In various accounts of human agency, the agent’s self-conception plays an important role in attributions of agency and moral responsibility. This can be implicit, as when Harry Frankfurt uses an individual’s experience of anger as alien to show how the rise of passion was external to him—something that happened to him and not something he did. But there are various reasons this approach could be mistaken. Because experiencing desires (and resulting actions) as external often hinges on one’s self-conceptions, and self-conceptions are unreliable, I contest the idea that experiencing an element as external makes it external. Such desires, passions, and actions can be very much one’s own, even if one does not see them that way. We ought to be careful, then, in the weight we give an individual’s self-conception when assessing agency, moral responsibility, and so forth. After analyzing experiences of alienation in light of the possibility of self-ignorance, I draw on the phenomenological tradition (primarily Merleau-Ponty and Heidegger) to offer an account of the self-ignorance distinctive of engaged human agency. Finally, I explore the role and limitations of self-conceptions and agential aspirations in determining our engaged agential standpoint.
Post-Kantian European Philosophy Seminar Convenors: Joseph Schear, Manuel Dries, and Mark Wrathall