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THE BODY IN ACTION:

INTENTION, ACTION-CONSCIOUSNESS, &


COMPULSION

By M. Allen, B.Sc.

A dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master
of Arts of the University of Hertfordshire.

Submitted July 1st, 2009.

The University of Hertfordshire.

Faculty of Humanities, Languages and Education.

De Havilland Campus.

Hertfordshire.

Copyright: no part of this dissertation may be quoted or reproduced without the author’s
permission and due acknowledgement.

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ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I would like to thank Professors Shaun Gallagher and Daniel Hutto for their dedicated

mentoring, philosophical discussions, and ongoing encouragement. I also sincerely thank

the UH and UCF Philosophy Societies for many great nights of debate which contributed

heavily to this project. I would also like to thank Andreas Roepstorff and all of Interacting

Minds for their ongoing support of all off my research. Finally, many thanks to my partner

Julie for putting up with the existential and psychological repercussions intrinsic to these

sort of endeavors, and for teaching me how to use shift-F7.

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PREFACE

Intention and action are perhaps the most prevalent, interesting, and troublesome topics in

all of philosophy. Generating research in metaphysics, ethics, epistemology, psychology

and more, the question of how precisely we manage to effective deliberate and act refuse to

go away. Recently these issues have captivated the empirical sciences and philosophers

alike, with brain cartographers and computer engineers weighing in on human action and

intentionality and working across disciplines to perhaps mark the dawn of a new paradigm.

Although this new era of research is not likely to solve the deepest questions of the

philosophy of mind, we can be sure that the advent of new technologies will bring with it

the same force of ideas that was originally introduced with the advent of the press,

television, or digital computer. At the same time, we will be faced with an ongoing

struggle to redefine our most intimate concepts, as new tools and the perspectives brought

with them redefine our worlds.

Compulsion and freedom are two such concepts, and the present is but an attempt to

traverse a few key issues within them. With that being said, it’s worth noting that I started

this project with the original intention of doing something purely ‘methodological’.

Originally, I wanted to investigate the question of how one goes about doing something

like ‘neurophenomenology’. I quickly discovered that philosophy is much like the

empirical sciences; one cannot always sit from the sidelines speculating. You’ve got to dig

in and really try it out.

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CONTENTS Page

ACKNOLWEDGEMENTS ii

PREFACE iii

INTRODUCTION 1

SECTION 1 DEFINING INTENTION AND ACTION 3

SECTION 1.1 THE DYNAMIC THEORY OF INTENTIONS 7

SECTION 1.2 THE MINIMAL SENSE OF EMBODIED AGENCY 19

SECTION 1.3 MERLEAU-PONTY AND THE DYNAMIC INTENTIONAL BODY 23

SECTION 2 THE PHENOMENOLOGY OF COMPULSION 32

SECTION 2.1 INCENTIVE-SALIENCE AND THE WEAKNESS OF THE WILL 40

SECTION 2.2 OUR ORDINARY ADDICTIONS TO THE LIFE-WORLD 45

CONCLUSION 47

REFERENCES 50

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INTRODUCTION

With respect to action and mental causality, Wittgenstein once pondered; ‘(imagine) some

leaves blown about by the wind saying ‘Now I’ll go this way . . . now I’ll go that way’ as

the wind moved them’ (Anscombe, 1957, p. 6). This is perhaps a rather depressing

sentiment regarding intention and action, as typically we’d like to take ourselves to be

reliable agents. Wittgenstein himself was conflicted as to the exact role of the mind in the

production of action, famously asking ‘What is left over if I subtract the fact that my arm

goes up from the fact that I raise my arm?’ (Wittgenstein, 1958). What is left is the

conscious intention to move, yet the exact nature of prior intention and action remains a

seemingly intractable metaphysical issue.

In contrast to the pervasive metaphysical issues surrounding the link between intention and

action, a great deal of recent phenomenological and neuroscientific literature purports to

examine the experiential component of intentional action, or the sense of agency (SA). I

will argue that while these analyses capture a variety of relevant details concerning SA,

they fail to acknowledge the essentially dynamic and socially embedded nature of the

phenomenology of action. To set the stage for my own arguments I will start by reviewing

some of the terms of the analysis of intention in the work of Searle and Anscombe. I will

then focus on Elisabeth Pacherie’s dynamic theory of intentions and a phenomenological

account offered by Shaun Gallagher. One of the aims of this essay is to present a critique

of these contemporary views insofar as they offer accounts based only upon reflective and

pre-reflective aspects of intention formation and agency. In contrast, I argue that SA

crucially depends upon the differential involvement of subpersonal, personal, embodied,

environmental, and social factors. I will suggest that the prevailing contemporary models
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of action-consciousness be revised to capture these features and that current theories fail to

account for the social and interpersonal aspects of the sense of agency.

To move forward on this main line of argumentation I will examine the phenomenon of

compulsion, specifically drug-related compulsion. This will allow me to investigate, in

one specific example, the possibilities arising from some contemporary conceptualizations

of the functional and phenomenological characteristics of experiencing agency. My

argument will thus proceed from a phenomenology of compulsion, grounded in a series of

thought experiments in which I vary the socio-environmental and embodied characteristics

of an imaginary agent in order to explore some important structural characteristics of

action and agency. In this way I’ll examine the possible impact of social institutions and

practices on the experience of agency, and review some recent relevant developments in

the clinical neurology of compulsion.

