Theses Doctoral

The Power of Agency

Brent, Michael

My dissertation addresses a foundational problem in the philosophy of action, that of explaining the distinction between actions and mere events. Actions, I argue, have a uniquely active component that distinguishes them from mere events and which can be explained in terms of effort. Effort has several features: it is attributed directly to agents; it is a causal power that each agent alone possesses and employs; it enables agents causally to activate, sustain, and control their capacities during the performance of an action; and its presence comes in varying degrees of strength. After defending an effort-based account of action and criticizing what is known as the standard story of action, I apply my account to situations in which an agent displays strength of will, such as when one struggles to perform an action while overcoming a persistent urge to do otherwise. I conclude by offering an explanation of mental action that demonstrates the extent of our powers of agency within the domain of the mental.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Bilgrami, Akeel
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
October 10, 2012