Conclusion: Agent Causation and the Regress of Effort

Gideon Yaffe

in Manifest Activity

Published in print March 2004 | ISBN: 9780199268559
Published online August 2004 | e-ISBN: 9780191601415 | DOI:
Conclusion: Agent Causation and the Regress of Effort

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Agent‐causal views of free action claim that there is a relation that holds between the agent and his free act that is both basic and causal; according to such view, there is no reducing the special relationship between an agent and his free act to a relation of events or states of the agent to the event, which is his action. It is often said that Reid was an agent‐causalist. This short conclusion investigates the question of whether or not this is so by offering a solution, on Reid's behalf, to the following problem: According to Reid, an agent is the efficient cause of an event if he has the power to bring the event about and exerts that power. However, the agent is either the efficient cause of his exertion of power, or he is not. If he is, then he must have the power to exert, and must exert that power: down this road seems to lie regress. If he is not, then it seems peculiar to say he is the efficient cause of his act; how can he cause his act if he doesn’t cause the event that triggers it? Theorists interested in rescuing Reid's view have followed the first road, but tried to avoid the seemingly inevitable regress. In this conclusion to the book, this road is followed, but in a different way from that of previous commentators on Reid. It is argued that the notion of ‘trying’, peculiar as it is, resists the regress problem and that, for Reid, to exert a power is just to try to do something. From this it emerges that Reid is an agent‐causalist, but of a very different sort from those contemporary philosophers who label themselves as such.

Keywords: action; Agent; cause; event; power; Reid; trying

Chapter.  4393 words. 

Subjects: History of Western Philosophy

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