The relations between life and cogntion have been addressed through different perspectives [Stewart 1996, Boden 2001, Bourgine and Stewart 2004, van Duijn & all 2006, Di Paolo 2009]. We would like here to address that subject by relating life to cognition through a process of meaning generation. Life emerged on earth as a far from thermodynamic equilibrium performance that had to maintain herself. Life is charactertized by a ‘stay alive’ constraint that has to be satisfied (such constraint can be included (...) in the constraint of being able to maintain far from equilibrium thermodynamic conditions [Bickhard 2011]). The local ‘stay alive‘ constraint has to be satisfied in an environment containing elements potentially supportive or harmfull. A key activity for the living entity is to characterize these elements in terms of meaningfulness relatively to the ‘stay alive’ constraint. This process can be modeled with an existing tool where a system submitted to an internal constraint generates meaningful information characterizing elements of the environment: the Meaning Generator System (MGS) [Menant, 2003, 2014 a]. In a few words: when a system submitted to an internal constraint receives from the environment an information that has a connection with the constraint it generates a meaning usable for the implementation of an action satisfying the constraint.The generated meaning is the connection existing between the received information and the constraint. The MGS models this process and interfaces to the action implementation for constraint satisfaction The meaning is generated by and for the system. The MGS grounds meaning generation in constraint satisfaction and links the living entity to her environment in a relational process. A simple example is with a paramecium close to a drop of acid. The paramecium which is submitted to a ‘stay alive’ constraint will move away from the acid area. The received information ‘presence of acid’ generates the meaning ‘acid not compatible with the ‘stay alive’ constraint‘ which triggers the moving away action (that example is close to Varela’s bacteria swimming up a sugar gradient. What the MGS brings in addition is a modeling of the significance of the chemical gradient for the organism). The action implemented to satisfy the constraint modifies the environment and the received information, establishing an interactive process linking the living entity to her environment. During its evolution animal life has elaborated new constraints (like ‘live group life’) and new functions enriching meaning generation and action scenarios. As a result the build up of meaningful representations has improved the constraint satisfaction processes of animals, embedding them in their environments in relational and interactive terms [Menant, 2011]. Cognition can be defined by proposing that ‘a system is cognitive if and only if sensory inputs serve to trigger actions in a specific way, so as to satisfy a viability constraint’ [Bourgine, Stewart 2004]. Cognition can also be considered as exemplifying a ‘vital criterion of responsiveness’ [Boden, 2001 ]. Consequently the MGS can be positioned as an elementary and generic version of animal cognition. For animal life, meaning generation for internal constraint satisfaction links life and cognition in a relational and interactive process. Cognition for human life is more complex as new performances have to be taken into account like self-consciousness and free-will. Meaning generation at human level is a challenging subject as human constraints are not clearly understood [Menant, 2011]. Many research activities are in process looking for some understanding of human mind [Philpapers]. One area of investigation is an evolutionary approach to self-consciousness using meaning generation where anxiety limitation comes up as a generic human constraint [Menant, 2014 b]. Assuming that we can have clear enough an understanding of some human constraints, we can look at the MGS for partly extending to humans the link between life and cognition that has been established for animals. So overall, we can consider that the MGS approach makes available an evolutionary link between life and cognition for animals, and partly for humans. A characteristic of the proposed system approach to meaning generation is the possibility to use it for any type of agent, be it organic (with intrinsic constraints ) or artificial (with derived constraints). Such characterization of agents through meaning generation can be used to discriminate artificial itelligence from human intelligence (see the MGS usage to support Searle’s chinese room argument [Menant, 2013]). On a more general basis, the proposed system approach can positions the MGS as a simple model for an internal source of normativity. It’s usage as a simple building block allows a bottom-up modeling for normativity in the sensorimotor approach. The ‘stay alive’ constraint could also be taken as a starting point for an evolutionary grounding of sensorimotor norms ‘in the biological normativity of the agent as a whole’ [Di Paolo & all 2014]. The proposed presentation will develop the points summarized here above and position them relatively to the autopoietic and enactive approaches. Several possible continuations will also be highlighted. (shrink)
Philosophers of mind tend to take it for granted that causal relations are part of the mind-independent, objective fabric of the physical world. In fact, their status has been hotly contested since Russell famously observed that the closest thing to causal relations in physics are timesymmetric dynamical laws relating global time slices of world-history. 1 These bear a distant relationship to the local, asymmetric relations that form the core of the folk notion of cause. Nancy Cartwright, in an influential response, (...) agreed about the absence of causal relations from physics, but argued that Russell’s position was not viable because agents choosing among potential actions need specifically causal information to distinguish effective from ineffective strategies for bringing about ends. 2 Causal beliefs play an ineliminable role in practical deliberation In recent years, there has been a great deal of progress in understanding the relationship between causal concepts and the dynamical laws that appear in advanced physics, together with a proliferation of new tools for representing and discovering causal structure. (shrink)
The main objection to pragmatism about knowledge is that it entails that truth-irrelevant factors can make a difference to knowledge. Blake Roeber (2018) has recently argued that this objection fails. I agree with Roeber. But in this paper, I present another way of thinking about the dispute between purists and pragmatists about knowledge. I do so by formulating a new objection to pragmatism about knowledge. This is that pragmatism about knowledge entails that factors irrelevant to both truth and “cognitive agency” (...) can make a difference to knowledge. An interesting additional upshot of my argument is the connection revealed between the debate between pragmatists and purists about knowledge, and the debate between “alethists” and pragmatists about reasons for belief. (shrink)
It’s often assumed, especially in discussions of free will and moral responsibility, that unavoidable actions are possible. In recent years, however, several philosophers have questioned that assumption. Their views are considered here, and the possibility of unavoidable actions is defended and then applied to issues in action theory and in the literature on moral responsibility.