Ultimately, I argue that the sense of agency, or self-consciousness of intentional acts, is

multi-faceted, tiered, intersubjective and embodied. I further contend that SA, while clearly

dissociable into individually functioning aspects, is essentially holistic and variable in

nature, depending upon a complex interaction of societal and interpersonal factors. My

final conception of agency thus entails a self-consciousness that varies widely among

situations and can be heightened or diminished by the subtle manipulations of the agent,

the body, and the socio-political environment – all of these elements from which SA

emerges. I will demonstrate how my basic theory of reflexive action-consciousness differs

from contemporary views while appealing to commonalities wherever possible. The

distinguishing characteristics of my stance is thus one of integration; the sense of agency is

both embodied and hierarchical, perceptual and engaged-in-action, dissociable and yet

fundamentally embedded within the dynamic life-world. I will also argue that compulsion
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is an important and underexplored target for action research, and its phenomenology

reveals fundamental characteristics of action-experience. This will be particularly clear

when we consider the connection between reflective and pre-reflective aspects of action-

consciousness. Before we turn to these considerations, let’s get clear about what we mean

by words like ‘intention’ and ‘action’.

SECTION 1 DEFINING INTENTION AND ACTION

Searle’s seminal contribution to action theory was his distinction between prior intention

and intention-in-action, found in his work Intentionality. He claimed that ‘there is a

distinction between prior intentions and intentions in action; both are causally self-

referential; and the action for example, of raising one’s arm, contains two components, the

experience of acting and the event of one’s arm going up’ (1983, p. 91). Searle further

developed this claim by observing that an action (like shifting gears during one’s drive to

work) can be intentional without an immediately preceding prior intention (e.g. I will now

shift gears).

Searle situated this argument through the deduction of the logical conditions of satisfaction

for prior intentions, those being that intentions-in-action are the necessary causal satisfiers

of prior intentions and thus fundamentally inherit their intentional character from the

normative and reflective considerations of the agent. This leads to the idea that

spontaneous actions inherit intentionality insofar as they are the satisfaction of some

appropriately related prior intention. For example, the intention-in-action of the daily

commute might serve as the condition of satisfaction for the underlying prior intention to

keep one’s employment; the prior intent, in the form of a conscious intention formation,

need not accompany each and every individual action. For Searle, an action is intentional

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insofar as it is ‘anything that can be the satisfaction of an intention’ (1983, p. 80). This of

course does not yet say anything about the production of a sense of agency; we’ll see

shortly however that the intentional component plays an important role in the experience of

SA.

Searle’s conception, while useful for delimiting the intention and its relation to acting, is

still somewhat sparse for the present considerations. To expand on his argument, we can

trace its origins to Anscombe’s (1957) thesis that intentional actions are defined by an

appropriate description of action, clarified by a certain sense of the question ‘why?’ We

might formalize this definition thus: An agent φ-s intentionally iff a certain sense of the

question ‘Why?’ applies to A’s φ-ing. An example here will help us to understand the

appropriate application; consider the following question and two possible answers:

Q: ‘Why did you knock the cup on the floor?’

A1: ‘The cat moved and startled me into knocking it on the floor.’

A2: ‘The cat moved and I wanted to spill water on it.’

For Anscombe, A1 is an example in which the question ‘why?’ is refused; the cat’s moving

is a cause of the action but it is not a reason for acting. The proper answer to a ‘Why?’

question is a reason. While a reason can be a cause, not all causes are reasons. The question

‘why’ therefore motivates a useful distinction between voluntary and involuntary actions

with respect to intention: all voluntary actions are intentional but most involuntary actions,

to the extent that they refuse application of the question ‘why?’ are not intentional.1

1
An example of an involuntary action that is intentional: If someone promises to hurt my family if
I do not do X, then I may intend to do X, but it is an involuntary action. I can answer the Why
question by saying, I did X because I did not want my family hurt.
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This distinction relates to another important clause; an agent A φ-s intentionally only if A

φ-s knowingly. Anscombe argued that ‘(to say) a man knows he is doing X is to give a

description of what he is doing under which he knows it’ (1957, p. 12-13). This is because

you cannot intend to do something you know to be impossible. The intention to fly by

flapping your arms, lacking any possible satisfaction, is merely a poorly defined hoping-to-

fly. The prospective view of action thus entails that intentional actions are necessarily

characterized by sensible beliefs, desires, and the possibility of agent-appropriate reflective

descriptions of action, or, in short, the intentional components of actions. The possibility of

providing a reason, a rational explanation of an action, is thus a necessary component of

intent, although these reflective considerations need not show up at the phenomenological

level for each and every individual intention-in-action. While these considerations do not

necessarily explain the sense of agency, we can safely conclude that SA should in some

way relate to the presence of intentional actions, rather than unintentional movements.

The distinction between agent-appropriate and irrelevant descriptions of action is important

due to a tricky problem that arises when we attempt to describe any given action.

Anscombe pointed out that any particular event can be described in a virtually infinite

variety of ways, many of which are irrelevant to the agent of an action (e.g. I’m taking a

drink vs I’m reaching for the cup vs I’m moving my muscles vs I’m activating neurons vs

I’m shifting molecules). Concerning an agent who drives his car to work absent mindedly,

according to Searle and Anscombe we can locate the intention of the act in the decision to

go to work, or perhaps in the general decision to work. The subsequent actions of starting

the car and shifting gears, but not of moving particular molecules, thus inherit their

intentional status from the existence of a related prior intent that is qualified by the desire

to go to work, the knowledge of how to get there, and perhaps even the non-observational

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knowledge an agent has of his prior intention. If the agent then decides to quit his job, yet

still ends up absent- mindedly driving to his former work place, we can conclude that his

action lacks intention and consequently, that these actions should in some way undermine

his sense of agency for them.

Anscombe’s benchmark for the intentional, a given application of the question why, serves

to delimit the intentional from the merely active; she offers the example of actions for

which the answer to the question ‘why?’ is ‘I don’t know’, as in the case of the startled

awakening jerk of a sleeping student, claiming these to be involuntary rather than

intentional. We can begin to see here that an important component for the sense of agency

(insofar as it’s related to the presence of actual intentions) lies in the normative constraints

for actions; our sense of agency appears to be derived from the formation of intentions

within a field of possible reasons for acting.

