What Is an Agent?
Rovane (Carol)
Source: Synthese, Vol. 140, No. 1/2, Knowledge and Decision: Essays on Isaac Levi (May, 2004), pp. 181-198
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Introduction

  1. Isaac Levi and I agree that there can be group agents formed out of two or more human beings.
  2. I've argued elsewhere that if we properly understand the detailed philosophical grounds for the possibility of such group agents, those very grounds offer up another possibility in quite the opposite direction, the possibility of two or more multiple agents within the same human being.
  3. In this paper I want to address some of the natural reservations that are likely to arise about both of these claims, by first articulating as sympathetically as I can some of the reasons why it might seem, nevertheless, that human beings are basic agents - basic in a sense that does not carry over to the group and multiple cases and, indeed, basic in a sense that makes them the only bona fide cases of agency.
  4. In order to explain why these reasons are unconvincing, I will have to provide a somewhat more detailed account than Levi himself has given of how and why group agents are possible, and to take up as well what makes for the possibility of multiple agents, which he does not discuss.
  5. But this paper is intended as a tribute to a philosopher who saw clearly from early on that human size is not basic to agency and, among the very small number of philosophers who saw this, is perhaps the only one who had right the general direction of reasons why they are not. It's a real pleasure to have this chance to acknowledge not just his influence but the solidarity he showed during my efforts to work out what is a manifestly unorthodox and unpopular philosophical view.

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