Philosophy Cafe: Does Agency Require Freewill?


What is agency? What is free will? Explore these ideas at a modern-day symposium at the pub in Launceston.

Start Date

3rd Apr 2018 6:00pm

End Date

3rd Apr 2018 7:30pm


Royal Oak Hotel, 14 Brisbane Street, Launceston

RSVP / Contact Information

Enquiries: Graham Wood, T: 63 24 3920; E:

Does agency require freewill?

What is ‘agency’? – Well, here is one answer...

‘In very general terms, an agent is a being with the capacity to act, and ‘agency’ denotes the exercise or
manifestation of this capacity. The philosophy of action provides us with a standard conception and
a standard theory of action. The former construes action in terms of intentionality, the latter
explains the intentionality of action in terms of causation by the agent’s mental states and events.

'From this, we obtain a standard conception and a standard theory of agency. There are alternative
conceptions of agency, and it has been argued that the standard theory fails to capture agency (or
distinctively human agency). Further, it seems that genuine agency can be exhibited by beings that
are not capable of intentional action, and it has been argued that agency can and should be explained
without reference to causally efficacious mental states and events.’


  • Can groups of people or human institutions be agents?
  • Could plants be agents?
  • Are all animals agents?
  • Do all agents need to have mental states?

What is ‘freewill’? – Well, here is one answer

‘Free Will is a philosophical term of art for a particular sort of capacity of rational agents to choose a
course of action from among various alternatives. Which sort is the free will sort is what all the fuss is
about. (And what a fuss it has been: philosophers have debated this question for over two millennia, and
just about every major philosopher has had something to say about it.) Most philosophers suppose that
the concept of free will is very closely connected to the concept of moral responsibility. Acting with
free will, on such views, is just to satisfy the metaphysical requirement on being responsible for one's

'(Clearly, there will also be epistemic conditions on responsibility as well, such as being aware—or
failing that, being culpably unaware—of relevant alternatives to one's action and of the alternatives'
moral significance.) But the significance of free will is not exhausted by its connection to moral
responsibility. Free will also appears to be a condition on desert for one's accomplishments (why
sustained effort and creative work are praiseworthy); on the autonomy and dignity of persons;
and on the value we accord to love and friendship.’

  • Do you need to be a ‘rational agent’ to have free will?
  • Could non-human intelligence (e.g., artificial intelligence) have free will?
  • If a non-human intelligence (e.g., artificial intelligence) did have free will, would
  • it also be morally responsible for its choices?