Janice Chik Breidenbach (Ave Maria)

Our mini-interview this week features Dr Janice Chik Breidenbach. Dr Breidenbach is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Ave Maria University. Her work ranges over actions, rationality, metaphysics and philosophy of science. Dr Breidenbach’s recent publications include discussions of Thomistic Animalism, and connections between animalism, and action and substance causation. She is working on her book bearing the provisional title The Unity of Action: A Metaphysics of Agency. Enjoy!

1. How did you first become interested in Philosophy of Action?

I was introduced to the subject through a Philosophy of Criminal Law course I took at Princeton with Gideon Rosen in 2005. Although my intention had been to attend law school, Rosen’s course impressed on me the importance of clarifying the concepts of agency, voluntariness, and responsibility, for the purposes of doing philosophically coherent legal scholarship. Reading Anscombe’s Intention in graduate school subsequently ‘sealed my fate’, as it were. Since then I’ve been intrigued by the metaphysical problems raised by the philosophy of action, and contained implicitly by applications of action theory (as in e.g. legal scholarship).

2. What are you working on at the moment?

I’m working on the various ways in which Aristotelian metaphysics can provide meaningful action-theoretic concepts to our contemporary discussion. In particular, I’m interested in the way Aristotle’s naturalistic view of us as animals, a variety of animalism, might inform an account of action and agency, particularly one that is non-causalist. I’m still drawn to the interdisciplinary appeal of action theory, and am finalizing an essay on action-theoretic issues underlying the U.S. Constitution’s Free Exercise Clause, to be included in a forthcoming Cambridge Companion volume on the First Amendment.

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

Action is the actualization or exercise of a power naturally possessed by an animal. It can be characterized as a special kind of change or motion, or as a process. Contra Davidson, animals such as spiders, sparrows, and seals are agents. Human agency assumes the same metaphysical structure, but includes the distinctive power of rational deliberation for the sake of one’s chosen ends. This Aristotelian account of action excludes causalist and neo-Humean theories, but it is compatible with recent efforts to provide a disjunctivist conception of agency.

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

A welcome recent trend has been resurgent interest in Anscombe’s Intention. Relatedly, there has been increasing attention given to non-causal theories of action, or alternatives to a neo-Humean account. Finally, we’re starting to see more empirical engagement with the field, which is a positive development for any area of philosophy.

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

It would be interesting to see more scholarship on the action-theoretic foundations or implications of certain theological concepts and debates. For instance, speculation about the agency of rational but non-corporeal beings typically is uninformed by so much of existing action theory research, and the same problem pervades the classic ‘faith vs. works’ debate introduced by Luther.

Many thanks to Prof Breindenach for her answers!

2018 December 10

We hope to welcome you back next weekend again