There has been a recent surge of work on deontic modality within philosophy of language. This work has put the deontic logic tradition in contact with natural language semantics, resulting in significant increase in sophistication on both ends. This chapter surveys the main motivations, achievements, and prospects of this work.
Until very recently, there has been no discussion of aesthetic agency. This is likely because aesthetics has traditionally focused not on action, but on appreciation, while the standard approach identifies ‘agency’ with the will, and, more specifically, with the capacity for intentional action. In this paper, I argue, first, that this identification is unfortunate since it fails to do justice to the fact that we standardly attribute beliefs, emotions, desires, and other conative and affective attitudes that aren’t formed ‘at will,’ (...) including aesthetic appreciation, to people’s agency. Fortunately, we need not abide by this Practical Approach, but can develop an alternative: the Authority Approach to rational agency, which does justice to the widespread practice of rationally assessing, reactively responding to, and holding people responsible for non-voluntary attitudes. This is very good news for aesthetics since, I argue additionally, any account of aesthetic agency that accepts the Practical Approach, and focuses on aesthetic actions fails to provide a genuine notion of aesthetic agency. For we have no handle on what counts as aesthetic actions independently of these actions’ relation to appreciation: actions are “aesthetic” only derivatively insofar as they center around those that merit (dis)appreciation. For this reason, we have genuine aesthetic agency only if we can exercise agency in acts of the rational-affective capacity for appreciation, which differs from the will. The Authority Approach allows us to explain how we exercise agency in aesthetic appreciations, thus equipping us with a genuine conception of aesthetic agency. (shrink)
Currently popular theories of epistemic responsibility rest on the assumption that justification and excuse exhaust the relevant normative categories. One gets the sense that, once we've laid down the conditions for justified belief, and once we've laid down the conditions of excusably unjustified belief, the work is done; all that's left is to clock out. Against this backdrop, one is naturally led to think that if an agent's doxastic state fails to be justified, it is thereby unjustified, perhaps excusably so. (...) The aim of this paper is to argue that that natural thought is mistaken; some agents are epistemically incompetent, and in virtue of their incompetence, their doxastic states are neither justified nor unjustified. Instead, the doxastic states of such agents are exempt from epistemic evaluation altogether. I argue that what underlies this point about exemptions is that epistemic competences or abilities play an important and typically overlooked role in epistemology, especially in theories of epistemic responsibility. Here, I am interested in uncovering that role and explaining what it is, and also in explaining how one could accommodate it within various epistemological frameworks. (shrink)
In this chapter we reflect on questions about the nature and sources of agentive phenomenology – that is, the set of those experience-types associated with exercises of agency, and paradigmatically with intentional actions. Our discussion begins with pioneering work in psychology and neuroscience that dates to the early 80s (section 1). As we will see, much of the current work on agentive phenomenology in both psychology and philosophy draws motivation from this work, and the questions it raises. After discussing empirical (...) work relevant to agentive phenomenology, we turn to consideration of its nature. We cover questions about the scope of agentive phenomenology, about its relationship to other types of experiences (section 2.1), about the best way to characterize aspects of agentive phenomenology, and about the function of various types of agentive experience (section 2.2). (shrink)
Experiences of urges, impulses or inclinations are among the most basic elements in the practical life of conscious agents. This paper develops a theory of urges and their epistemology. I motivate a framework that distinguishes urges, conscious experiences of urges and exercises of capacities we have to control our urges. I argue that experiences of urges and exercises of control over urges play coordinate roles in providing one with knowledge of one’s urges.
