Situated agency: towards an affordance-based, sensorimotor theory of action

Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 17 (4):761-785 (2018)
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Recent empirical findings from social psychology, ecological psychology, and embodied cognitive science indicate that situational factors crucially shape the course of human behavior. For instance, it has been shown that finding a dime, being under the influence of an authority figure, or just being presented with food in easy reach often influences behavior tremendously. These findings raise important new questions for the philosophy of action: Are these findings a threat to classical conceptions of human agency? Are humans passively pushed around by situational factors, or are there agential aspects in the way we spontaneously experience and react to situations? How can one conceptualize the pervasive influence of situational factors on human action? What are situations in the first place, and how should the influence of these situations on action be thought of? This paper sets out to develop a new conceptual repertoire for thinking about the influence of situations on action, drawing on research from ecological psychology as well as from embodied and enactive cognitive science. The key proposal is the development of a philosophical sensorimotor account of agency: Action, it is proposed, should be conceived of as constant dynamical interaction of agential and environmental factors – factors which should all be conceptualized in new ways.



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Martin Weichold
Universität Regensburg

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