A further important portion of Anscombe’s argument relevant to the present investigation

claims that the class of intentional acts are those that ‘fall under a subclass of things that

are known by a man without observation’ (1957, p. 11-12). Anscombe is arguing that

intentional acts are known to be intentional without the need for inference. We do not

discover our intention to move our legs through the external observation of our legs

moving, but rather have direct, experiential non-observational knowledge of our intending

to move. Another way to say this is that our awareness of our own intention is ‘as subject’

rather than ‘as object’.2

Just as it would be nonsensical to say, ‘Someone has a toothache, is it I?’ it would be just

as nonsensical to say, ‘Someone intends to make a cup of tea, is it I?’ As the subject of the

2
These are Wittgenstein’s terms and they motivate a discussion of the concept of immunity to error
through misidentification (see Shoemaker, 1968).
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experience I have a non-observational, non-objectifying, first-person awareness of my

intention.

We can thus conclude that the intentional act corresponds to movements (whether in

thought or body) which are qualified by appropriate agent-level descriptions that

characterize the action as consistent with some prior deliberation or stance, and that only

certain descriptions of a given event can be considered intentional, specifically those that

denote a necessary satisfaction of those prior intentions. Finally, the experience of

intending to do something, or of satisfying a prior intention, is known without observation

of the external world. As we will see, these basic clarifications serve to modify

contemporary discussions regarding this implicit sense of agency.

SECTION 1.1 THE DYNAMIC THEORY OF INTENTIONS

The dynamic theory of intentions (DTI), developed by Elizabeth Pacherie, purports to

capture the relationship between intention and action within a neat conceptual organization,

characterized primarily by the formation and hierarchical refinement of intentions, their

subgoals, and bodily actions that satisfy those goals. We will closely examine DTI, while

keeping an eye to its potential limitations, in order to see how the model might be modified

in light of phenomenologically-focused investigations of action.

Pacherie states that her key working assumption is that ‘the processes through which the

phenomenology of agency is generated have strong connections with the processes

involved in action specification and control’ (2007, p. 2). DTI is thus a prospective theory

of SA3, and we can evaluate its merits and flaws in light of the previous considerations

3
A prospective view holds that SA is generated in either the deliberative (practical reasoning)
processes preceding an action, or the bodily component of the action itself, or a combination
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inherited from Searle and Anscombe. DTI fundamentally views the experience of acting

intentionally as multi-faceted and complex, involving an experience of intentional

causation, the sense of initiation and the sense of control. As we will see, Pacherie grounds

these claims within her overall theory of SA, dissociating the formation and execution of

intentions into a hierarchy of three interconnected components: the future (F-) intention,4

present (P-) intention, and motor (M-) intention. We will investigate each of these and their

interrelations in turn. First however, we turn to the underlying notion of representation

found in Pacherie’s theory.

Representations are, for Pacherie, central to any theory of cognition or phenomenology.

She thus bases DTI on the ‘idea that the representations formed at each of these three levels

[F-, P-, & M-intention] play a role… in the guidance and control of the ongoing action’

(2007, p. 3) and that ‘according to a very influential theory… motor control is achieved

through the use of internal models… the two main kinds of internal models are forward

and inverse models’ (2007, p. 3). Thus the transfer of goal-related information and the

subsequent phenomenology of action are presented here as the consequences of a series of

increasingly fine-grained representations. Pacherie claims that these representations and

their resulting phenomenology are the product of simulating the consequences of a given

action and reverse-modeling the prerequisite movements needed to achieve a given goal.

This model, which originates in the motor-control literature, generalizes to higher levels of

representation. Such processes then individually contribute senses of rational (F-

intention), situational (P-intention), and motor control (M-intention).

In regard to one aspect of Pacherie’s concept of intention, we might consider a criticism

thereof. Prospective meaning here that a feeling agency arises with or prior to the act itself, rather
than after. This contrasts with a retrospective view which takes SA to be the product of a
retrospective, normative inference (see Wegner et al (2004) for a retrospective view of SA).
4
Pacherie has taken to calling these ‘Distal Intentions’ (DI) in her recent work.
8
voiced by Gallagher (2007) in the context of his recent arguments against simulation-based

representation as the defining characteristic of the phenomenology of social cognition.

Gallagher argues that an account that involves the idea of ‘naked intentions’ at the

phenomenological level is incoherent. For Jeannerod and Pacherie (2004), intentions are

represented in the brain, and in experience, as being initially devoid of agent-specific

qualifiers.

This is related to the discussion of mirror neurons or ‘shared representations’ in the brain.

Mirror neurons are activated when I act or when I observe someone else act. In that sense

they are considered neutral with respect to who is acting –that is, neutral with respect to

who the agent is. Accordingly, Georgieff and Jeannerod (1998) have argued that in the

brain the operation of a ‘who system,’ a specialized brain mechanism, is fundamental for

differentiating between self-produced and other-produced representations of intention and

action. That is, since intentions are represented in the mirror system as ‘neutral’ with

respect to the agent, agent specification needs to be added to this neutral

representation. The neutral representation is referred to as a ‘naked intention’. Jeannerod

and Pacherie (2004) then claim that this same articulated processing is reflected in our

experience of action. ‘We can be aware of an intention, without by the same token being

aware of whose intention it is…something more than the sole awareness of a naked

intention is needed to determine its author’. They continue:

When the naked intention one is aware of yields an overt action, the extra

information needed to establish authorship may be found in the outside world. The

question “Is this intention mine?” would then be answered by answering the

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question: “Is this my body performing the corresponding action?” (140).5

These claims, for Gallagher and recently Legrand (2007), are suspect insofar as they

conflict with what is phenomenologically the case, namely, that we never experience naked

intentions. Mary either sees John opening the door, or she has a non-observational

awareness that she herself is opening the door. The experience of one’s own intention has

been considered by both phenomenologists and Wittegensteinians to be immune to error

through misidentification precisely because it is known without observation, and the

question ‘Is it I who am opening the door?’ never comes up in this regard. Legrand (2007)

and Marcel (2003), respectively, have gone so far as to question the agent-neutral status of

mirror-neurons, theorizing that the temporal characteristics of the firing patterns of

individual mirror neurons, or ecological information concerning the actions’ author,

already provide a basis by which to discriminate between self and other-produced actions

(also see Gallagher and Zahavi 2008).

