Performance, self-explanation, and agency

Philosophical Studies 172 (10):2777-2798 (2015)
Social constructionist explanations of human thought and behavior hold that our representations produce and regulate the categories, thoughts, and behaviors of those they represent. Performative versions of constructionist accounts explain these thoughts and behaviors as part of an intentional, strategic performance that is elicited and regulated by our representations of ourselves. This paper has four aims. First, I sketch a causal model of performative social constructionist claims. Second, I articulate a puzzling feature of performative claims that makes them seem especially implausible: the puzzle of intention and ignorance. Like other constructionists, performative constructionists are especially interested in explaining thoughts and behaviors that are widely but mistakenly believed to be the unintentional consequences of membership in a natural kind. But why doesn’t the intentional performance of a category undermine this ignorance? My third aim is to resolve this puzzle. I suggest that a plausible understanding can be found in the failure to locate one’s mental states in a causal explanation of one’s thoughts and actions. Finally, I argue that this model implies that the sorts of theories we offer of particular behaviors can create or destroy agency and responsibility with regard to those behaviors
Keywords Social construction  Race  Gender  Self-knowledge  Agency  Responsibility  Performance  Performativity
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DOI 10.1007/s11098-015-0444-y
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