Alfred Mele’s Aspects of Agency

An emergent theme of my on-going PhD research is to develop a causal understanding of terrorist organisational decision-making and ways to counteract it. (This will be possible future research under the heading of causal counterterrorism.) This has led me to read current philosophy on causal agency.


Florida State University professor Alfred R. Mele has a new book on my ‘reading pile’ to consider: Aspects of Agency: Decisions, Abilities, Explanations, and Free Will (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017). Mele’s discussion of proximal and distal causes is relevant to my analysis of cultural transmission, social learning, and folklore as possible mechanisms. A summary of Mele’s new book:


The libertarian theory of free will combines a negative thesis and a positive thesis. The negative thesis is that free will is incompatible with determinism. The positive thesis is that there are actions that involve exercises of free will—‘free actions,’ for short. While remaining neutral on this negative thesis, Aspects of Agency develops a detailed version of the positive thesis that represents paradigmatically free actions as indeterministically caused by their proximal causes and pays special attention to decisions so instigated. The bulk of Mele’s work is a masterful defense of a positive libertarian thesis against objections to theses of its kind. Aspects of Agency includes solutions to problems about luck and control that are widely discussed in the literature on free will and moral responsibility. The seven chapters on free will are preceded by an introductory chapter and three chapters on central issues in the philosophy of action that bear on standard treatments of free will: deciding to act, agents’ abilities, and commitments of a causal theory of action explanation.