On the phenomenological view then, the assertion that we experience our own intentions in

an agent-neutral way is highly suspect. This however, does not eliminate the explanatory

value of DTI for our phenomenology of agency if one restricts its claims to the reflective

arena of action-consciousness, which might be characterized in a variety of ways including

as a form of simulation or retrospective inference. It is unremarkable to argue that

reflective intention-formation often includes simulation-like considerations of possible

actions and their consequences. This does however open DTI to a new avenue of attack, as

Pacherie clearly intends for the conceptual and simulation-like elements of the P-intention
5
‘We claim that it is like this with the perception of intention: when Mary watches John open the
door, she is primarily aware of an intention to open the door, rather than being primarily aware that
John intends to open the door. Similarly, when Mary herself intends to open the door, she is
primarily aware of an intention to open the door, rather than being primarily aware that she herself
intends to open the door. Let us call this awareness of an unattributed or ‘naked’ intention’
(Jeannerod & Pacherie, 2004, p. 116).
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to play a central role in the production of a sense of control and a sense of initiation for an

unfolding action6.

It is problematic to tie the sense of agency exclusively to reflective deliberation or action

monitoring i.e., to claim that I only or primarily experience agency for my actions when I

simulate or theorize about my future goals in order to control or initiate them (e.g.

Pacherie) or when I theoretically infer my authorship over them retrospectively (e.g.

Wegner). Rather we should construct a model that demonstrates the impact of the reflective

on the pre-reflective and vice versa. Pacherie seems to miss the importance of what

phenomenologists call ‘pre-reflective self-awareness’, or what Anscombe calls ‘non-

observational’ awareness.

The question is then, to what extent does explicit (reflective) action monitoring alter and

shape our pre-reflective action-consciousness – that is, our awareness of action without

observation. If in fact P-intentions (intentions-in-action) are purely a matter of reflective

monitoring and adjustment, one must wonder how our rich experience of agency in cases

lacking such reflective considerations (i.e., the vast repertoire of pre-reflective actions) can

be produced. 7 Pacherie indicates that it is the unconscious M-intention that generates our

pre-reflective sense of agency, in the form of a ‘faint phenomenal echo’ or merely in a

sense that ‘nothing has gone wrong’. To examine this possibility, we first turn to a closer

investigation of the DTI action hierarchy.

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‘In a nutshell, our awareness of our movements rests for the most part on our awareness of the
predictions made at the level of P-intentions and on the comparison between these predictions and
consciously available exteroceptive feedback. When the action unfolds smoothly, this awareness is
typically extremely limited. Action specification and action control mechanisms at the level of M-
intentions operate automatically and remain outside the subject's subjective experience’ (Pacherie,
2007, p. 12).

7
More on this shortly; see my section on the phenomenology of compulsion.
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Future intentions, for Pacherie, correspond to Searle’s prior intentions and share the

important features of Anscombe’s theory of intentional action insofar as they concern high-

level decision making processes. F-intentions operate on representations that are

conceptual in nature, dealing primarily with knowledge concerning the means to a desired

outcome and it’s relation to an overarching goal. For example, consider a man sitting in his

office pondering what needs to be done. First he begins to consider what he has already

done, and from this deduces what is still left to do. Upon realizing that he has still to do his

laundry, he decides to do the task on his way home, thus forming an F-intention. As a final

point, F-intentions do not involve specific sensorimotor considerations, but rather are high-

level goal-representations. It is then the role of the P-intention to translate the intention into

specific sub-goals and action schemas.

The P-intention is intended to capture the process and phenomenology by which concept-

level goal representations are transformed into context-sensitive actions. P-intentions are a

central pillar of DTI, as they ‘integrate a broad range of both conceptual and perceptual

information about the current situation of the agent, the current goal and the context of

action to yield a situated action plan’ (Pacherie, 2007). The role of the P-intention in

integrating intentional goal-related information with motor processes is crucial for DTI, as

strong empirical evidence, cited by Pacherie, indicates that the content of the sensorimotor

representations are either largely or completely inaccessible to consciousness (ibid, p. 12)

Motor control (neural comparator) processes are thus thought by Pacherie to enter into

action-consciousness only in the form of an error signal, or as Pacherie puts it they ‘are

nothing more than the faint phenomenal echo arising from coherent sensory-motor flow’

(ibid, p. 9) that are manifest only when comparison of efferent and afferent processes go

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awry. The role of the P-intention is then to detect this ‘error signal’, analyze the actually

unfolding action, and select the appropriate context-specific action commands needed to

get the movement back on track. Of course when she says the ‘P-intention’ is doing all of

this, Pacherie means that we are, as she envisions each of these processes as unfolding at

the personal level of conscious awareness and consequently, as constituting the primary

content of our action-consciousness.

