Making Up One's Self: Agency, Commitments and Identity

Dissertation, Harvard University (2002)
In this work, I investigate the nature of the alleged binding force of decisions and commitments on future conduct. Contrary to pretheoretical intuitions, decisions and commitments are not means for the control of future conduct. Future-directed commitments do not constrain future action by either imposing causal restraints, or modifying the future situation of choice, or providing a reason to act as originally decided. According to my theory commitments determine the agent's conduct only if renewed at the time of action. The agent must take the original decision ex nihilo at the time of action. I argue that this renewal does not threaten either intrapersonal transtemporal coordination of conduct or engagement in temporally extended activities. If the agent can assume the stability of her rationality over time, she can anticipate her future decision and action without settling in advance what she will do. This anticipation is sufficient for coordination. When uncertainty about the future makes the anticipation of future decision impossible, the agent can make preparatory arrangements in advance that create conditions for the rationality of the future conduct. The effects of preparatory arrangements are compatible with genuine commitments provided that they are understood as directed to a temporally extended activity that begins with the arrangements, rather than to a distal momentary action. ;I then show how the Sartrean account can be applied to limited agents like us, who do not have sufficient resources to engage in the constant renewal of their past resolutions. The solution rests in the division of deliberative labor. At the time of action the agent might endorse a past assessment about her present conduct and make it executive, thereby avoiding the full rehearsal of the deliberation. ;I argue that the Sartrean account satisfies all pretheoretical desiderata about the nature of commitments and that it also dissolves the puzzled about the transmission of the force of reasons over time. Finally, I discuss the role of the assumption of the temporal stability of rationality and suggest that it is related to the question of the persistence of the agent over time
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