LIRa Session: Alexandra Kuncova

Speaker:  Alexandra Kuncova

Date and Time: Thursday, November 22nd 2018, 17:00-18:30

Venue: ILLC Seminar Room F1.15, Science Park 107.

Title: On the (In)dispensability of Action Types.

Abstract. In my talk, I explore the analysis of ability. Imagine that we place all the cards from a deck face down on a table and ask you to turn over the Queen of Hearts. Are you able to do that? In a certain sense, yes — we refer to this as causal ability. There are 52 actions of turning over one of the cards available to you and one of them guarantees that you turn over the Queen of Hearts. However, in the epistemic sense, you are not able to turn over the Queen of Hearts, because you do not know which of those 52 actions actually guarantees the result.

In my presentation I elaborate on epistemic ability and two ways of modelling it in STIT theory. The standard analysis relies on action types — as opposed to action tokens — and states that an agent has the epistemic ability to do something if and only if there is an action type available to her that she knows guarantees it. I will show, however, that these action types are dispensable: I will present a formalism without action types that can simulate the standard analyses of epistemic ability that rely on action types.

The beauty of our approach lays in its simplicity: our formalism is a standard epistemic extension of STIT theory, and epistemic ability is characterised by a combination of impersonal possibility, knowledge and agency. No action types, no labels, and no new modalities are needed.

In light of this dispensability of action types in an epistemic setting I will finish by reflecting on whether action types might be useful for other senses of agency and ability.

(This is based on joint work with Jan Broersen, Hein Duijf, and Aldo Ramirez Abarca.)