Gallagher gives several examples of actions in which I might lack an F or P-intention, such

as when I spontaneously answer a knock at the door or drive absent-mindedly to work, yet

retain a phenomenal sense of agency (SA1) for these actions. Although Pacherie primarily

gives a definition of the P-intention that is reflective in nature, I argue, in the next section,

that we might tweak the P-intention to include what Gallagher considers the pre-reflective

‘intentional aspects’ of SA1. What is essential if the P-intention is to be a part of our pre-

reflective experience is that it controls an action without taking the body ‘as object’, but

rather takes it ‘as subject’ where my goals and subgoals are themselves performative

extensions of my body. We are going to explore this possibility in detail in a moment, but

for now we might examine a quote from Pacherie’s earliest explication of DTI where the

P-intention is clearly reflective:

The agent exercises rational control over her action insofar as (1) she is in a

position to judge whether or not this way of accomplishing her action is likely to

lead to success and adjusts it so as to maximize her chances of success (tracking

control) and (2) she is also in a position to judge whether or not it brings about

undesirable side-effects and corrects it accordingly (collateral control) (Pacherie,

2006, p. 150).

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Here the P-intention is plainly characterized as actual conscious thoughts regarding my

action, where I explicitly judge the ongoing success of my actions and adjust them

accordingly by explicitly selecting new action plans. This sort of explicit representation of

both my body and the world is as-object and reflective. While the contribution of reflective

cognition that is close to the action itself is certainly an important contribution in the case

where my action goes awry, or in an unrehearsed case such as my first trip mountain

biking, Pacherie does not indicate as much.

Rather Pacherie presents the P-intention as the primary source of action-consciousness,

which is in conflict with a phenomenology that is not primarily characterized by reflective

cognition. What I would like to suggest is that by tweaking or ‘fleshing out’ the P-

intention, with a focus on embedded situational control and dynamic bodily movement, we

can begin to bridge the gap between pre-reflective and reflective action consciousness and

retain the useful elements of the P-intention. The P-intention is useful precisely because it

explains the variable content of action-experience in the face of evidence that M-intention

processes are inaccessible to consciousness, through the concept of a conscious process

that communicates between the purely reflective F-intention and the sub-personal M-

intention. The key idea is that my non-reflective attention orienting to self-related salient

environmental features both motivates and sustains my intentional behavior (see the next

section). If aspects of the P-intention can be said to be pre-reflective, we might be

motivated to distinguish the P-intention into its reflective and pre-reflective aspects.

The contribution of the reflective P-intention, as in the case when I literally stop and

deliberate about how best to implement an F-intention, is relatively simple in that the

experience of consciously monitoring an action or deciding to initiate an action plan

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certainly contributes to a reflective sense of agency (SA2) by providing first person

evidence that we have some control and have something to do with the outcome of an

action. We can also agree with Gallagher that this conscious monitoring itself generates an

efferent or minimal sense of agency for the act of control. 8 But can there be such a thing as

a pre-reflective P-intention?

What can be said about a pre-reflective P-intention? Consider the following. As I sat at my

desk pondering this question, I had a clear F-intention to work out my answer. In the

process of working it out, I suddenly leapt out of my chair and began pacing about, and I

neither made an explicit intention to do so (I never thought to myself, I should get up and

walk around) nor deliberated over whether this might help my thought. Rather, pacing is

something I regularly and intentionally do to gain a better insight, and as such it is

something I am likely to do whenever I am confronted with a philosophical conundrum. I

pace pre-reflectively, as my conscious attention is fully take up with the problem on which

I am reflecting. There is, however, a certain pre-reflective conscious monitoring involved

in my pacing; I see the wall and don’t walk into it, but turn just in time to avoid collision,

all the while thinking hard about the problem at hand. To the extent that this monitoring is

conscious rather than non-conscious, it certainly functions like a P-intention (I intend not

to collide with the wall, for that would certainly upset my thinking, etc.). Pacing and

thinking go together in this case, and the P-intention for pacing likely serves the sense of

agency I have for thinking through the problem as well.

What I am suggesting here is that the P-intention and its contribution to action-

consciousness should not be equated to purely a reflective action monitoring nor to purely

8
Briefly, Gallagher (in press) suggests that the formation of an intention (F- or P-) is itself an
action, and should then involve its own sense of agency.
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pre-reflective intentions.9 In either case I will experience authorship. Rather, in many cases

the sense of agency is complex, with reflective components contributing to pre-reflective

and vice versa. One source of the pre-reflective sense of agency is my bodily movement;

my M-intention, which we now turn to in more detail

Pacherie’s ‘motor intention’ (M-intention) plays a unique role in her exposition of DTI.

Not only does she describe the M-intention in terms of its basic underlying mechanism

(forward and inverse modeling), but she sees the general idea of these models as playing a

unifying, connective role between the F-, P-, and M-intentions, encompassing the

formation and execution of intentions. The complete translation from reflective cognition

to action is then to implement rational, conceptual deliberations (F-intentions) via the

specific selection of motor schemas (P-intentions) that are then implemented by

subpersonal motor-comparison processes (M-intentions), all on the same general type of

mechanism of forward and inverse modeling.

Figure 1: Forward Modeling and the Sense of Agency (from Haggard, 2005)

The forward and inverse modeling framework (see figure 1) is a computational model

derived from engineering and adopted by neuroscientists as an influential explanation of

9
Later we’ll explore in detail some examples of pre-reflective P-intentions, using examples from
sports and other regular activities.
16
the computational basis of online action execution (e.g. Jordan & Wolpert, 1999; Wegner,

2004; Wolpert, 1997). This model is intended to capture the basic information processing

by which we are able to simulate the consequences of our actions and reverse-engineer the

prerequisite actions for a given outcome.

