Is The Concept Of Rational Agency Coherent?

Philosophical Writings 33 (3) (2006)

Bryony Pierce
Bristol University (PhD)
The concept of rational agency commonly presupposes the freedom of the agent to act autonomously, for reasons of the agent’s own choosing. If we are rational agents, the normative nature of reason and the presupposition of autonomy appear to preclude a deterministic account of rational agency, in which actions would be reducible to events within a causally closed physical system. This paper will challenge the notion of rational agency as involving self-determination in the sense of freedom of action. My thesis will be that a concept of rational agency that presupposes freedom of action is incoherent. For ‘rational agency’, I will substitute ‘rational reagency,’ i.e. behaviour that is a reasoned response to an existing state of affairs, and as such does not require freedom of action. Reasons will be reduced to actual or hypothetical causal factors and normativity will be retained in the form of conditional statements with implicit objectives
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