Thu Apr 28, 2016
Anton Ford (University of Chicago)
The Province of Human Agency
Philosophers of action tend to identify action with bodily movement, and a theory of action with a theory of bodily movement. The underlying conception of human agency—corporealism—shows itself in various ways: in commonly held theses (e.g. that actions are bodily movements under some description), in stock examples of action (e.g. arm-raising), in standard accounts of the aim of action theory (e.g. “the problem of action”) and in the general neglect of certain topics (e.g. our use of instruments). One well-known expression of corporealism is Davidson’s claim that “we never do more than move our bodies: the rest is up to nature.” The prevailing corporealism understands itself in opposition to a conception of human agency handed down from the early modern period—volitionalism—a conception on which we never do more than will, the rest being up to nature. Both corporealism and volitionalism are dualistic in the sense that they divide what is presumed to be an unproblematic case of intentional action, like peeling an apple, into two parts, only one of which is the agent’s contribution to what happens. A third conception of agency—materialism—rejects dualism, so understood. One well-known expression of materialism is Anscombe’s slogan, “I do what happens.” I will argue that corporealism is an unstable position, and moreover, that what has led so many philosophers to reject volitionalism in favor of corporealism should lead those same philosophers to reject corporealism in favor of materialism.