Agency and Character: A View of Action and Agency

Dissertation, Temple University (1997)

Pauline Kaurin
Pacific Lutheran University
Standard accounts in action theory, given by Davidson, Hornsby, Thalberg and Chisholm explain action and agency by reducing them to descriptions, mental states and/or bodily movements. I argue such accounts are insufficient; they fail to take into account the full range of agency. Agency is individual and social. When agents perform actions, they consider ideas, beliefs and desires that are part of a social, moral and conventional network; these also give meaning and significance to the agent's actions. By isolating the action and the agent from this network, they risk removing the meaning from agency and fail to recognize how agents deliberate about and actually perform actions. ;Using Jerome Segal's presence theory of agency and David Hume's views on self and character as a foundation, I construct a theory of agency acknowledging the role of the social, normative and conventional aspects of agency. The moral/normative standards, habits, religious beliefs and social structures influence and are a part of action and agency. I argue agents are defined as selves with particular characters. Hume's commonwealth metaphor of the self suggests the significance of the normative and social to the self. Based upon this, Hume's account of character enables us to develop a view of agency where promising creates a new moral situation, and certain character traits are seen as moral obligations. This view acknowledges actions are performed by individuals who have a strong sense of themselves as active through their actions, but allows for the roles of the networks and contexts within which these agents act. ;I take this model of agency and apply it to a specific agent, the soldier. The agency of the soldier is narrow, well-defined and strictly enforced, but it demonstrates the role that character, identity and trust play in forming responsible agents, who are expected to act morally in situations of stress. Since this character based account of agency is able to cope with the problems raised by military agency I conclude that it can be extended to a more general sense of agency, with which ethics, society and law are concerned
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