Publication Details

Gallagher, S. 2020. Phenomenology of agency and the cognitive sciences. In C. Erhard & T. Keiling (eds.). The Routledge Handbook of the Phenomenology of Agency (334-348). London: Routledge.


When engaged in action, the experience of agency includes the experience of one’s actions and of oneself. This is a relational phenomenology, that is, it is not just an experience of an action as unrelated to me, and not just an experience of myself without some kind of relation to an action or set of actions. Part of this relation involves the notion of intention, and the kind of intention in play. Both action and intention, and therefore, the experience of agency, are complex phenomena. Some aspects of action are non-conscious and sub-personal; others involve consciousness. To understand the phenomenology of agency, we need to understand the complexity involved in action and intention. Moreover, since an individual’s action, and the experience of agency, most often occur in social contexts where joint action is possible, and social practices predominate, it’s not enough to look at processes that are merely individual.

In this chapter, I’ll first consider some of the phenomenological aspects of individual agency. I’ll supplement this account by drawing on the extensive cognitive science and some of the controversy that has developed around the concept of sense of agency. This will lead us to consider how agency relates to intention. Finally, I’ll introduce some important qualifications on these analyses by considering the effects of social context and cultural practices on the experience of agency.

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