Action without Agency and Natural Human Action: Resolving a Double Paradox

In The Philosophical Challenge from China. Cambridge, MA, USA: pp. 339-365 (2015)

Brian Bruya
Eastern Michigan University
In the philosophy of action, it is generally understood that action presupposes an agent performing or guiding the action. Action is also generally understood as distinct form the kind of motion that happens in nature. Together these common perspectives on action rule out both action without agency and natural action. And yet, there are times when action can seem qualitatively both natural and lacking a sense of agency. Recently, David Velleman, referring to work by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Zhuangzi, has considered the possibility of agency without agency. In this chapter, I build on Velleman's work and posit the notion of self-organization (which in the natural sciences serves as the basis for many familiar kinds of motion in nature) to also serve as the basis for human behavior. If action is a variety of behavior, conceiving of human behavior as fundamentally an instance of self-organization unifies human action with nature from the beginning and allows us to conceptualize the possibility of human action without presupposing the necessity of agency. I go on to entertain three types of human behavior in which the sense of agency is significantly absent and which progressively qualify as action.
Keywords No keywords specified (fix it)
Categories (categorize this paper)
Buy the book Find it on
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

PhilArchive copy

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy     Papers currently archived: 55,935
External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

No references found.

Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Comparative Philosophy: Chinese and Western.David Wong - 2008 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Schütz and Marx on Action.J. Fumer - 2011 - South African Journal of Philosophy 30 (2).
Schütz and Marx on Action.James Furner - 2011 - South African Journal of Philosophy 30 (2):109-121.
How Does It Feel to Act Together?Elisabeth Pacherie - 2014 - Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 13 (1):25-46.
Animals, Agency and Resistance.Bob Carter & Nickie Charles - 2013 - Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour 43 (3):322-340.
Hume and the Metaphysics of Agency.Joshua M. Wood - 2014 - Journal of the History of Philosophy 52 (1):87-112.
Action Knowledge & Will.John Hyman - 2015 - Oxford University Press UK.
The Sense of Control and the Sense of Agency.Elisabeth Pacherie - 2007 - PSYCHE: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Research On Consciousness 13:1 - 30.


Added to PP index

Total views

Recent downloads (6 months)

How can I increase my downloads?


Sorry, there are not enough data points to plot this chart.

My notes