The role of agency in distributed cognitive systems

Philosophy of Science 73 (5):710-719 (2006)
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In previous publications I have argued that much scientific activity should be thought of as involving the operation of distributed cognitive systems. Since these contributions to the cognitive study of science appear in venues not necessarily frequented by philosophers of science, I begin with a brief introduction to the notion of a distributed cognitive system. I then describe what I take to be an exemplary case of a scientific distributed cognitive system, the Hubble Space Telescope (HST). I do not here reargue the case for conceiving of systems like the HST as distributed cognitive systems. Rather, I examine a question that arises once one has adopted the perspective of distributed cognitive systems, namely, the role of agency in a distributed cognitive system. Here I argue, contrary to several advocates of distributed cognitive systems, that we should regard the human components of distributed cognitive systems as the only sources of agency within such systems. In particular, we should not extend notions of agency to such systems as a whole.



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