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Baylor University Gets a Star

Timothy O'Connor

Brian Leiter's philosophy blog noted recently that Timothy O'Connor is leaving Indiana University, and will become a professor of philosophy at Baylor.

This is a big gain for Baylor. As Leiter observes, O'Connor (portrait here from the Indiana U website) is "a leading contemporary defender of a libertarian account of free will," that is, of the view that free will, in the sense implied by moral responsibility, is incompatible with determinism, and that we are justified in embracing non-determined human acts as a fact in the world.

O'Connor is the author of Persons and Causes, in which he sets out his take on incompatibilism at length. Here's a link to more info thereon.

Since incompatibilists/voluntarists are distinctly a minority amongst contemporary philosophers, one might think the small band of warriors in this cause would take up arms against foes, not each other. But of course, they are philosophers, so of course they take up arms against each other. O'Connor spends much of the text of Persons and Causes engaged in battle with Robert Kane, whose very Jamesian view of these questions I've expounded at some length in the precursor to this blog.

Here is a full list of links to that discussion:
Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI, Part VII, Part VIII, Conclusion.

So what, you might ask, are the differences between the incompatibilism/indeterminism of Kane and that of O'Connor?

O'Connor believes that determinism is a particular "occurrent" sort of causality, the sort in which one event occurs because an earlier event had occurred, the paper burns because a lit match was held against it. He also believes that free will consists in causality of a "nonoccurrent" kind. That is, my actions are in some sense an outflowing of my character, and my character is not an event, not the sort of thing that "occurs."

Kane is happy to do without non-occurrent causality. As he writes in The Significance of Free Will, specifically in response to O'Connor: "Let's not beat around the bush and postulate special ontological relations to obscure what we must say anyway and can say more simply. At crunch time, the agents just do it, they settle indecision, respond to indeterminacy, and take responsibility then and there for setting their lives on one or another future branching pathway." My decisions are an event, an occurrence if you will, and their indeterminacy is what matters.

At any rate, of my own free will I say this: good luck to Professor O'Connor as he relocates to Waco Texas, home of the Baylor Bears!


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