Randolph Clarke (Florida State University)

The second set of answers comes from Randolph Clarke who is Professor and Director of Graduate Studies at the Department of Philosophy of Florida State University. Professor Clarke has been working on free will, agency, intentional action and moral responsibility. His latest book Omissions is an exciting study of responsibility for omissions and the relation of omissions and negligence. Enjoy reading.

1. What are you working on at the moment?

I’m working on a paper distinguishing varieties of agent causation. Proponents of causal theories of action commonly say that they don’t believe in agent causation. But Davidson and Goldman both held that if an agent performs an action and that action causes some event, then the agent causes that event. If we agree, then we accept one variety of agent causation. Of course, generally when people say they reject agent causation, they have in mind something more controversial than this. But there are a variety of things that differ from this modest variety of agent causation to a lesser or greater extent. The aim of the paper is to distinguish several of them and explore reasons why one or another of them might be thought to exist or not to exist, or to be required for agency or free will.

2. What is your 5-15 sentence account of what an action is?

I’ve noticed that when I try to tell non-philosophers what action theory is, examples tend to be the best way to identify the subject matter. And working from some paradigm cases to some borderlines might be the best way to proceed. Some general characterizations that are commonly given are either too broad or too narrow. For example, the things we do include things (such as snoring) that aren’t actions. And self-movement seems to leave out mental action.

3. In your view, what were the three most important recent developments in philosophy of action?

Frankly, it is simply the variety of lines of enquiry that impresses (and pleases) me. I’m glad to see that there’s excellent work on such diverse topics as practical reason, practical knowledge, intention, rational explanation, the metaphysics of action, omissions, free will, and moral responsibility.

4. What direction would you like to see the field go in?

I’m happy to see it going in many directions.

2018 January 20

Many thanks to Prof Clarke for his answers!