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Kinds of Agency and the Role of Reflective Endorsement

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy

Human beings act, and it is intuitive to think that they are agents in a rather unique way, one that is different from other animals. This intuition has led some philosophers to think that human agency exhibits the distinctive feature of being self-controlled, self-governed and autonomous. Some authors identify a form of agency, sometimes defined as full-blown, strong or par excellence, with which we can only credit human beings, and which is taken to be distinctive of some human actions. Within this framework, a prominent understanding of the notion of self-governance conceives it in terms of the agent directing and governing his own practical thought and actions. This position not only considers that self-governance is required for our behaviour to count as a full-blown action, but it also identifies the condition of self-governance with the agent’s reflective endorsement: with the commitment to his own doings by means of his reflective capacities.
This thesis asks whether it makes sense to distinguish two kinds of agency, one of which is specifically human and expresses the agent’s self-governance. I take issue with the prominent attempt to make sense of the distinction in terms of reflective endorsement and I claim that there are foundational reasons why accounts that employ this notion are unsatisfactory. In particular I argue that reflective endorsement approaches to agency are too restrictive and not realistic. While the main aim of the thesis is to criticize the fundamental assumptions that ground this highly prominent view of human actions, the difficulties that will emerge from my discussion will point at the desiderata for an alternative theory of agency, which will remain as a working hypothesis to develop in further work.
Original languageEnglish
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Award date2015

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