Polaris Koi

Philosophy unit, University of Turku, Finland

About me

I am a philosopher whose research is centred on how biological causation situated in rich social environments fundamentally shapes our basic agentive processes of decision-making and control. Since February 2021, I have worked as Research Fellow (fi: erikoistutkija) in the multidisciplinary Academy of Finland Nudging for Climate research project, where my attention is on the conceptual and ethical aspects of nudge theory.

Best contacted by e-mail at polaris.koi (at) utu (dot) fi.
I can also be found at PhilPeople, ResearchGate and Academia.edu.

My pronouns are he/him, they/them.

Photo: Tinksu Wessman

Research statement

I am a philosopher and interdisciplinarian working on the basic agentive processes of decision-making and self-control, and on explaining individual differences in behavior. My inquiry into this theme spans philosophical subdisciplines, and I have worked in the areas of applied ethics (especially neuroethics), agency and responsibility, and philosophy of cognitive science (especially psychiatry). I often work closely with empirical scientists across the behavioural and brain sciences.

Decision-making and self-control capacities are often perceived as individualistic, exhaustively neurological, and apolitical. However, recognizing the significant impact of situational factors on these cognitive processes challenges this notion and reveals that social and structural practices can either facilitate or impede their functioning. More mechanistically, understanding decision-making and control in rich environments highlights the crucial role of attention, e.g., visual sampling, on these processes.

Agency and self-control. My most extensive research program probes the concept of self-control in philosophy and social psychology. In a series of publications, I have argued for a revision of our understanding of self-control by applying arguments found within the philosophy of disability to the question of self-control, arguing that self-control is best understood in functionalist, externalist terms, and that individual differences in self-control are best understood in terms of differences in access to self-control behaviours. I am currently working on a monograph on self-control, under the working title Against Willpower. Drawing on my research on the biological and social constituents of individual differences in self-control, the book will argue that they have little to do with so-called willpower. It’s divided into two parts: the first covers self-control’s function using evidence from cognitive and behavioural sciences, while the second explores implications for psychopathology, intergenerational poverty, and criminology.

Individual differences, psychiatry, and neurodiversity. My second, overlapping research programme examines causal, conceptual and metaphysical issues in complex traits, particularly within psychiatry. From 2016 to 2019, I participated as Junior Investigator in the Genetics and Human Agency research project, which gave me a sustained interest in thinking about gene-environment interaction in the context of individual differences in complex traits. I have also inquired into the metaphysics of psychopathology, including the ways in which social phenomena interact with individual biology in the ontology of mental disorder.

Decision-making and attention. My main new research agenda explores decision-making in complex environments. Both the inputs and the feasible behavioural outputs for a given decision are myriad. Attentional processes, such as sampling, play an important role in reducing the search space. To understand decision-making and action, we therefore need to also understand how attentional processes intersect with classic decision, volition, and action processes. To that effect, I am currently working on a descriptive account of what options are, i.e., under what constraints can something be a constituent in a decision set. If my account of options turns out to withstand scrutiny, that has interesting implications. For example, it challenges Bayesian decision theory; suggests a possible causal explanation for behavioural traits in ADHD and Autism, characterised by differences in attention and sensory processing; and gives rise to a possible novel mechanism underlying behavioural interventions, such as nudging. 


Peer reviewed articles and book chapters

Polaris Koi (forthcoming). ”Willpower as a metaphor.” Forthcoming in Oxford Studies in Agency and Responsibility, vol. 8 (ed. David Shoemaker). Oxford: OUP.

Polaris Koi (2022). ”Toward informed user decisions about pharmacological cognitive enhancement”. Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics 31(4), 545-556.

Polaris Koi (2022). ”Self-control modulates information salience.” Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 45, E230.

Polaris Koi (2022). ”Demarcation, instantiation and individual traits: realist social ontology for mental disorders.” Philosophical Psychology 35 (6): 793–813.

Polaris Koi (2021). ”Accessing self-control.” Erkenntnis (online first).

Helena Siipi & Polaris Koi (2021). ”The ethics of climate nudges: Central issues for applying choice architecture interventions to climate policy”. European Journal of Risk Regulation, 13(2), 218–235.

Polaris Koi (2021). ”Genetics on the neurodiversity spectrum: Genetic, phenotypic and endophenotypic continua in autism and ADHD.Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 89: 52–62.

Polaris Koi & Olli I. Heimo (2021). ”Koneoppimisalgoritmit mahdollistavat jo ihmisen parantelun” (Machine learning algorithms enable human enhancement). in Panu Raatikainen (ed.), Tekoäly, ihminen ja yhteiskunta: Filosofisia näkökulmia (AI, humanity and society: Philosophical perspectives). Helsinki: Gaudeamus.

Polaris Koi (2021). ”Born Which Way? ADHD, Situational Self-Control, and Responsibility”. Neuroethics 14: 205–218.

Polaris Koi, Susanne Uusitalo and Jarno Tuominen (2018). “Self-Control in Responsibility Enhancement and Criminal Rehabilitation.” Criminal Law and Philosophy 12: 227–244.

Juha Räikkä and Polaris Koi (2016). “Mahdolliset ja mahdottomat poliittiset järjestelyt” (Possible and Impossible Political Arrangements). in Ilkka Niiniluoto, Tuomas Tahko & Teemu Toppinen (eds.), MahdollisuusHelsinki: Suomen Filosofinen Yhdistys (Philosophical Society of Finland).

Non-peer reviewed articles and publications

Polaris Koi (2022). “Lectio Praecursoria: Itsekontrollin saavutettavuusteoria ja sen implikaatioita” (The Access Theory of Self-Control and Its Implications). Ajatus 79. 

Polaris Koi & Kaisa Kärki (2020). ”Toimijuuden tutkimus monitieteisessä lukupiirissä” (Study of agency in a multidisciplinary reading group). Niin & Näin 3 (20): 129.

Polaris Koi (2018). “Human Enhancement for Freedom.” In Ezio di Nucci & Stefan Storrie (eds.), 1984 and Philosophy. Chicago: Open Court.

Book reviews

Polaris Koi (2019). “Behaving: What’s Genetic, What’s Not, and Why Should We Care? By Kenneth F. Schaffner, New York, Oxford University Press.” Philosophical Psychology.

Polaris Koi (2018). “Review – In Praise of Desire, by Nomy Arpaly and Timothy Schroeder, Oxford University Press, 2014.” Metapsychology online reviews.

Policy briefs

Polaris Koi & Helena Siipi (2021). ”Eettisesti kestävillä tuuppauksilla kohti ilmastoviisasta toimintaa.” (Ethically sustainable nudging for climate wise action). Climate-Nudge.