To give a brief overview of these comparator models, the key conception is that as prior

intentions are translated into specific motor commands, an efferent copy of the command is

generated and used to create a ‘forward model’ that compares intention to the issued motor

command, and predicts the appropriate sensory state that this command should generate if

the action is executed successfully. Then, as sensory (re-afferent) information from the

actual execution of the action reaches the system, the comparator verifies that the action is

on track. The same mechanism can compute an ‘inverse model’ to calculate the most

likely commands for generating a specific action. The essential role of the comparator is

thus to compare intention, efferent commands and sensory feedback in real time. If the

models align then the action has been executed in accordance with the original intention,

and the agent experiences a basic implicit sense of authorship for the action, or at least a

sense that nothing has gone wrong. If the comparison reveals a discrepancy between actual

and predicted feedback however, an ‘error signal’ is generated, that Pacherie suggests is

then brought into conscious attention/awareness and dealt with via P-intention action

monitoring. Action monitoring at this level would correspond to the agent’s reflecting over

the goal (F-intention), directing attention to the action (P-intention), and correcting the

issue by making adjustments in motor commands (M-intention).

Imperative to the function of the P-intention is Pacherie’s observation that the sensorimotor

representations of the M-intention are ‘in principle inaccessible to consciousness’ and are

as a result unable to provide the contextual action-related content necessary for the a sense
17
of control for an unfolding action (e.g. turn the handle, hit the brake, smile now). Rather

than providing an explicit consciousness of the action then, the ‘output’ of the M-intention

serves as an error signal that motivates the formulation and execution of a P-intention. DTI

would then appear to claim that this is the limits of pre-reflective action consciousness,

with our present-centered action consciousness being effectively locked out of the fine

tuned sensorimotor dynamics of the action itself and characterized primarily by reflective

consciousness.

To support the claim that motor representations are subpersonal, Pacherie relies on recent

empirical literature indicating that proprioceptive and visuomotor representations can be

manipulated in experimental situations while experimental participants report no

consciousness of these alterations (Fourneret & Jeannerod, 1998; Slachevsky et al., 2001).

Additionally, recent experiments by Marcel (2003) indicate that conscious control of an

ambiguous action occurs only when the alteration exceeds 15°. These findings support the

inaccessibility of motor-representation to consciousness and highlight the function of the

P-intention in monitoring and controlling an action, especially when things start to go

noticeably wrong. If proprioceptive representations cannot deliver the specific contents of

an action, but rather provide only a sense that something has gone awry, the function of the

P-intention is crucial for selecting specific actions needed to remain consistent with the

deliberations of the F-intention or to execute novel actions as a situation unfolds in an

unexpected manner.

In summary, Pacherie views the unfolding of action-consciousness as a computational co-

product of the motor system’s control of an action and the sense of initiation generated by

forming an intention. Our sense of agency, for Pacherie, is created any time we engage in

action planning, sensorimotor monitoring, and motor activity and is relational insofar as
18
these elements of control, initiation, and awareness are differentially manipulated. Taking a

cue from Gallagher’s critique of DTI, I suggest that the P-intention might not only include

reflective action monitoring and control but also forms of pre-reflective awareness in

‘smooth coping’ that themselves contribute to a sense of agency. To explore this possibility

in detail, we turn to Gallagher’s model of the minimal sense of agency.

SECTION 1.2 THE MINIMAL SENSE OF EMBODIED AGENCY

Gallagher, in collaboration with neuroscientist Manos Tsarkis (Tsakiris et al. 2007), and

based on the work of Tsakiris and Haggard,10 developed an account of the content and

sources of what he calls ‘SA1’ or the pre-reflective sense of authorship. As I’ve mentioned,

Gallagher also recently rejected aspects of Pacherie’s phenomenology of agency on the

grounds that the F- and P-intentions, described as deliberation and conscious control

processes, do not explain our pre-reflective sense of agency. To clarify the sort of

integration we’re here striving toward, we’ll briefly review this debate in order to see both

points of contention and commensuration. Gallagher, in brief, argues that many actions

appear to retain a phenomenal SA in the absence of prior intent or reflection, a point on

which Pacherie agrees (her concept of a ‘faint phenomenal echo of authorship’ (2007, p.

12) in the case of smoothly unfolding action), and attributes like Gallagher, to the function

of the comparator.

Although Gallagher doubts the P-intention’s ability to constitute our pre-reflective action-

consciousness, he does argue that in cases where the P-intention does arise (such as an

unfamiliar action) it’s deliberative and monitoring functions are likely to enhance SA1,

primarily through the reinforcement of an overall reflective (SA2) experience of agency.

10
See Fotopoulou et al. (2008); Longo et al (2009); Tsakiris, Prabhu, & Haggard (2006) for more
on this.
19
What is being argued in Gallagher’s model then is that the purely reflective aspects of the

F- and P-intention cannot constitute our pre-reflective action consciousness, which itself is

a necessary condition for SA. Rather SA arises out of the complex collusion of reflective

and pre-reflective processes (see figure 2), with dynamic communication occurring

between both levels.

This communication will be important later when we examine compulsion, but for now we

can accept Gallagher’s critique and move towards integration in which P-intentions include

both reflective and pre-reflective elements. What we are primarily interested in here is

getting the constitution of SA1 correct, as we want to specifically explore the dynamics of

reflective and pre-reflective action-consciousness.

Figure 2: A combined model of SA1 and DTI (Gallagher, 2009).

Gallagher’s own model of our pre-reflective action-consciousness (SA1) also depends

upon the forward/inverse comparator model to explain our action-consciousness, refining

the model via recent work by Haggard (2005) and Tsarkiris (2007). SA1, on Gallagher’s

view, occurs whenever a human organism engages in motor-control activity. To illustrate

the difference between a sense of agency and sense of ownership for actions, Gallagher
20
invokes the image of an individual who has been pushed from behind in contrast to an

individual who has just taken a step forward. In the first case, we can assume that the

person would report feeling that ‘his body moved’ (he would have a sense of ownership for

the movement, and would say that he moved) but that, due to the lack of efference, he

would not report ‘authoring the action’ as he would in the case intentionally taking a step

forward (Gallagher, 2000). The phenomenology of action for Gallagher is thus grounded in

part (and specifically in its pre-reflective part) in an implicit bodily consciousness

generated by efferent and re-afferent sub-personal processes; we are pre-reflectively

conscious of our action authorship as long as our motor system is healthy, in contrast to

when these processes breakdown in schizophrenic delusions of control or related agency

pathologies.

