Professor Helen Steward

Professor Helen Steward

Professor of Philosophy of Mind and Action

+44 (0)113 343 3661

Summary: Philosophy of Action/Free Will; Philosophy of Mind; Metaphysics.

Location: Michael Sadler


  • My research interests lie mainly in the philosophy of action (including free will), the philosophy of mind, and the metaphysical and ontological issues which bear on these areas (e.g. causation, supervenience, levels of explanation, the event/state distinction, the concepts of process and power). I have recently obtained an AHRC Fellowship to work on a project entitled 'Persons as Animals: Understanding the Animal Bases of Agency, Perceptual Knowledge and Thought' (for more details, see The idea is to investigate ways in which a proper understanding of human beings as animals might help us make progress with resolving a range of philosophical problems which have traditionally been considered with little or no reference to our animal nature - namely, the free will problem, epistemological scepticism about the external world, and the question of meaning (how anything can come to stand for or symbolise something else). My working hypothesis is that an animalistic approach to these issues might be transformative, helping us to ask questions in new ways and making new forms of solution possible.

The metaphysics of free will is another particular interest; my second book 'A Metaphysics for Freedom' (OUP) was published in March 2012. This book argues for a distinctive version of incompatibilism, based on the idea that there is a conflict not only between determinism and free human action, but also between determinism and the activities of a wide variety of animals. Special issues of Inquiry and a book symposium in Res Philosophica devoted to this work were published in 2013 and 2014 respectively, containing comments by a range of contributors, together with my responses. 

I have also worked recently on the category of process, and in particular, its relevance to agency. 'Actions as Processes' appeared in Philosophical Perspectives 26 (2012) and  'Processes, Continuants and Individuals' in Mind 122 (2013). 

I am an associate editor for the journal Philosophical Explorations. 

You can watch my recent inaugural lecture here:

Research Interests

  • Philosophy of Action (especially the free will/determinism debate)
  • Animals and their similarities to, and differences from, human beings
  • Philosophy of Mind (mental causation, mental ontology, the self)
  • Metaphysics (causation, modality, some aspects of time)

I am happy to offer graduate supervision in the first three of these areas, and in certain specific regions of the fourth!

Selected Publications

Other Publications


  • Agency and Action ed. H. Steward and John Hyman (Cambridge: CUP, 2004).
  • The Ontology of Mind: Events, Processes and States (Oxford: OUP, 1997).


  • ‘Précis of ‘A Metaphysics for Freedom’’ and ‘Responses to Randolph Clarke, John Bishop and Helen Beebee’, Res Philosophica 91:3 (2014): 513-18 and 547-57. 
  • ‘Causing Things and Doing Things’ in C.G. Pulman (ed.) Hart on Responsibility (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), pp.71-90.
  • ‘The Metaphysical Presuppositions of Moral Responsibility’, Journal of Ethics 16:2 (2012): 241-71. 
  • Perception and the Ontology of Causation', in Naomi Eilan, Hemdat Lerman and Johannes Roessler (eds.), Perception, Causation and Objectivity: Issues in Philosophy and Psychology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011):139-60.
  • ‘Moral Responsibility and the Concept of Agency’, in Richard Swinburne (ed.), Free Will and Modern Science (Oxford: Oxford University Press), 2011: 141-57. 
  • 'Free Will' in J.Shand (ed.) Central Issues of Philosophy (Wiley-Blackwell, 2009): 152-64.
  • 'The Truth in Compatibilism and the Truth of Libertarianism', Philosophical Explorations 12.2 (2009): 167-179.
  • 'Fairness, Agency and the Flicker of Freedom', Nous 43 (2009): 64-93.
  • 'Determinism and Inevitability', Philosophical Studies 130 (2006), 535-63.
  • 'Animal Agency', Inquiry 52 (2009): 217-31. ‘Agency, Causality and Properties’, in Frontiers of Philosophy in China 6 (3), 2011. Available online  (DOI) 10.1007/s11466-011-0146-2.