Control and Vulnerability: Reflections on the Nature of Human Agency and the Concept of a Person
By: Sharli Paphitis (Ph.D. Candidate, Rhodes)
In the Analytic philosophical literature on agency, self-control is taken to be
the defining feature of both agency and personhood. In this literature,
however, not enough attention is paid to the actual business of living, where
all manner of practical constraints threaten our ability to exercise
self-control. I will argue that a robust account of agency needs to take these
practical constraints seriously, and in doing so I aim not only to show that
agency can be threatened by such constraints but, also, and
crucially, that agency can only exist in contexts where it is threatened.
Moreover, when we start to pay attention to the actual business of living, it
becomes clear that self-control, although central to our understanding of
agency, is somewhat less important than typically thought for understanding
personhood. Although we should value agency greatly, persons are more than
merely agents, and an account of what is valuable in human life would be
radically impoverished if it merely focused on our agency.