectification of Agency

by Christoph Schulz

Institution: University of Hertfordshire
Year: 2015
Keywords: causation; causality; agency; actions; information theory; Bayesian networks; Markovian model; levels of abstraction; philosophy of information; thermodynamics; causation by information; objectification
Posted: 02/05/2017
Record ID: 2065994
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/2299/16480


This dissertation defends the so-called 'agency-approach' to causation, which attempts to ground the causal relation in the cause's role of being a means to bring about its effect. The defence is confined to a conceptual interpretation of this theory, pertaining to the concept of causation as it appears in a causal judgement. However, causal judgements are not seen as limited to specific domains, and they are not exclusively attributed to human agents alone. As a methodological framework to describe the different perspectives of causal judgments, a method taken from the philosophy of information is made use of ??? the so-called 'method of abstraction'. According to this method, levels of abstraction are devised for the subjective perspective of the acting agent, for the agent as observer during the observation of other agents??? actions, and for the agent that judges efficient causation. As a further piece of propaedeutic work, a class of similar (yet not agency-centred) approaches to causation is considered, and their modelling paradigms ??? Bayesian networks and interventions objectively construed ??? will be criticised. The dissertation then proceeds to the defence of the agency-approach, the first part of which is a defence against the objection of conceptual circularity, which holds that agency analyses causation in causal terms. While the circularity-objection is rebutted, I rely at that stage on a set of subjective concepts, i.e. concepts that are eligible to the description of the agent???s own experience while performing actions. In order to give a further, positive corroboration of the agency-approach, an investigation into the natural origins and constraints of the concept of agency is made in the central chapter six of the dissertation. The thermodynamic account developed in that part affords a third-person perspective on actions, which has as its core element a cybernetic feedback cycle. At that point, the stage is set to analyse the relation between the first- and the third-person perspectives on actions previously assumed. A dual-aspect interpretation of the cybernetic-thermodynamic picture developed in chapter six will be directly applied to the levels of abstraction proposed earlier. The level of abstraction that underpins judgments of efficient causation, the kind of causation seemingly devoid of agency, will appear as a derived scheme produced by and dependent on the concept of agency. This account of efficient causation, the ???objectification of agency???, affords the rebuttal of a second objection against the agency-approach, which claims that the approach is inappropriately anthropomorphic. The dissertation concludes with an account of single-case, or token level, causation, and with an examination of the impact of the causal concept on the validity of causal models.