Akratic actions are often being thought to instantiate a paradigmatic self-control failure. . If we suppose that akrasia is opposed to self-control, the question is how akratic actions could be free and intentional. After all, it would seem that it is only if an action manifests self-control that it can count as free. My plan is to explore the relation between akrasia and self-control. The first section presents what I shall call the standard conception, according to which akrasia and self-control (...) are contraries, and introduces the puzzle that this conception raises. The second section turns to the arguments for and against the possibility of free and intentional akratic actions. The third section questions the claim that akratic actions are necessarily opposed to actions manifesting self-control. (shrink)
My aim in this paper is to sketch, with a broad brush and in bare outlines, an approach to modal epistemology that is characterized by three distinctive features. First, the approach is agency-based: it locates the roots of our modal thought and knowledge in our experience of our own agency. Second, the approach is ambitious in that it takes the experience of certain modal properties in agency to be the sole distinctive feature of specifically modal thought and knowledge; everything that (...) we know about modality beyond the experience of agency is a matter of applying standard methods of inquiry such as deduction, induction and abductive methods for choosing between theories. Third, the account holds that modal thought and knowledge is, first and foremost, about modal properties that are sufficiently like those encountered in agency. (shrink)
Coping is customarily understood as those thoughts and actions humans adopt while undergoing situations appraised as threatening and stressful, or when peo- ple’s sense of who they are and what they should do is significantly challenged. In these cases, coping thoughts and actions help one endure and hopefully overcome these stresses, threats, and/or challenges. Discussions of coping are common among psychologists, but nearly absent from the philosophical literature despite their importance in theories of agency and for closely related concepts like (...) resili- ence. Building from psychological theories of coping, I offer a first philosophical exploration of the concept by showing how it can relate to and enrich extant work on agency and resilience and contribute to a more nuanced account of agency itself, especially as exercised in less-than-ideal conditions. (shrink)
I argue that an agent can be morally responsible and fully (but not necessarily solely) blameworthy for another agent’s free intentional action, simply by intentionally creating the conditions for the action in a way that causes it. This means, I argue, that she can be morally responsible for the other’s action in the relevantly same way that she is responsible for her own non-basic actions. Furthermore, it means that socially mediated moral responsibility for intentional action does not require an agent (...) to authorize another to act on her behalf, nor does it require her to threaten, coerce, or deceive the other. (shrink)
This is a preprint draft. Please cite published version (DOI: 10.1111/mila.12385). The aim of this paper is to provide a novel analysis of anorexia nervosa (AN) in the context of the sense of agency literature. I first show that two accounts of anorexia nervosa that we ought to take seriously— i.e., the first personal reports of those who have experienced it firsthand as well as the research that seeks to explain anorexic behavior from an empirical perspective— appear to be thoroughly (...) in tension with one another in their descriptions of anorexic actions. Rather than proceeding at this point by way of disregarding anorexic testimony as meaningless or insincere, I instead offer a positive account of the sense of agency in anorexia nervosa that renders these two depictions compatible. The resultant picture of anorexic behavior is one that accommodates current empirical findings while also providing valuable insight into how it is that anorexics can sincerely report feeling fully in control over their food restriction. (shrink)
I argue for constraining the nomological possibility space of temporal experiences and endorsing the Succession Requirement for agents. The Succession Requirement holds that the basic structure of temporal experience must be successive for agentive subjects, at least in worlds that are law-like in the same way as ours. I aim to establish the Succession Requirement by showing non-successively experiencing agents are not possible for three main reasons, namely that they (1) fail to stand in the right sort of causal relationship (...) to the outcomes of their actions, (2) exhibit the wrong sort of epistemic status for agency, and (3) lack the requisite agentive mental attitude of intentionality. I conclude that agency is incompatible with non-successive experience and therefore we should view the successive temporal structure of experience as a necessary condition for agency. I also suggest that the Succession Requirement may actually extend beyond my main focus on agency, offering preliminary considerations in favor of seeing successive experience as a precondition for selfhood as well. The consequences of the Succession Requirement are wide-ranging, and I discuss various implications for our understanding of agency, the self, time consciousness, and theology, among other things. (shrink)
Jim Sterba’s Is a Good God Logically Possible? looks to resurrect J. L. Mackie’s logical argument from evil. Sterba accepts the general framework that theists seeking to give a theodicy have favored since Leibniz invented the term: the search for some greater good provided or greater evil averted that would justify God in permitting the type and variety of evil we actually observe. However, Sterba introduces a deontic twist, drawing on the Pauline Principle (let us not do evil that good (...) may come) to introduce three deontic side constraints on God’s choice of action. He then splits the possible goods into four categories: first- vs. second-order goods, goods to which we have a right, and goods to which we do not have a right. He argues that his deontic constraints rule out each combination, thereby showing that no God-justifying good is on offer. To defuse the argument, I draw on a pair of ideas from Marilyn McCord Adams: (i) God is outside the bounds of morality, and (ii) God can defeat evils by incorporating them into an incommensurately valuable friendship with each human. Properly appreciated, these show that the new logical argument relies on a false premise that is not easily repaired. (shrink)
