Reactive agency and technology

Fabio Tollon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Is there room for genuine human agency in a world populated by almost incessant technological distraction and influence? It often feels as though our technological landscape is pulling us in a number of directions, and that our agency is more a function of us reacting to the world as opposed to us exerting our will. In this paper I, explore what it would mean to take these contextual factors seriously and bake them into an account of agency. That is, what if agency is reactive all the way down? This is a proposal made by Rüdiger Bittner, who argues that the reason(s) for action are responses to states of affairs in the world. This is in contrast to ‘standard’ views of agency, which explain actions with things like beliefs and desires. Ultimately, I find such a reactive account of agency implausible. However, I think it reveals a potential solution to the ‘new’ problem of all-pervasive technologies: a reactive account does not see these technologies necessarily as a threat, but rather focuses our attention on the ways in which they change and shape our available context and our possibility to act. While I argue the reactive account goes too far, what I take from it is that our environment offers us various possibilities for action (in the form of affordances), and that we ought to take this seriously in our thinking both about agency and about the impacts of technology. Moreover, there is something to learn from our tendency to ‘fall’ for various ‘temptations’ in our environment, and this justifies further reflection on not only the design of different technologies, but whether such technologies ought to exist at all.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages8
JournalAI and Ethics
Early online date20 Nov 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 20 Nov 2023

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • agency
  • action theory
  • philosophy of technology
  • affordance
  • akrasia


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