Gallagher’s primary concern with DTI is that there are many instances in which I can have

SA without any prior deliberation, as in the case in which I suddenly jump out of my chair

to answer a knock at the door. Gallagher does note that certain intentional and situational

control-aspects enter into SA1, supporting the idea that a less judgment-oriented P-

intention might function between the boundary of reflective and pre-reflective action. We

will shortly explore the complexity of a P-intention dynamically conceived, but what I

have been suggesting here is that we might better view the P-intention not as purely

reflective or pre-reflective, but rather as marking the murky transitional boundary between

the two, a point supported by Gallagher’s model.

Still, I will argue that there are elements of both DTI and Gallagher’s SA1 that appear

overly static and depersonalized. The emphasis on explicit conscious action-monitorings

by DTI as fundamental components of action-consciousness that are clearly not necessary

constituents of SA1, in that they are essentially second-order, reflective phenomena,


21
highlights the importance of the considerations put forth by Gallagher. Likewise, even in

the integrative model pictured above, in which Gallagher’s comparator process colludes

with Pacherie-esque reflective actions to produce SA, there is no consideration of the

environmental and social factors that, as we will shortly see, directly impact the sense of

agency. If the DTI is to be ‘fleshed out’ or altered to better explain why things like F- and

P-intentions contribute to SA1, we must explore in detail some cases in which the

contributories to the sense of agency are as complex as action-consciousness itself, in order

to determine precisely what contributions social, cognitive, and environmental factors

make to the sense of agency.

Even for an integrated conception of the P-intention, when an action goes awry, it’s role is

to determine what has gone wrong, to bring it back in line with the related F-intention, and

to execute the appropriate actions, all of which contributes not only to SA2 but to our

online SA1. Haggard’s recent work strongly supports this view, as he has found that

intentional binding11 is modulated only by the presence of an actual intention rather than

when an action is generated by applying trans-cranial magnetic stimulation to the motor

cortices. The intentional or control related aspects are thus crucial elements of comparator

processes. Gallagher agrees with this:

The intentional aspect (what gets accomplished, or fails to get accomplished, by the

action) and the motor (or efferent) aspect (the sense that I am causing or controlling

my bodily movement) enter into SA1…These aspects, and SA1 more generally,

remain pre-reflective in so far as neither of them are things that I reflectively dwell

11
Intentional binding is a demonstrated phenomenon in which participants’ estimate the subjective
time between an intention and its worldly effect as being a shorter duration for intentional as
opposed to non-intentional movements (see Haggard, 2005).
22
upon, and indeed, as I arrive at my office I have forgotten most, if not all, of the

details involved in my driving (2007, p. 10).

Our experience of an action appears to fall within a continuum between the case in which I

follow a clear DTI-style path from F- to P- to M-intentions, the case in which I act totally

pre-reflectively without any reflective awareness of my broad or situation-specific goals,

and those circumstances in which neither extreme holds. The possibility of such a middle

ground should then lead us to question the dividing line between reflective and pre-

reflective acts and their interrelationship.

I’ve gone into the analysis of the sense of agency in some significant detail. I’ve done this

not only to show the complexity of this analysis, but also to set the stage to be able to show

that even this complexity is not sufficient to the phenomenon. Whether we take Pacherie’s

hierarchical structure of intentions, or Gallagher’s pre-reflective phenomenology, or, as I

have argued, some combination of these, the basic explanandum of the P-intention is

confined to either mental or brain states (reflective deliberation, perceptual monitoring,

phenomenal experience, comparators and efferent signals, etc.). The processes under

discussion seem to play out entirely ‘within the head’. I will argue, however, that if action

occurs in the world, this kind of analysis requires a phenomenological ‘fleshing out’. To

better characterize the dynamics between action, world, and action-consciousness, we turn

now to Merleau-Ponty.

SECTION 1.3 MERLEAU-PONTY AND THE DYNAMIC INTENTIONAL BODY

Merleau-Ponty helps to illustrate the inadequacy of deeming action as merely being the

result of translations between reflective goal representations and subpersonal processes.

We need some notion of living action, or of action in the life-world, to flesh out the above
23
account of SA. The life-world, following Merleau-Ponty, is not a static object to be acted

upon by a Cartesian observer but rather a performative extension of the dynamic body. We

can see this clearly one of his examples.

For the player in action the football field is not an ‘object,’ that is, the ideal

term which can give rise to an indefinite multiplicity of perspectival views and

remain equivalent under its apparent transformations. It is pervaded with lines

of force (the ‘yard line’; those that demarcate the ‘penalty area’) and

articulated in sectors (for example, the ‘openings’ between the adversaries)

which call for a certain mode of action and which initiate and guide the

action as if the player were unaware of it (Merleau-Ponty, 1983, p. 168).

Here we can see the possibility of a phenomenology of action; on Merleau-Ponty’s view

actions do not unfold in static relationship between observer and object but rather in the

dynamic relationship between the agent and its world. The actions I take structure my

intentions and alter my experience of my living body, and moreover, they do so in real

time.12 Merleau-Ponty is arguing that action and the experience of acting are necessarily

grounded in a pragmatic kind of relationship between the player and the field; as the player

moves the field’s significance and visuospatial properties will remain in dynamic

fluctuation with that of the player’s intentions and the properties of the field itself.

The field is not given to him, but present as the immanent term of his

practical intentions; the player becomes one with it and feels the direction

of the ‘goal,’ for example, just as immediately as the vertical and the

horizontal planes of his own body (ibid, p.169).