Narrative views of agency and identity arise in opposition to reductionism in both domains. While reductionists understand both identity and agency in terms of their components, narrativists respond that life and action are both constituted by narratives, and since the components of a narrative gain their meaning from the whole, life and action not only incorporate their constituent parts but also shape them. I first lay out the difficulties with treating narrative as constitutive of metaphysical identity and turn to its (...) function in practical identity. I then explore the ways narrative shapes our agency—by tapping into our motivational structures, providing an understanding of the social background within which our agency operates, guiding our agency through an understanding of our histories and aspirations, providing the links that structure actions internally, and allowing us to change the meaning of our pasts. I suggest that putting these functions of narrative together may allow us to genuinely shape our past motivational structures through our actions. Finally, if life has the form of a narrative, it may seem as if mortality is necessary for our lives and their contents to be meaningful: a narrative, it might seem, relies on the ending for its meaning. If so, an immortal life would be meaningless. I examine the possibility that even an immortal life may draw meaning from local narratives that constitute projects within such a life, while arguing that, to the contrary, narrative may be a tool exclusively adapted to mortal lives. (shrink)
How does evidence figure into the reasoning of an agent? This is an intricate philosophical problem but also one we all encounter in our daily lives. In this chapter, we identify the problem and outline a possible solution to it. The problem arises, because the fact that it is up to us whether we do something makes a difference to how we should think of the evidence concerning whether we will actually do it. Otherwise we regard something that is up (...) to us as if it were not: We regard something that is up to us as if it were the outcome of a lottery. Nonetheless, we would be wrong to ignore the evidence. Otherwise we could not make a rational decision. In this chapter, we first show that a decision-theoretic approach to this problem cannot succeed. This approach does not explain how we can take evidence into account in practical reasoning without making predictions concerning matters that are up to us. It also gives rise to incoherence between our practical and our theoretical conclusions. We then argue that what is required to solve the problem is recognizing that beliefs about matters that are up to us can be grounded in practical reasoning. We argue that such beliefs are not subject to an evidential norm, because they are not meant to reflect a reality that is independent of them but instead are meant to bring about the reality they represent. Finally, we argue that, even if we are fully rational agents, we will sometimes lack practical knowledge of what we will do. That is because when it is practically rational to do something that will require resolve, we may be in a position to rationally conclude that we will do it, even though we have evidence that there is a non-negligible chance that we won’t. In such cases, our evidence serves as a defeater for our practical knowledge. (shrink)
Groups behave in a variety of ways. To show that this behavior amounts to action, it would be best to fit it into a general account of action. However, nearly every account from the philosophy of action requires the agent to have mental states such as beliefs, desires, and intentions. Unfortunately, theorists are divided over whether groups can instantiate these states—typically depending on whether or not they are willing to accept functionalism about the mind. But we can avoid this debate. (...) I show how a more general view of action captures what is central to action without mentioning mental states, and I argue that a group’s members can fulfill the role in group action that mental states play in our actions. Group behavior is explicable in terms of reasons, regardless of whether the group itself cognizes those reasons. After discussing the kind of reasons at issue and arguing that groups can act in light of them without minds, I assess how this account bears on the question of group responsibility. (shrink)
Morality, according to some theories, demands a lot of us. One way to defend such demanding moral theories is through an appeal to the division of normativity; on this picture, morality is only one of the normative domains that guides us, so it should be expected that we often fail to follow that guidance. This paper defends the division of normativity as a response to demandingness objections against an alternative: moral rationalism. It does this by addressing and refuting three arguments: (...) the argument from blameworthiness, the argument from agency, and the argument from authority. In turn, I show that none of these arguments work as responses to the division of normativity – if normativity generally is divided, so too must be blameworthiness, agency, and authority. (shrink)
It has been argued that the explanation of self-control requires positing special motivational powers. Some think that we need will-power as an irreducible mental faculty; others that we need to think of the active self as a dedicated and depletable pool of psychic energy or – in today more respectable terminology – mental resources; finally, there is the idea that self-control requires postulating a deep division between reason and passion – a deliberative and an emotional motivational system. This essay argues (...) that no such special motivational powers are necessary. Yet, at the same time, self-control does powerfully illustrate the importance of a feature of the mind. What it illustrates, I argue, is the importance of the mental activity of attention in the control of all action. It is by appeal to this mental activity that we can dispense with special motivational powers. If we think of Humeanism as the view that there is fundamentally only one kind of motivational system and that all action is based in that system, then this essay contributes to a defense of Humeanism. On the other hand, the essay also shows that any model of agency in terms of only beliefs and desires, motivational and representational states, or preferences and credences is incomplete. A different conception of Humeanism as the view that every mental state is either motivational, representational, or a combination of them, is false. (shrink)
