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Reader, Soran. The Other Side of Agency
2007, Philosophy 82 (4):579-604

In our philosophical tradition and our wider culture, we tend to think of persons as agents. This agential conception is flattering, but in this paper I will argue that it conceals a more complex truth about what persons are. In 1. I set the issues in context. In 2. I critically explore four features commonly presented as fundamental to personhood in versions of the agential conception: action, capability, choice and independence. In 3. I argue that each of these agential features presupposes a non-agential feature: agency presupposes patiency, capability presupposes incapability, choice presupposes necessity and independence presupposes dependency. In 4. I argue that such non-agential features, as well as being implicit within the agential conception, are as apt to be constitutive of personhood as agential features, and in 5. I conclude.

Comment: This text offers an unique perspective of personhood which aims to push against the prevailing norm, in both contemporary analytic philosophy and broader culture, of viewing persons as agent. As Reader points out, this norm has led to the embedding of unchallenged assumptions that a person as agent is one who matters, who counts, while a person as patient is one who does not. "When I am passive, incapable, constrained, dependent, I am less a person, I count less." In challenging this underlying assumption, Reader addresses common political, ethical, conceptual and metaphysical questions about the self in a new way. However, she also offers a clear and straightforward outline of the conception of person as agent, including four features which she deems as central to the conception: action, capability, freedom and independence. For this reason, the text would be useful first, in clarifying the existing agential perpsective, but also as an alternative, or a direct counter, to this perspective and the more traditional 20th century approaches to investigating the self. For example, it might be useful in a political philosophy course as a counter weight to Rawls, Taylor, Nussbaum, and their conceptions of the person as citizen.

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