Philosophy of Agency


The Society for Philosophy of Agency exists to promote the philosophical study of agency. Philosophical interest in the nature of human agency goes back at least as far as Plato and Aristotle. Interest in the subject has not wavered over the past two millennia, with many major figures posing questions concerning the various problems associated
with human agency, and proposing answers to them. Add to this the fact that over the past fifty years there has been a substantial increase in the number of philosophers working on human agency within the analytic tradition (with a major spike in interest over the past ten to fifteen years). 

Perhaps because of how the study of human agency touches on virtually every major philosophical sub-discipline, what has failed to emerge is a distinctive sense of the study of human agency as constituting a unified philosophical sub-discipline in its own right. The lack of a recognizable sub-discipline has led to a fair amount of recent debate in the blogosphere and elsewhere among those working on human agency over what it is they are doing. Is it Ethics? Metaphysics? Philosophy of Mind? Philosophy of Action? For younger philosophers finishing up their PhDs this has been a source of some anxiety given that they are not quite sure how to identify their AOS. 
 
It is our hope that we can unify those working on the various problems that are concerned with the nature of human agency into one philosophical sub-discipline, the Philosophy of Agency. Why ‘Philosophy of Agency’? Because a concern with trying to understand human agency unifies the study of a number of various problems and clusters of problems as diverse as the nature of intention and intentional action, free will, mental agency, akrasia and enkrasia, motivation and reasons, moral responsibility, and autonomy to name just a few. Broadly, then, the Philosophy of Agency is a sub-discipline that brings together and subsumes what are regarded as disparate problems, including some that are shared with other philosophical sub-disciplines, into one unified field of study. It is also a sub-discipline that encompasses various methodological approaches. 

Does this mean that specialists in the Philosophy of Agency are persons who work on every problem related to human agency? To think so would be naïve. Few philosophers working in any philosophical sub-discipline “do it all” within that sub-discipline. Just as one may be accurately described as working in Epistemology if one spends one’s entire career working on skepticism while failing to do any work on social epistemology, one may be accurately described as working in the Philosophy of Agency even if one works on action theory (or some proper sub-field thereof) during one’s entire career while failing to do any substantial work on free will or akrasia.
 
As a step towards promoting the Philosophy of Agency as a distinctive sub-discipline, we have created the Society for the Philosophy of Agency. We do not wish for this to be just a U.S. or even just a North American Society. Rather, our intention is that the SPA be an international society. For the foreseeable future, however, our events are limited to group sessions at Division Meetings of the American Philosophical Association. As the opportunities arise and as our membership base expands, we hope to expand SPA activities to other venues.