Are we agents at all? Helen Steward's agency incompatibilism

Neil Levy*

*Corresponding author for this work

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1 Citation (Scopus)


In A Metaphysics for Freedom (Steward, Helen. A Metaphysics for Freedom. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012) and related papers, Helen Steward advances a new argument for incompatibilism. Though she concedes that the luck objection is persuasive with regard to existing versions of libertarianism, she claims that agency itself is incompatible with determinism: we are only agents at all if we are able to settle matters concerning our movements, where settling something requires that prior to our settling it lacked sufficient conditions. She argues that genuine agents settle very fine-grained aspects of their movements: when and how they move, even when and how their neurons fire. In this paper, I advance two linked arguments against agency incompatibilism. I argue, first, that we do not exercise direct control over the fine-grained aspects of our movements. Rather, we control these movements indirectly, by intentionally engaging in broadly individuated action types (regarding which Steward concedes that the compatibilist has a plausible story to tell). Second, I argue that these aspects of our movements are lucky for us and, since this is true, they cannot play the role of grounding our agency.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)386-399
Number of pages14
JournalInquiry (United Kingdom)
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2013
Externally publishedYes


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