Towards a Theory of Control

UoM administered thesis: Phd

  • Authors:
  • Christopher Ovenden


Control is a concept that has received surprisingly little attention in the philosophy of action and ethics, given its prima facie ties to freedom, responsibility, intentionality and agency more generally. In this collection I take the first step towards an account of agential control: the kind of control that agents commonly exercise over actions, events, and even other agents. In the introduction I give a sketch of the complete thesis on control: characterising agential control as consisting primarily in the restriction or guidance of some process, and secondarily in the continuous monitoring of that same process. I go on to suggest that the primary aspect of control involves an agent's having the ability to effectively intervene in the process that they are controlling. The collection itself consists of three journal style papers that, whilst not being focussed explicitly on control themselves, begin to fill out the sketch in my introduction: roughly, I think that control requires an ability to intervene (effectively, an ability to do otherwise), I think that ability should be understood as a kind of disposition to effectively intervene in a process should an agent try, and I think that to build a satisfactory conditional account of dispositions we need to appeal to the recently proposed contextualist account of dispositions from David Manley and Ryan Wasserman. The three papers aim to support each of these thoughts: The first paper, 'The Anti-Akrasia Chip', presents a counterexample to the well-known Fischer-Ravizza account of guidance control and suggests that what that account lacks is an emphasis on an agent's being able to effectively intervene in their own behaviour; the second paper, 'Getting Specific with Manley and Wasserman', uses a novel counterexample to motivate a particular reading on Manley and Wasserman's contextualist account of dispositions; and the final paper, 'Relevant Abilities', involves a defence of dispositional compatibilism by introducing the notion of a relevant ability: one grounded by the contextualist account of dispositions developed in the previous paper.


Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Award date1 Aug 2014