Zuko’s plight illuminates the process of aspiration, including common challenges to the aspirant. As Agnes Callard understands it, aspiration typically involves a “deep change in how one sees and feels and thinks.” And this deep change is often intertwined with a change in what contemporary philosopher Christine Korsgaard calls practical identity, a “description under which you value yourself, . . . under which you find your life to be worth living and your actions to be worth undertaking.” But as Zuko (...) shows, practical identities are complex, sometimes unwieldy, and changes in explicit self-conceptions can take work, time, and perhaps some luck to bring about the deep change one aspires to. Even after he explicitly disavows his past actions, Zuko finds himself reverting to past behaviors, doing things that (on some level) he wishes he would not. These actions frustrate him— “Why am I so bad at being good?”— but they are not mere lapses in judgment. They come naturally and express an identity that Zuko had long embraced and cultivated but is now trying to leave behind. The arc of Zuko’s transformation illustrates the interplay between two dimensions of practical identity. On the one hand, as Korsgaard’s account emphasizes, our explicit self-conceptions and values matter. They guide our actions and shape how we see the world. But Zuko’s struggles suggest that such self-conceptions and aspirations are only part of the story. According to Martin Heidegger’s notion of being-in-the-world, our practical identity depends more on our existential engagement with the world than on our explicit self-conceptions. And these different dimensions of practical identity do not always align. As William Blattner writes, “Some of the most challenging conflicts in our lives arise when who we are existentially engaged in being stands in tension with who we think of ourselves as being.” Zuko is frustrated because, despite consciously trying to change, his being-in-the-world conflicts with his Korsgaardian practical identity. His world is still shaped (residually) by an identity he wants to shed. The way Zuko’s world and actions continue to be shaped by an identity he is trying to leave behind highlights a key difficulty of transformation. Zuko’s desire to prove his worth to his father and his rage have so thoroughly permeated his being-in-the-world that they are second nature. They shape his orientation toward the world and fuel his firebending. For better and worse, his spontaneous actions do not always fall in step with his conscious commitments. The same skills and dispositions Zuko previously cultivated as central to his identity now lead to unwanted actions and keep him from aspired-to actions. To become good in the way he wants, Zuko must not only cultivate the dispositions that will allow his aspired-to identity to become part and parcel of his being-in-the-world, but he must clear out or modify the residual influence of his past identity and related dispositions and values. -/- . (shrink)
In Aspiration, Agnes Callard examines the phenomenon of aspiration, the process by which one acquires values and becomes a certain kind of person. Aspiring to become a certain type of person involves more than wanting to act in certain ways. We want to come to see the world in a certain way and to develop the dispositions, attributes, and skills that allow us to seamlessly and effectively respond to situations. The skilled athlete or musician, for example, has developed the muscle (...) memory and the perceptual equivalent to naturally see what a situation requires and to respond well, whether playing a Rachmaninoff concerto or returning a tennis volley. -/- I use Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception to flesh out the process of becoming, through which aspired-to values, skills, and characteristics become part of one’s embodied being-in-the-world. Although some rightly focus on Merleau-Ponty’s efforts to avoid over-intellectualizing skillful action, without appreciating his distinction between habitual actions and human (or personal) acts, we overlook an important aspect of robust human agency—the way “a human act becomes dormant and is continued absent-mindedly as a reflex” (90). Merleau-Ponty’s account of habit and its relation to personal acts offers a rich and phenomenologically sensitive picture of aspiration. (shrink)
According to a widely endorsed claim, intentional action is brought about by an agent’s desires in accordance with these desires’ respective motivational strength. As Jay Wallace has argued, though, this “hydraulic model” of the aetiology of intentional action has a serious flaw: it fails to leave room for genuine deliberative agency. Drawing on recent developments in the debate on self-control, the article argues that Wallace’s criticism can be addressed once we combine the hydraulic model with a so-called “divided mind” account (...) of self-control. (shrink)
Most of us have had the experience of resisting our currently strongest desire, for example, resisting the desire to eat another cookie when eating another cookie is what we most want to do. The puzzle of synchronic self‐control, however, says that this is impossible: an agent cannot ever resist her currently strongest desire. The paper argues that one prominent solution to this puzzle – the solution offered by Al Mele – faces a serious ‘mismatch problem’, which ultimately undermines its plausibility. (...) It is furthermore argued that this problem can be avoided if we adopt a ‘divided mind’ solution instead. (shrink)
This is a draft of my chapter on Agency and Mistakes for the Routledge Handbook of Philosophy of Agency. In it, I focus on performance mistakes and distinguish them from other "derivative" mistakes that we make as agents. I argue that a proper understanding of these mistakes recommends a generalized fallibilism about human agency.
