First-Person Aspects of Agency
Baker (Lynne Rudder)
Source: SISTM Quarterly, 2:10–16, 1979. Renamed Journal of Cognitive Science
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Introduction

  1. To understand human action, two paths need pursuit. One has had ample traffic; the other has been relatively neglected. The well-worn path deals with questions of the causal history of an action: Did it have its source, as Aristotle would say, in the agent? At the time of the action, was the agent constrained, coerced, under duress?' In what sense could the agent have done otherwise? Principles based on answers to these questions would constitute a set of conditions which must obtain at t if a given change at t is to count as an action.
  2. These questions presuppose familiarity with the less-travelled path, the one which leads to determining the very conditions of agency. It is often assumed that agency can be understood in terms of agent causation1. My concern here is not with the causation2 of actions but with what underlies the ability to cause actions: What is required for an entity to be an agent at all? The claim is that the crucial condition for agency is self-consciousness3. Increasing plausibility accrues to this claim as the role of self-consciousness4 in agency is explored in detail. Any satisfactory account of the causation5 or initiation of actions will have to include the first- person aspects of agency developed here.
  3. This investigation is thus an effort to get behind questions such as Wittgenstein's: "What is left over if I subtract the fact that my arm goes up from the fact that I raise my arm?" Wittgenstein's posing of this question takes for granted the issue dealt with here: What is it about the fact that we think of ourselves in the first-person that is relevant to our being agents?


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