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Volume 51 • Number 1

January 2014



Causalism and Intentional Omission

by Joshua Shepherd

Intentional omissions are exercises of agency. Most agree, for example, that we can intentionally omit for reasons, and that we can be morally responsible for intentionally omitting to act. What is intentional omission? Although this question is complicated by controversy surrounding the nature of omission, a natural suggestion is that (at least initially) we work by analogy with intentional action, which is better understood. As exercises of agency, intentional omissions share important similarities with intentional actions. We intend to omit, for example. And sometimes executing an intention to omit requires a great deal of skill and effort. Working by analogy with intentional action seems to be a start. If this suggestion is on track, motivation exists for pursuing a causalist account of intentional omission—that is, an account on which causation plays an essential role in a correct account of an omission’s intentionality. Causalist accounts of intentional action enjoy broad support (see Aguilar and Buckareff 2010). One might thus pursue a causalist account of intentional omission in hopes of unifying all intentional behavior under a causalist banner. Less ambitiously, one might pursue a causalist account of intentional omission in seeking to understand the scope of causalism about intentional behavior. Does a successful account of intentional action transmit to intentional omission, or are different resources required?

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ISSN: 2152-1123