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Mini-Conference on Intentional Agency, Freewill, and Neuroscience

Saturday, March 17, 2012 - 9:00am - 2:30pm
005 Kirkbride
Mini-Conference on Intentional Agency, Freewill, and Neuroscience
The Departments of Linguistics &Cognitive Science and Philosophy are happy to announce a mini-conference on intentional agency, neuroscience and freewill.  The one-day conference will be held Saturday March 17th 2012 from 9:00 am until 2:30 p.m.  in room 005 Kirkbride   on the main campus of the University of Delawarein Newark Delaware.  The event is also sponsored by the American Philosophical Association and the UD Class of 1955 Ethics Endowment.  This is free and open to the public.
What follows is more information about the presenters and the topics.
9:00-10:30 Michael Bratman (Stanford University)"Intention and Rationality"
An agent’s intentions help explain her thought and action in characteristic ways.  When you intend an end you will be disposed to reason about relevant means, and to avoid settling on options that are, by your lights, incompatible with your intended end.  And as time goes by your relevant intentions will, if all goes well, guide appropriate action. An agent’s intentions are also subject to characteristic norms of practical rationality, norms that enjoin or preclude certain structures of intention. There is a norm of consistency, one that precludes a package of intentions that are not co-realizable given one’s beliefs.  And there is a norm of means-end coherence, one that enjoins intending relevant means as one sees this to be necessary for one’s intended end.  How are these explanatory and normative aspects of intention related to each other?  And does the connection between intention and such rationality norms pose a challenge to the idea that intentions are elements in a broadly naturalistic psychology?
Michael Bratman is U.G. and Abbie Birch Durfee Professor in the School of Humanities and Sciences and Philosophy at Stanford University. Professor Batman has been at Stanford University since 1974.  He earned his BA from Haverford College and his Ph.D. from Rockefeller University.  His major book publications include Intention, Plans, and Practical Reason (1987), Faces of Intention: Selected Essays on Intention and Agency(1999), and Structures of Agency: Essays(2007).  He is co-editor of Introduction to Philosophy: Classical and Contemporary Readings.  He has been awarded an ACLS Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and fellowships from the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences and the Stanford Humanities Center.
10:30-12:00 Alfred Mele (Florida State University)  “Free Will and Neuroscience”
A major source of scientific skepticism about free will is the belief (defended by neuroscientist Benjamin Libet, social psychologist Daniel Wegner, and others) that conscious decisions and intentions never play a role in producing corresponding actions.  I discuss three serious problems encountered by any attempt to justify this belief by appealing to Libet’s data.
Alfred Mele is the William H. and Lucyle T. Werkmeister Professor of Philosophy at Florida State University and director of the Big Questions in Free Will Project (2010-13). He is the author of Irrationality (1987), Springs of Action (1992), Autonomous Agents (1995), Self-Deception Unmasked (2001), Motivation and Agency (2003), Free Will and Luck (2006), Effective Intentions (2009), and Backsliding (2012).  He also is the editor or co-editor of Mental Causation (1993), The Philosophy of Action (1997), The Oxford Handbook of Rationality (2004), Rationality and the Good (2007), and Free Will and Consciousness: How Might They Work? (2010).
For fun see interview with Al here:
Walter Sinnott-Armstrong (Duke University)"A Contrastivist Account of Freedom"
Abstract: Freedom is best understood in terms of what freedom contrasts with. Freedom is always freedom from something, and it is always freedom to do some acts in contrast with others. This contrastivist understanding of freedom enables us to solve several persistent puzzles, to avoid traditional challenges to freedom of the will and of action, to see how freedom comes in degrees, and to better understand the relation between freedom and responsibility. It also fits within a larger philosophical vision, according to which all reasons—including reasons to do, reasons to believe, and reasons why things happen—are implicitly contrastive.
1:00-2:30 Walter Sinnott-Armstrong is Chauncey Stillman Professor of Practical Ethics in the Philosophy Department and the Kenan Institute for Ethics at Duke University. He is also core faculty in the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences and the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience. He received his BA from Amherst College in 1977 and his Ph.D. from Yale University in 1982. He taught at Dartmouth College from 1981 until 2009. Walter has served as vice-chair of the Board of Officers of the American Philosophical Association and co-director of the MacArthur Project on Law and Neuroscience. He publishes widely in normative moral theory, meta-ethics, applied ethics, moral psychology and neuroscience, philosophy of law, epistemology, informal logic, and philosophy of religion. He has defended atheism, consequentialism, contrastivism, limited moral skepticism, and irresolvable moral dilemmas. His current research focuses on empirical moral psychology and neuroscience (including experiments on psychopaths and on the diversity of moral judgments) and on the implications of neuroscience for the legal system and for free will and moral responsibility (including the responsibility of addicts and people with mental illnesses).
For more information contact: Fred Adams ( or Fred Schueler (