Tuesday, April 17, 2012

A Thought on Pragmatic Agency

I have been musing on how to explain human agency within my Deweyan-pragmatic framework.  Here, I muse upon the basics.  Much of this will be familiar to those who know the embodied-mind framework as there are many similarities.

Many believe that agency begins in conscious thought.  This view holds that freedom allows choice, where human freedom is understood as the ability to generate and choose between options.  Some might argue for absolute freedom, though most contemporary views will accept some limitation originating from biology, the contingencies of the subject’s background or lack of reflection, or anything else that limits either the appearance or ability to realize a choice.  John Dewey offers the view that agency begins in the environment.  The appearance and making of choices not only does not begin with conscious awareness, but does not begin in the individual at all.  Those answers do not go far enough back into how the habits and dispositions of the individual were formed, sometimes going back decades, and how they guide our behavior on levels well below conscious awareness.  Many would balk at extending the concept of human agency to include far more than consciousness, but Dewey would insist that the separation is arbitrary and conventional.  It misleads as much as it explains.

“Habit” should be read as “historic natural patterns such as natural laws” and not “recurrent behaviors such as nervous ticks.”

For scholars, I tell you that I accept James Gouinlock's views though not his conservatism in his more recent work.  I also meld Foucauldian concerns into my perspective, which were issues not fully visible until after Dewey's time.


  1. http://www.cbs.columbia.edu/Owen_Flanagan_Oct2008.mp3

  2. Siiiiigh. Always the videos. I Never have enough time to commit to videos; they take too long.

  3. too bad cuz there are some good lectures out there...

  4. What makes them good? Are they better than corresponding texts? The problem, as always, is time and not lack of good material. A lecture takes much longer, so I generally only watch them if I need something from them. Otherwise, I prefer live chats at conferences, especially when talking to peeps from other fields.


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