Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

David W. Palmer

Committee Members

Richard E. Aquila, Eldon F. Coffman Jr., Bruce J. MacLennan


One of the central puzzles in the philosophy of action is how to provide a coherent account of agency within a wholly natural worldview. More specifically, the challenge is to explain how a person’s performing actions – the essential means by which she gets things done – could be a part of the natural order. In contemporary philosophy, a prominent and perhaps the most influential answer to this challenge is the so-called “causal theory of action” (henceforth, the CTA). Proponents of the CTA believe that what makes it the case that behavioral events are actions is that they are caused by the person’s prior mental events or states (e.g., desire-belief pairs, or intentions), and, in addition, that the prior mental causes constitute her reasons for the action in question. The CTA is an event-causal theory of action that attempts to understand human agency in terms of event-causality and treat human actions as particular events in the network of event causation.In this dissertation, I raised an ontological objection to the CTA that actions are not events. Since actions are not events, any attempt to account for the notion of action by appealing to how actions enter into the event-causal relations necessarily fails. The ontological objection consists in three separate arguments sharing the same spirit, each of which gives the same conclusion: actions are not events. Near the end of the dissertation, I anticipate and reject a Davidsonian response that appears to neutralize the force of my ontological objection. The response is that the difference between followers of the CTA and me is just another manifestation of the perennial dispute between nominalists and realists. I argue it is not. I close the dissertation by briefly explaining what a non-causal account of agency might look like.

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