Rational Agency without Self‐Knowledge: Could ‘We’ Replace ‘I’?

Dialectica 71 (1):3-33 (2017)
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Abstract

It has been claimed that we need singular self-knowledge to function properly as rational agents. I argue that this is not strictly true: agents in certain relations could dispense with singular self-knowledge and instead rely on plural self-knowledge. In defending the possibility of this kind of ‘selfless agent’, I thereby defend the possibility of a certain kind of ‘seamless’ collective agency; agency in a group of agents who have no singular self-knowledge, who do not know which member of the group they are. I discuss four specific functions for which singular self-knowledge has been thought indispensable: distinguishing intentional from unintentional actions, connecting non-indexical knowledge with action, reflecting on our own reasoning, and identifying which ultimate practical reasons we have. I argue in each case that by establishing certain relations between agents – relations I label ‘motor vulnerability’, ‘cognitive vulnerability’, ‘evidential unity’ and ‘moral unity’ – we would allow those agents to do everything a rational agent needs to do while relying only on plural, rather than singular, self-knowledge. Finally, I consider the objection that any agents who met the conditions I lay out for selfless agency would thereby cease to qualify as distinct agents, merging into a single agent without agential parts. Against this objection, I argue that we should recognise the possibility of simultaneous agency in whole and parts, and not regard either as disqualifying the other.

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Luke Roelofs
New York University

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References found in this work

Reasons and Persons.Derek Parfit - 1984 - Oxford, GB: Oxford University Press.
What we owe to each other.Thomas Scanlon - 1998 - Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
Thinking, Fast and Slow.Daniel Kahneman - 2011 - New York: New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Group agency: the possibility, design, and status of corporate agents.Christian List & Philip Pettit - 2011 - New York: Oxford University Press. Edited by Philip Pettit.
What We Owe to Each Other.Thomas Scanlon - 2002 - Mind 111 (442):323-354.

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