Animal Agency

Inquiry 52 (3):217-231 (2009)
Are animals agents? This question demands a prior answer to the question of what an agent is. The paper argues that we ought not to think of this as merely a matter of choosing from a range of alternative definitional stipulations. Evidence from developmental psychology is offered in support of the view that a basic concept of agency is a very early natural acquisition, which is established prior to the development of any full-blown propositional attitude concepts. Then it is argued that whatever one makes of the developmental evidence, it is in any case arguable on other grounds that the concept of agency as we have it in adulthood remains perfectly comprehensible independently of any reference to the more sophisticated propositional attitudes. Any reluctance we might feel to ascribe such things as beliefs to non-human animals, therefore, need not stand in the way of the claim that they are agents, nevertheless. The paper attempts to characterise the core of this basic agency concept, and discusses, albeit briefly, the question how we ought to decide which animals are to be thought of as falling under it. It concludes with some speculations about the nature of the intellectual currents which have made the shape of this important concept so hard for us to discern.
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DOI 10.1080/00201740902917119
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James Barham (2012). Normativity, Agency, and Life. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C 43 (1):92-103.
Edmund Henden (2012). Addictive Actions. Philosophical Psychology 26 (3):362-382.
James Barham (2012). Normativity, Agency, and Life. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 43 (1):92-103.

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