Determinism/ Indeterminism in Nature
Agency – Genetics – Quantum Mechanics

Interdisciplinary Workshop with John Dupré (Exeter)

13th March 2014, Innsbruck
Department of Christian Philosophy, University of Innsbruck


In everyday-life, we experience ourselves as free agents, who choose their acts based on deliberation and the possibility to do otherwise. At the same time, we conceive of ourselves as integral parts of nature, as organisms amenable to biological explanation. How does this go together? How is it possible that there exist freely acting organisms like us and maybe other animals? What is nature like so as to allow for free agency?

These questions are pressing since for a long time scientists and philosophers agreed that, actually, there was no place for free agency in nature. Nature was seen as a mechanistic system governed by strictly deterministic laws, thus ruling out any real possibility of doing otherwise and reducing deliberation to a causally inefficacious mere epiphenomenon of neuro-physiological processes in animals’ brains.

Recently, however, this picture of nature has been doubted from the perspectives of various disciplines. Besides the well-known arguments from quantum-mechanics, there is, especially, a remarkable tendency to biologically motivated indeterminism amongst philosophers of science.

One of the most important figures in this regard is John Dupré, a distinguished expert in philosophy of biology. According to him, the essential structures of life including its genetic organization support an indeterminist picture of nature which, then, allows for free agency. The general idea of his so-called “Indeterminist Compatibilism” is that since the causal order of the world actually is incomplete, there is space for natural agents to fill in the gaps by their free actions. Higher organisms as strongly autonomous systems impose order on their more or less chaotic surroundings.

The workshop aims at exploring Dupré’s doctrine of “Indeterminist Compatibilism” in order to deepen our understanding of the possibility of free agency in nature. This will be done in an interdisciplinary way by bringing Dupré into dialogue with experts from philosophical action theory, genetics and quantum mechanics.

Contributions by:
Michael Brownnutt (Department of Experimental Physics, Medical University of Innsbruck)
Josef Quitterer (Department of Christian Philosophy, University of Innsbruck)
Anne Sophie Spann (Department of Christian Philosophy, University of Innsbruck)
Gabriele Werner-Felmayer (Biocenter Innsbruck, Medical University of Innsbruck)
Johannes Zschocke (Department of Human Genetics, Medical University of Innsbruck)

Organisation: Anne Sophie Spann (

Registration required.