You are on page 1of 2


[A] Taylor’s starting point

“There are two things about myself of which I feel quite certain...” (p. 305):
(1) I deliberate (in order to decide what to do)
(2) Whether or not I deliberate, it is sometimes up to me what to do.

[B] Soft determinism

We’ll be talking about soft determinism in detail next class, but for now, here is Taylor’s
encapsulation of the position:
(1) Determinism is true
(2) Voluntary behavior is still free
(3) The causes of voluntary behavior are states within the agent (beliefs, desires,

But, these beliefs and desires (etc.) are themselves determined by events beyond our
control. (D’Holbach and Hospers make this point, as well.) So for Taylor, “to say that I
could have done otherwise…means only that I would have done otherwise, if those inner
states that determined my action had been different” (p. 306). But this is not enough to
guarantee free will. (Physiologist example.)

[C] Simple indeterminism

This defense of free will involves claiming either that:

(1) some of our actions (the free ones) are not caused OR
(2) our free acts are caused by our inner states but that these inner states are not

This is not satisfactory either

(1) right arm example
(2) club-wielding desire example

[D] Determinism and simple indeterminism as theories

Simple indeterminism is absurd

Determinism is at least plausible, but it leads to unacceptable conclusions
Both theories contradict the two points that Taylor started with, but don’t
convince him to give up either of the points.
Deliberation: decision vs. discovery

[E] Taylor’s theory of agency

“In the case of an action that is free, it must not only be such that it is caused by the agent
who performs it, but also such that no antecedent conditions were sufficient for his
performing just that action” (p. 311). – That is, neither events external to the agent nor the
agent’s own inner states (which were caused by event external to the agent) cause free

Reasons vs. causes: our inner, subjective states may be causes, but are not reasons.
“When I believe that I have done something, I do believe that it was I who caused it to be
done, I who made something happen, and not merely something within me, such as one
of my own subjective states, which is not identical with myself” (p. 311).

What is this “I”? An inner state (e.g. the belief that the weather is beautiful, happiness
because the weather is beautiful) is not us, so if that state causes behavior (e.g. going for
a walk), we aren’t the cause of that behavior.

The concepts of (free) activity, and of an agent that is the cause of it “involves two rather
strange metaphysical notions” (p. 311): (1) a self/person; (2) a concept of causation that
allows a substance (the agent) to be a cause (In all other cases than free actions, we say
that events, not things, are causes).

The theory of agency says that not all causal chains are infinite because agents can start
new causal chains.

Taylor admits that “the conception of agents and their powers…is strange indeed, if not
positively mysterious” (p. 312-3). But he believes that it is the only way to account for
our intuitions that we deliberate and choose freely.

Study Questions

1. What reasons does Taylor give for saying that he believes he has free will?
2. Explain why Taylor’s example of the physiologist suggests that soft determinism is
3. What, according to Taylor, is simple indeterminism?
4. Explain why Taylor says that simple indeterminism is absurd.
5. What does Taylor mean when he says that we deliberate in order to decide, rather than
to discover?
6. What, for Taylor, is the difference between a reason and a cause?
7. Explain Taylor’s concept of agent-causation.