This paper is about the principle that success entails ability, which I call Success. I argue the status of Success is highly puzzling: when we focus on past instances of actually successful action, Success is very compelling; but it is in tension with the idea that true ability claims require an action be in the agent's control. I make the above tension precise by considering the logic of ability. I argue Success is appealing because it is classically equivalent to two (...) genuinely valid inferences, which I call Past Success and Can't-Entails-Won't; but also that Success itself has counterexamples. I show how to invalidate Success while validating Past Success and Can't-Entails-Won't by connecting the meaning of ‘can’ to facts about what is settled or open. I define an operator W with features attributed to ‘will’ in the literature on future contingents. I then give a conditional analysis of ability ascriptions stated with W-conditionals, where "S can A" says, roughly, there’s some action available to S such that if S does it, then W(S A). I show this semantics invalidates Success while still explaining its appeal. (shrink)
The paper develops two objections to Michael Bratman’s self-governance approach to the normativity of rational requirements. Bratman, drawing upon work by Harry Frankfurt, argues that having a place where one stands is a necessary, constitutive element of self-governance, and that violations of the consistency and coherence requirements on intentions make one lack a place where one stands. This allows for reasons of self-governance to ground reasons to comply with these rational requirements, thereby vindicating the normativity of rationality. The first objection (...) is that the account under-generates reasons, since not all cases of incoherence will involve a failure to have a place where one stands. The second objection is that the account over-generates reasons: we would have strong reasons to avoid both incoherence and ambivalence. However, if we follow Frankfurt in thinking that ambivalence is a “disease of the will” that is as irrational as having contradictory beliefs, this second objection doesn’t get off the ground. Thus, the first part of the paper is devoted to explaining why Frankfurt’s argument for the irrationality of ambivalence fails. (shrink)
The authors of *Linguistic Bodies* appeal to shared know-how to explain the social and participatory interactions upon which linguistic skills and agency rest. However, some issues lurk around the notion of shared know-how and require attention and clarification. In particular, one issue concerns the agent behind the shared know-how, a second one concerns whether shared know-how can be reducible to individual know-how or not. In this paper, I sustain that there is no single answer to the first issue; depending on (...) the case, shared know-how can belong to the participants of a social activity or to the system the participants bring forth together. In relation to the second issue, I sustain, following the authors, a non-reductive account of shared know-how. I also suggest that responsiveness to others, which is a fundamental element of shared know-how, can be extended by perceptual learning. (shrink)
Commentary on Kyle Johannsen, Wild Animal Ethics (Routledge, 2020). I want to unpack what we should understand by wild animal well-being, and how different interpretations of what matters about it shape the sorts of interventions we endorse. I will not offer a theory of wild animal well-being or even take a stance on the best approach to theories of well-being as they pertain to wild animals. My aim is to bring into view a concern that WAE has largely overlooked: agency (...) and freedom. To Johannsen’s credit, the issue of liberties does feature in his Wild Animal Ethics (2020) (36–39, 41, 47). The interventions that he favors are those that, for a given amount of harm prevention, involve fewer liberty infringements. Liberties can act, to an extent, as constraints on permissible interventions. For all that, Johannsen’s primary focus remains welfare in a sense that does not appear to give much consideration to agency. Fortunately, his approach is open-ended enough to accommodate some of my concerns. My hope is that he sees them as possible ways of specifying the duties of beneficence, if not justice, that he rightly argues we have to wild animals. (shrink)
A good therapeutic relationship in mental health services is a predictor of positive clinical outcomes for people who seek help for distressing experiences, such as voice hearing and paranoia. One factor that may affect the quality of the therapeutic relationship and raises further ethical issues is the impact of the clinical encounter on users’ sense of self, and in particular on their sense of agency. In the paper, we discuss some of the reasons why the sense of epistemic agency may (...) be especially fragile in young people with unusual experiences and beliefs. We argue that it is important to identify and avoid behaviours that can undermine young people’s contributions as epistemic agents in the clinical encounter. (shrink)
