Rational Agency without Self‐Knowledge: Could ‘We’ Replace ‘I’?

Dialectica 71 (1):3-33 (2017)
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Abstract
It has been claimed that we need singular self-knowledge to function properly as rational agents. I argue that this is not strictly true: agents in certain relations could dispense with singular self-knowledge and instead rely on plural self-knowledge. In defending the possibility of this kind of ‘selfless agent’, I thereby defend the possibility of a certain kind of ‘seamless’ collective agency; agency in a group of agents who have no singular self-knowledge, who do not know which member of the group they are. I discuss four specific functions for which singular self-knowledge has been thought indispensable: distinguishing intentional from unintentional actions, connecting non-indexical knowledge with action, reflecting on our own reasoning, and identifying which ultimate practical reasons we have. I argue in each case that by establishing certain relations between agents – relations I label ‘motor vulnerability’, ‘cognitive vulnerability’, ‘evidential unity’ and ‘moral unity’ – we would allow those agents to do everything a rational agent needs to do while relying only on plural, rather than singular, self-knowledge. Finally, I consider the objection that any agents who met the conditions I lay out for selfless agency would thereby cease to qualify as distinct agents, merging into a single agent without agential parts. Against this objection, I argue that we should recognise the possibility of simultaneous agency in whole and parts, and not regard either as disqualifying the other.
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Archival date: 2017-06-30
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