Martin Pickavé

Canada Research Chair in Mediaeval Philosophy

Tier 2 - 2013-01-01
University of Toronto
Social Sciences and Humanities


Research involves

Understanding free will from a historical perspective that explores the origins of the concept of freedom.

Research relevance

This research will lead to improved understanding about the views held by major philosophers, and will contribute to contemporary debates about the concept of free will.

Illuminating the Concept of Freedom

The idea that we are free is central to our understanding of the human experience. Because we are free, we are considered responsible for our actions. But what does it mean to be free? What exactly is freedom?

Dr. Martin Pickavé, Canada Research Chair in Mediaeval Philosophy, believes that the best way to tackle this question is to pay attention to history — specifically, to mediaeval philosophers, who were crucial in developing the idea of a free will.

Pickavé is using a comparative approach to provide a philosophical account of the mediaeval debate over freedom. While most historical research on the notion of freedom deals with single thinkers or particular groups, Pickavé is filling a gap in the literature by developing a systematic and comprehensive picture of mediaeval debates.

He will also adopt a new angle, approaching the topic from the vantage point of "agency". We think of humans as agents contributing to their environments in various ways. Humans cause actions, which are then attributed to them. With the term "freedom" we seem to refer to a specific form of agency. But, it’s possible to think of other things as agents too: animals that run, crawl, eat or sleep. And what about plants? So, a further question arises: What exactly does it mean for something to be an agent?

Pickavé’s research will improve understanding about the views of major philosophers and contribute to contemporary debates about free will–one of philosophy’s most important topics.