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What abilities are not

ERI Building - Room 149 (1st Floor)
Tuesday 6 May 2014 (16:15-18:00)

Dr Darragh Byrne (email:

Philosophy Society 2013-2014

Barbara Vetter (Humboldt-Universität, DE)

What abilities are not

Agents' abilities play a role in a large number of philosophical debates, from the question of free will through epistemology to ethics. But to establish what abilities can do in a given philosophical theory, we should have an account of what abilities are. Such an account, however, is rarely given and indeed hard to come by; different debates make different assumptions, and these are often sketchy at best. This paper aims to do two things: first, to provide a typology of common answers to the question what abilities are; and second, to argue that each of these answers, on its own and in combination with others, fails to provide non-circular necessary and sufficient conditions for the possession of an ability. I conclude by sketching possible morals to draw from this negative upshot.

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