Blog Coordinator

« Willpower and the End of Diachronic Self-Governance | Main | Moving Upward, not Forward? »



Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Reading this I was reminded of examples of planning in nonhumans - eg chimpanzees will travel for 30 minutes to find the right type of grass to bring back to fish for ants in a nest. This implies a lesser difference between a norm and a practical policy or extended chain of behaviours.

David raises an interesting question (or set of questions). If we adopt these accounts of diachronic and synchronic self-governance and tie them to plan rationality, how low does this set the bar for agency? It seems that not only children (at least of a certain age of maturity) will clear the hurdle. The same can arguably be said about other species--e.g., chimpanzies, gorillas, dolphins, elephants, dogs, and the corvids (to name a few). While Frankfurt was quick to deny that any other species on Earth had, for instance, the capacity for higher order reasoning, I am not sure this denial was grounded in close attention to the data from comparative psychology on just how rich and sophisticated the reasoning can be in these animals rather than simply a speciesist assumption on Frankfurt's part. I am not claiming that these animals positively do possess the capacity for second order desires and the like, but I am suggesting that perhaps it ought to be an open question. If so, this also broadens the scope of the investigation when it comes to moral agency and the like. Just a thought...

Thanks to David and Thomas for these interesting, thoughtful comments.

I agree with the spirit of both comments: agency comes in different forms, and it is an empirical issue which forms are instantiated by which animals. Indeed, this is in the spirit of the Gricean creature construction methodology that I have drawn on in my work. What we can do in philosophy is provide well-articulated, philosophically attuned models of different kinds of agency and let researchers – a prime example is Michael Tomasello and his colleagues – explore related empirical issues.

That said, I would want to highlight several ideas:

1. The kind of planning agency I have tried to describe involves (to use an idea from Allan Gibbard) a kind of normative guidance – where accepting a norm is tied, roughly, to a disposition to react to violations with a kind of “Darn it!” reaction. This allows for a kind of planning agency that is less demanding, as David suggests. And this is why I think that our descriptive/explanatory theorizing about human agency needs to be coordinated with our normative theorizing about practical rationality.

2. I do think that you can be a norm-guided planning agent without having the capacity for self-governance (an example might be young human children), since I take it that self-governance does involve some sort of capacity for effective reflection. This is why guidance by an end that is not modifiable under reflection (an example that comes up in my exchange with Kieran Setiya is a non-modifiable intention to smoke) will normally not be self-governance. (Though Frankfurt’s idea of volitional necessities complicates this.)

3. An important question – central, for example, to Tomasello’s work -- is the relation between the capacity for planning agency and the capacity for shared agency. Again, what we philosophers can contribute here are well-articulated, systematic and philosophically attuned models of these different forms of agency. (That is what I tried to do in my 2014 book.)

Just looking through Chrisman on "Epistemic Normativity and Cognitive Agency", who mentions beliefs may well be non-agentially acquired. I suppose there are empirical reasons why individuals who cleave to a norm of consistency and following through a plan ("good or bad") might be more likely to be practically successful, whether they follow the norm because of instinct (in animals, preverbal children), unthinkingly following societal rules, or because of reflection on previous successes by themselves or others.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Books about Agency

3QD Prize 2014: Marcus Arvan