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The Philosophical Challenge from China$
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Brian Bruya

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780262028431

Published to MIT Press Scholarship Online: September 2015

DOI: 10.7551/mitpress/9780262028431.001.0001

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Action without Agency and Natural Human Action

Action without Agency and Natural Human Action

Resolving a Double Paradox

(p.339) 13 Action without Agency and Natural Human Action
The Philosophical Challenge from China

Brian Bruya

The MIT Press

In the philosophy of action, it is generally understood that action presupposes an agent performing or guiding the action. Action is also generally understood as distinct from the kind of motion that happens in nature. Together these common perspectives on action rule out both action without agency and natural action. And yet, there are times when action can seem qualitatively both natural and lacking a sense of agency. Recently, David Velleman, referring to work by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Zhuangzi, has considered the possibility of agency without agency. In this chapter, I build on Velleman’s work and posit the notion of self-organization (which in the natural sciences serves as the basis for many familiar kinds of motion in nature) to also serve as the basis for human behavior. If action is a variety of behavior, conceiving of human behavior as fundamentally an instance of self-organization unifies human action with nature from the beginning and allows us to conceptualize the possibility of human action without presupposing the necessity of agency. I go on to entertain three types of human behavior in which the sense of agency is significantly absent and which progressively qualify as action.

Keywords:   self-organization, action, David Velleman, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Zhuangzi, natural action, agency, action without agency, flow, plural self

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