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October 2021

Determinism and the recovery of human agency: The embodying of persons

Journal/Book: J Theor Soc Behav. 1999; 29: 108 Cowley Rd, Oxford Ox4 1Jf, Oxon, England. Blackwell Publ Ltd. 385+.

Abstract: Intending the recovery of human agency with the aid of theories of human socio-cultural life, Turner and Harre do so however in terms of conflicting conceptions of the embodying of persons. Consequently, their theories share the problem of determinism and embodied human agency. This is the problem of the proper location of agency with regard to the person, the body, and society. These theories then are in fundamental conflict on exactly this issue of the proper location of agency Turner's thesis of location: in the beginning is the body, and therefore the person. Thus Turner's recovery of agency: the effectiveness of persons resides in the discourse-independent agency of the bodies of persons. Harre's thesis of location: in the beginning is the person, and therefore the body. Thus Harre's recovery of agency: the effectiveness of persons resides in the discursive agency of persons embodied. For both Turner and Harre the intent to recover agency through embodiment is also a scientific intent. Thus, the problem of the proper location of agency requires that agency must be formulated in terms of ubiquitous determinism and not regularity determinism: only the former provides a conception of causal powers. To answer the question of location Turner is led to Merleau-Pontian phenomenology and its conception of the lived body. Instead, Harre enlists a realist philosophy of science with its special conception of causual powers. A systematic conception of agentive causation is shown to constitute the recovery of human agency and to enable us to make principled determinations in the assignment of agency. It is argued that, since phenomenology presumes the ontology of regularity determinism, it cannot provide us with what it in fact denies, a conception of causal powers. It is argued that Merleau-Ponty moved from his idea of the actual body as lived to the actual body as flesh, and in that reformulation it is best understood as causal powers. It is argued;that without a conception of causal powers Turner's use of the lived body to establish the agency of effective persons must fail, revealing instead that the effectiveness of persons is the discursive agency of persons embodied. Persons discursively embodied enact the practices of speech acts and action signs systems.

Note: Article Varela CR, Univ Illinois, Dept Anthropol, Urbana,IL 61801 USA


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