The Zhuangzi, a 4th century BCE Chinese text, is optimistic about life unrestrained by entrenched values. This paper contributes to existing debates on Zhuangzian freedom in three ways. First, it reflects on how it is possible to enjoy the freedom envisaged in the Zhuangzi. Many discussions welcome the Zhuangzi’s picture of release from life shaped by canonical visions, without also giving thought to life without these driving visions. Consider this scenario: in a world with limitless possibilities, would it not be (...) fraught, not knowing how to interpret situations? I suggest that freedom in the Zhuangzi is possible only if one succeeds in reorienting herself to the new ‘normal’. Second, I introduce and develop the idea of working with constraints. This focuses on an agent's maximizing the fit between relevant conditions, on the one hand, and their capabilities, on the other. Finally, I propose that self-directed practice, an important expression of agency, is required for building capabilities that enable such freedom. I examine the idea of risk involved in these firsthand experiences, articulating an account of agency that sits at the heart of hard-won Zhuangzian freedom. (shrink)
In his latest paper on animal agency, Glock (2019) presents a series of arguments to the extent that non-linguistic animals are capable of acting rationally and for reasons. This notwithstanding, he still denies them the ability to conceptualise reasons as reasons. I will argue that, in using Glock’s account, one can in fact claim that non- linguistic animals are capable of conceptualising reasons as reasons. For this, I will apply Glock’s own criteria for concept-possession to the concepts of a reason (...) and of intention. My argument will thus be twofold. First, I will directly argue for the idea that animals can conceptualise reasons as reasons. Second, I will refer to empirical research suggesting that animals attribute intentions to others. If the ability to conceptualise intentions really is necessary for conceptualising reasons, then this research should provide further plausibility to the claim that animals can conceptualise reasons as reasons. I thus submit that my arguments will further improve upon Glock’s account by (1) showing that animals can conceptualise reasons as reason, (2) lending further support to the idea that non-human animals can act rationally, and (3) providing some initial foundation for the claim that they can reason. (shrink)
The Shape of Agency offers interlinked explanations of the basic building blocks of agency, as well as its exemplary instances. The first part offers accounts of a collection of related phenomena that have long troubled philosophers of action: control over behaviour, non-deviant causation, and intentional action. These accounts build on earlier work in the causalist tradition, and undermine the claims made by many that causalism cannot offer a satisfying account of non-deviant causation, and therefore fails as an account of intentional (...) action. The second part turns to modes of agentive excellence—ways that agents display quality of form—providing a novel account of skill, including an account of the ways that agents display more or less skill. Shepherd discusses the role of knowledge in skill, and concludes that while knowledge is often important, it is inessential. This leads to a discussion of the way that knowledge of action and knowledge of how to act informs action execution. Knowledgeable action includes a unique epistemic underpinning: in knowledgeable action, the agent has authoritative knowledge of what she is doing and how she is doing it when and because she is poised to control her action by way of practical reasoning. (shrink)
Philosophy of action in the context of Classical China is radically different from its counterpart in the contemporary Western philosophical narrative. Classical Chinese philosophers began from the assumption that relations are primary to the constitution of the person, hence acting in the early Chinese context necessarily is interacting and co-acting along with others –human and nonhuman actors. This book is the first monograph dedicated to the exploration and rigorous reconstruction of an extraordinary strategy for efficacious relational action devised by Classical (...) Chinese philosophers in order to account for the interdependent and embedded character of human agency –what the author has denominated “adapting” or “adaptive agency” (yin 因). As opposed to more unilateral approaches to action also conceptualized in the Classical Chinese corpus, such as forceful and prescriptive agency, adapting requires great capacity of self and other-awareness, equanimity, flexibility, creativity, and response, which allows the agent to co-raise courses of action ad-hoc: unique and temporary solutions to specific, non-permanent, and non-generalizable life problems. Adapting is one of the world’s oldest philosophies of action, and yet it is shockingly new for contemporary audiences, who will find in it an unlikely source of inspiration to deal with our current global problems. This book explores the core conception of adapting both on autochthonous terms and by cross-cultural comparison, drawing on the European and Analytic philosophical traditions as well as on scholarship from other disciplines, opening a brand-new topic in Chinese and comparative philosophy. (shrink)
This paper proposes a distinctive kind of agency that can vindicate the agency of members of marginalised groups while accommodating the autonomy-undermining influences of oppression. Socially-embedded agency—the locus of which is in the exercise of our ability to negotiate between different social features—is compatible with, and can explain, various phenomena, including double-consciousness and white fragility. Moreover, although socially-embedded agency is neither necessary nor sufficient for autonomy, exercising it is practically necessary for autonomy, at least for members of marginalised groups in (...) our non-ideal world. (shrink)
