An Informational Perspective on Agency Causation

Christoph Schulz

In: Bert Baumgärtner , Luciano Floridi (Hrsg.). Topoi - An International Review of Philosophy 35 1 Seiten 241-252 Springer Netherlands Dordrecht 6/2014.


According to Fred Dretske’s semantic information theory, the process of becoming informed consists of two parts: the transfer of information via a channel, and the subsequent formation of a semantic structure, called ‘digitalisation’. Leaving out any one of the two parts renders the concept of becoming informed incomplete. Similarly, Peter Menzies and Huw Price's agency-account of causation has a bipartite structure. The account posits that an event A is a cause of a distinct event B in cases where bringing about the occurrence of A would be an effective means by which a free agent could bring about the occurrence of B. A major problem for this approach seems to be that the analysis contains two occurrences of ‘bringing about’, which might be taken for causal notions that would render the formula circular. However, applying two different interpretations to each of the occurrences yields a non-circular analysis of causation. These interpretations entail a conceptual structure of causation that is analogous to Dretske’s analysis of becoming informed. Building on this conceptual foundation, it can be shown that informational and causal views on events can be integrated into a combined account, according to which information channels and causal mechanisms are identical. Digitalisation and direct action are parts of causation by information, a concept that further binds becoming informed and causation to each other. Causation by information is relevant because it helps us make sense of the seeming contradiction of construing some events as actions, while at the same time allowing them to be effects of causes.

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Deutsches Forschungszentrum für Künstliche Intelligenz
German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence