David Heering

David Heering

Profile


Overview

I work on the area of overlap between the metaphysics of agency, the theories of action and motivation, and metanormativity. My PhD thesis defends an actual-sequence, reasons-responsiveness account of free agency.


Biography

  • University of Leeds (2016-): PhD in Philosophy // Thesis: Actual Control: Demodalising Free Will.
    • Funded by the Leeds University Research Scholarship.
  • Humboldt Universität zu Berlin (2013-2016): Master of Arts in Philosophy // Masters Thesis: Rational Abilities and Control.
  • Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen (2009-2013): Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy with a Minor in German Studies // Bachelors Thesis: Desires, Dispositions, and Reasons: On a Confusion about the Notion of Teleology.

 

Research interests


General

My general interests lie in the metaphysics of agency, the theory of action and motivation and metanormativity. My research takes places in the area of overlap between the three, with special emphasis on the notion of "non-accidentality".

I have consequent interests in topics that fall more squarely in one of the areas mentioned, i.e. issues concerning the metaphysics of actions and abilities, issues concerning acting for reasons and motivation, and issues in metaethics and metanormativity, such as questions about rationality and normative reasons.

I'm also trying to like normative ethics; and I have some background in the philosophy of science.


PhD Project

My PhD-Thesis develops a novel 'actual-sequence' account of free agency, according to which actions and attitudes are free insofar as they are exercises of the capacity to respond to reasons.

Traditionally, these types of accounts face a dilemma created by three incompatible theoretical core tenets: 

  1. Actions and attitudes are free in virtue of actual-sequence, as opposed to modal, features.
  2. Actions and attitudes are free partially in virtue of (the possession or exercise of) the capacity to respond to reasons.
  3. Reasons-responsiveness is a modal notion, such that roughly an action or agent is responsive to reasons iff they would have done otherwise had correspondingly different reasons been present

These three tenets are incompatible because if reasons-responsiveness is modal, and actions and attitudes are free partially in virtue of reasons-responsiveness, then they are free partially in virtue of modal features.

My thesis argues that this dilemma structure is just a particular instantiation of a general philosophical problem about the crucial concept of non-accidentality that many notions, including reasons-responsiveness, presuppose. The problem is that there are two plausible but incompatible conditions on non-accidentality such that:   

(a) Non-accidentality is a modal phenomenon, such that p and q are non-accidentally connected iff p modally covaries with q.

(b) Non-accidentality is an explanatory phenomenon such that p and q are non-accidentally connected only if q explains p.

(a) and (b) are incompatible because the truth-conditions for (some) explanatory sentences and modal-covariation sentences systematically come apart (explanation is hyperintensional, modal covariation is intensional). Intuitions about non-accidentality more reliably track (b)-type explanationist conditions. We should hence reject (a)-type modalist conditions for non-accidentality.

The dilemma above can then be resolved by rejecting 3., i.e. rejecting the idea that we must give (the possession and exercise of) reasons-responsiveness a modalist analysis.

Instead, I develop a (b)-type explanationist account of responding to reasons. The core idea of the account is that exercises of rational capacities provide a special type of rational explanation - an 'exercise-explanation' - in which the capacity in question plays a non-dispensable explanatory role. I explore these types of explanations by providing a complete metaphysics for them as well as pointing out some of their special logical and semantic features.

Consequently, my thesis delves into the metaphysics of dispositions, capacities, abilities, and their exercises (metaphysics of agency), the nature of action-explanation( theories of action and motivation), and issues surrounding 'acting for normative reasons' (metanormativity). So my research takes place in the area of overlap between the metaphysics of agency, the theories of action and motivation, and metanormativity.


 

Research groups and institutes

  • Philosophy
  • Centre for Ethics and Metaethics
  • Centre for Metaphysics and Mind