The KLI
Entry 150 of 153

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2020-01-07
Bio-Agency and Natural Freedom: How to Solve a Metaphysical Puzzle with the Help of Biology

Topic description  / abstract:

In my talk, I will present key ideas of my four-year research project “Bio-Agency and Natural Freedom” which aims to defeat free will scepticism on a fresh metaphysical basis informed by biology. I will proceed from the diagnosis that a convincing naturalist account of both human free will and human agency is prevented from the outset by the mechanistic-physicalist view of nature espoused by the majority of metaphysicians. More specifically, I will show that mechanistic physicalism, being part of a broadly substance or thing ontological orientation, makes it impossible to explain how human agency fits into the natural world and that, as a consequence of this, we are at a loss with respect to human free will too. In other words, we need to solve the problem of agency first before we can hope to solve the problem of free will, and to this end we need to radically revise our most fundamental ontological commitments.

On this basis, I will then propose a therapy that reflects and brings together two recent developments in the philosophy of biology: the increasing interest in, and appreciation of, bio-agency, i.e., the capability of organisms to interact with the environment in an adaptive manner, and the emerging turn towards an understanding of organisms as processes rather than as substances or things. Human as well as non-human agents, I will argue, are biological beings and, i.e., a particular type of process. They are dynamical from tip to toe and endowed with agential capacities as a function of their dynamical organisation. Metaphysically speaking, this means to endorse a process ontology of both biological agents and their actions. I will explain how the resulting bio-process account of agency solves the metaphysical problem of agency, and I conclude by indicating how this may also help us with tackling the problem of free will.

 

Biographical note:

Anne Sophie Meincke’s research lies at the intersection of metaphysics and the philosophy of biology, with a special focus on elaborating a new process ontological perspective. Meincke is currently a Senior Research Fellow at the Philosophy Department of the University of Vienna, Austria, where she directs the interdisciplinary ‘Elise Richter’ research project Bio-Agency and Natural Freedom, funded with € 340,000 by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF). She is also an Honorary Research Fellow at the Centre for the Study of Life Sciences at the University of Exeter, United Kingdom. Previously, Meincke was a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Southampton, United Kingdom, and a Research Fellow at the Universities of Exeter, United Kingdom, and Innsbruck, Austria. In 2014, she was awarded the City of Innsbruck’s annual Prize for Scientific Research at the University of Innsbruck.

Recent and Forthcoming Publications:

  • Meincke, A. S. & Dupré, J. (Eds.): Biological Identity. Perspectives from Metaphysics and the Philosophy of Biology, (History and Philosophy of Biology), London: Routledge, forthcoming.
  • Meincke, A. S. (Ed.): Dispositionalism. Perspectives from Metaphysics and the Philosophy of Science, (Synthese Library), Cham: Springer.
  • Meincke, A. S.: ‘Autopoiesis, Biological Autonomy and the Process View of Life’, European Journal for Philosophy of Science 9:5 (2019), https://doi.org/10.1007/s13194-018-0228-2.
  • Meincke, A. S.: ‘The Disappearance of Change. Towards a Process Account of Persistence’. International Journal of Philosophical Studies 27(1) (2019), pp. 12-30, https://doi.org/10.1080/09672559.2018.1548634.
  • Meincke, A. S.: ‘Human Persons – A Process View’, in: Noller, J. (Ed.), Was sind und wie existieren Personen? Münster: Mentis, 2019, pp. 57-80.
  • Meincke, A. S.: ‘Persons as Biological Processes. A Bio-Processual Way Out of the Personal Identity Dilemma’, in: Nicholson, D. J. and Dupré, J. (Eds.), Everything Flows. Towards a Processual Philosophy of Biology, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018, pp. 357-378.
  • Meincke, A. S.: ‘Bio-Agency and the Possibility of Artificial Agents’, in: Christian, A., Hommen, D., Retzlaff, N. and Schurz, G. (Eds.), Philosophy of Science. Between the Natural Sciences, the Social Sciences, and the Humanities, (European Studies in Philosophy of Science 9), 2018, Cham: Springer, pp. 65-93.