Agential capacities: a capacity to guide

Philosophical Studies 179 (1):21-47 (2021)
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In paradigm exercises of agency, individuals guide their activities toward some goal. A central challenge for action theory is to explain how individuals guide. This challenge is an instance of the more general problem of how to accommodate individuals and their actions in the natural world, as explained by natural science. Two dominant traditions–primitivism and the causal theory–fail to address the challenge in a satisfying way. Causal theorists appeal to causation by an intention, through a feedback mechanism, in explaining guidance. Primitivists postulate primitive agential capacities in their explanations. The latter neglect to explain how primitive capacities integrate with findings from natural science. The former do not explain why some feedback mechanism’s activity amounts to the agent’s guidance. In this paper I argue that both traditions should acknowledge a capacity to guide, as actually constituted by the executive system. I argue that appeals to this empirically discovered psychological system explain how individuals guide in a way that integrates with explanations from cognitive science. Individuals’ capacity to guide is embedded in the natural world through the activity of its constituent (mechanistic) components.

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Denis Buehler
Institut Jean Nicod


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