Philosophers have urged that considerations about the psychopath’s capacity for practical rationality can help to advance metaethical debates. These debates include the role of rational faculties in moral judgment and action, the relationship between moral judgment and moral motivation, and the capacities required for morally responsible agency. I discuss how the psychopath’s capacity for practical reason features in these debates, and I identify several takeaway lessons from the relevant literature. Specifically, I show how the insights contained therein can illuminate the (...) complex structure of practical rationality, inform our standards for an adequate theory of practical reason, and frame our thinking about the significance of rational capacities in moral theory and social practice. (shrink)
This dissertation argues that cognition is a kind of natural agency. Natural agency is the capacity that certain systems have to act in accordance with their own norms. Natural agents are systems that bias their repertoires in response to affordances in the pursuit of their goals. Cognition is a special mode of this general phenomenon. Cognitive systems are agents that have the additional capacity to actively take their worlds to be certain ways, regardless of whether the world is really that (...) way. In this way, cognitive systems are desituated. Desituatedness is the root of specifically cognitive capacities for representation and abstraction. There are two main reasons why this view needs defending. First, natural agency is typically viewed as incompatible with natural science because it is committed to a teleological mode of explanation. Second, cognition is typically held to be categorically distinct from natural agency. This dissertation argues against both of these views. It argues against the incompatibility of agency and natural science by demonstrating that systems biology, general systems theory, and sciences that deal with complex systems have typically underappreciated conceptual and theoretical resources for grounding agency in the causal structure of the world. These conceptual resources do not, however, reduce agency to systems theory because the normativity inherent in agency demands descriptive resources beyond those of even the most sophisticated systems theory. It argues against the categorical difference between natural agency and cognition by pointing out that separating cognition from a richer web of situated, ecologically embedded relations between the agent and the world generates the frame problem, which is an insuperable obstacle to making cognition that is sufficiently responsive to the complexity of the world. Rooting cognition in natural agency is a more robust empirical bet for theorizing cognition and artificial intelligence. (shrink)
Creepiness and the emotion of the creeps have been overlooked in the moral philosophy and moral psychology literatures. We argue that the creeps is a morally significant emotion in its own right, and not simply a type of fear, disgust, or anger (though it shares features with those emotions). Reflecting on cases, we defend a novel account of the creeps as felt in response to creepy people. According to our moral insensitivity account, the creeps is fitting just when its object (...) is agential activity that is insensitive to basic moral considerations. When, only when, and insofar as someone is disposed to such insensitivity, they are a creep. Such insensitivity, especially in extreme forms, raises doubts about creeps’ moral agency. We distinguish multiple types of insensitivity, respond to concerns that feeling the creeps is itself objectionable, and conclude with a discussion of epistemic issues relating to the creeps. (shrink)
The possibility of error conditions the possibility of normative principles. I argue that extant interpretations of this condition undermine the possibility of normative principles for our action because they implicitly treat error as a perfection of an action. I then explain how a constitutivist metaphysics of capacities explains why error is an imperfection of an action. Finally, I describe and defend the interpretation of the error condition which follows.
This chapter treats Hubert Dreyfus’ account of skilled coping as part of his wider project of demonstrating the sovereignty of practical intelligence over all other forms of intelligence. In contrast to the standard picture of human beings as essentially rational, individual agents, Dreyfus argued powerfully on phenomenological and empirical grounds that humans are fundamentally embedded, absorbed, and embodied. These commitments are present throughout Dreyfus’ philosophical writings, from his critique of Artificial Intelligence research in the 1970s and 1980s to his rejection (...) of John McDowell’s conceptualism in his 2005 APA Presidential Address. The present chapter articulates Dreyfus’ proposal for a contentless, non-mentalistic form of intentionality by contrasting his position with that of his U.C. Berkeley colleague John Searle and defending it as a plausible alternative to the so-called “Standard Story” of intentional action as the effect of an agent’s mental states. (shrink)
It is largely uncontroversial that to love some person or object is (among other things) to care about that person or object. Love and caring, however, are importantly different attitudes. We do not love every person or object about which we care. In this work, we critically analyze extant accounts of how love differs from mere caring, and we propose an alternate view in order to better capture this distinction.