Agency in search of a function


  • Benjamin D. Crowe University of Utah and Boston University



agency, policy, Bratmanian, literature,


My argument focuses on Chapter Ten, where Millgram argues that a family of recent theories of agency mistakenly transfers a model of agency that works for parts of a life to a person’s life as a whole. As serial hyperspecializers, we are segmented agents. In their efforts at explaining the distinction between attitudes (or actions) that are merely attributable to an agent versus those that are attributable in a superlative sense, philosophers produce conceptual devices that actually fail to capture what happens in the crucial interstices between segments. Without myself proposing to defend any particular recent account of agency, I examine below why this merely-superlatively attributable distinction matters. Picking up some threads from three nineteenth-century works of literature, I suggest that this distinction helps us to identify whether or not someone is being in earnest about life. I conclude the discussion by first considering what difference segmented agency makes to my account and then by taking a look at another literary work, Goethe’s Faust, in order to motivate mild skepticism about whether we are likely to find a conceptual device that can help us in our passages from one segment of agency to another.