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Christensen Wayne | Fellow Senior
2010-02-01 - 2012-01-31 | Research area: Cognition and Sociality
A Naturalist Theory of Agency
The goal of this project is to complete a book project, which will be submitted to to the Cognition, Brain and Behavior series of MIT Press. The book will develop a theory of the cognitive and biological grounding of personal agency. Agency is a central topic of research in philosophy with fundamental and wide-ranging significance. Reflective agency is commonly regarded as central to personhood, autonomy and moral normativity. As such, it has great practical significance. Most philosophers take the cognitive basis for reflective agency to be more or less self-evident and unproblematic, however some influential strands of empirical and philosophical research have challenged the causal role of introspective awareness in cognition (e.g. Libet 1999, Wegner 2002, Greene and Haidt 2002). In philosophy of cognitive science Dennett (1991) has influentially criticized “Cartesian theatre” views that posit a central locus for conscious awareness and control. There have been numerous philosophical responses to the more influential challenges (e.g., Zhu 2003 on Libet, Bayne 2006 on Wegner). But given the breadth of the empirical and conceptual issues what is needed is not a piecemeal response to specific experiments, but rather a broad-based engagement between agency theory and empirical cognitive research. The book will develop such an engagement, and will have four main theoretical components: (1) an account of the integrated operation of automatic and controlled processes in voluntary action control, (2) a theory positing a common basis in hierarchical control for goal-directed and reflective agency, (3) a theory of agent individuation that takes biological individuality as a template, and (4) a theory of the naturalist grounding of agency norms.