, Volume 67, Issue 2, pp 183-200
Date: 11 Aug 2007

Mental Causation and the Agent-Exclusion Problem

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Abstract

The hypothesis of the mental state-causation of behavior (the MSC hypothesis) asserts that the behaviors we classify as actions are caused by certain mental states. A principal reason often given for trying to secure the truth of the MSC hypothesis is that doing so is allegedly required to vindicate our belief in our own agency. I argue that the project of vindicating agency needs to be seriously reconceived, as does the relation between this project and the MSC hypothesis. Vindication requires addressing what I call the agent-exclusion problem: the prima facie incompatibility between the intentional content of agentive experience and certain metaphysical hypotheses often espoused in philosophy–metaphysical hypotheses like physical causal closure, determinism, and the MSC hypothesis itself. I describe several radically different approaches to the vindication project, one of which would repudiate the MSC hypothesis and embrace metaphysical libertarianism about freedom and determinism. I sketch the position I myself favor–a specific version of the generic approach asserting that the intentional content of agentive experience is compatible with the MSC hypothesis (and with physical causal closure, and with determinism). I describe how my favored approach can plausibly explain the temptation to embrace incompatibilism concerning the agent-exclusion problem.