12
‘…those actions in which I habitually engage incorporate the instruments into themselves and
make them play a part in the original structure of my own body’ (Merleau-Ponty, 2002, p. 104).
24
How are we to conceptualize the living experience of an intention then? If we think of

intentions as dynamically co-created by the environment and the agent, are we diluting the

notion of ‘intention’ to an unrecognizable status? This may be a tempting conclusion for

many; why bother with the fancy descriptions of phenomenology if we can rely on

traditional conceptual distinctions found in philosophy and psychology (or even folk

psychology) to define the boundaries of intention and action? Merleau-Ponty presents us

with a difficult challenge; if intentions are themselves specified in co-relation to the world,

in what sense are they intentions, which we usually conceive of as internal mental states?

Surprisingly the answer may actually lay in the functions and transitions of the P-intention,

in transforming my body into a living vehicle for my objective intentions.

Merleau-Ponty is clear about what we cannot take the P-intention to be, namely a complete

objectification of my own intention and action, as satisfied by an objectified body. Rather,

we are faced with a more subtle relationship between the essentially objectifying nature of

deliberative intention, in which I take my world as an object to be acted upon, and the

living execution of the intention through my body – the only possible causal satisfier of my

intention. We are now faced with a question concerning the relationship between

consciousness and action, or the dividing line between reflective and pre-reflective action.

Merleau-Ponty suggests that this relationship is not as neat as Pacherie might prefer, but

rather indicates a P-intention that is neither fully reflective nor fully pre-reflective. To what

extent does intentional behavior then require an explicit consciousness of action or,

alternatively, a non-objectifying action-consciousness, and how might we construe what

we mean here by ‘conscious? Again, Merleau-Ponty is illustrative.

25
It would not be sufficient to say that consciousness inhabits this milieu. At

this moment consciousness is nothing other than the dialectic of milieu and

action. Each maneuver undertaken by the player modifies the character of

the field and establishes in it new lines of force in which the action in turn

unfolds and is accomplished, again altering the phenomenal field (ibid, p.

169).

Not only is the perception of the field a function of the living body, but also, the field as

experienced belongs to the nature of the intentions themselves. Furthermore, on the

phenomenological view intentions are forward-integrated with the action of the body. Thus

the intention and goal are ‘nothing other than the dialectic of milieu and action’ and each

action ‘modifies the character of the field’.

On the one hand, in this regard, Pacherie’s phenomenology of action is troublesome insofar

as her construal of intention and intention-in-action appears to view our living intention in

starkly objective and observational terms, as the mere simulation of myself-in-the-world-

as-object rather than as conscious movement through a world loaded with significance, and

affordances dynamically shaping my own future intentions. On the other hand, we can also

begin to see why the sub-conscious workings of motor-schemas are not problematic for a

phenomenology of agency, which is consistent with the empirical studies mentioned by

Pacherie.

These considerations do not radically damage her overall conceptual organization, but

rework it from the inside so that we can begin to see how the F- and P-intentions might be

dynamically structured by action-in-the world. A dynamic theory of intentions, to the

extent that it integrates the kind of phenomenological insight provided by Merleau-Ponty

26
with a slightly more embodied analysis of intention that follows the lines drawn by

Pacherie, consequently provides an excellent description of one important cognitive aspect

of intention and action, in both a pre-reflective and reflective sense.

What might an ‘embodied’ version of the relationship between prior intent, agency-

consciousness, and action look like? One illustrative example is found in Andy Clark’s

now famous description of a baseball fielder catching a fly-ball. On Pacherie’s view, the

fielder might consciously translate the cognitive F-intention ‘win the game’ into the

simulative P-intention ‘catch the ball’ and then constantly monitor the position of the ball

in order to calculate (using a forward model) the precise movements needed to catch the

ball.

However, Clark reports an empirical demonstration of what this hypothesis overlooks;

recent research has indicated that the fielder is able to catch the ball not by projecting the

absolute trajectory of the ball but rather by naturally exploiting inherent sensorimotor

dynamics of the fielder’s body. The fielder catches the ball, Clark argues, by ‘simply

running so that the optical image of the ball appears to present a straight-line constant

speed trajectory against the visual background (Clark, 2008, p. 18).’ The ‘calculations’

necessary to catch the ball are not performed solely within the sterile environment of the

comparator or in a plan drawn out by prior intent; they rather take place in a distributed

network that includes the agent’s body and the environment, informed by the task at hand.

This view of action is remarkably similar to that expressed by Merleau-Ponty; actions are

performed within the relationship of body to world and intention-formation dynamically

reflects this relationship.

27
A few considerations are of importance here. First, the example of catching a baseball is

not here meant to characterize all actions, but rather to serve as a metaphorical example of

the relationship between intention and action. An action like catching a baseball, may for

example differ from that of writing a research paper or there may even be great differences

between a completely naïve, as opposed to expert player catching the ball, in the sense that

the more complex an action is, or how familiar I am with the action (how much practice I

have with it) will likely increase the need for explicit, deliberation and observational action

control, an important point we’ll explore further in a moment. For now, the suggestion here

is that generally speaking, in contrast to the top-down account provided by DTI, the P-

intention is better characterized as a dynamic dialectic between the conscious registration

of an intention and the body-in-the-world, where feed-forward aspects of intention and

dynamic feedback from the actions and the world themselves collude to inform both SA1

and SA2.

If the teleological aspects of intentions inform our pre-reflective action, perhaps we can

better understand the contribution of the F- and P-intention to our action-consciousness in

terms of Anscombe’s claim that we have non-observational knowledge (NOK) of our

intentions. Although Anscombe discussed NOK primarily in terms of introspective

reflection, the concept relates to the phenomenological notion of the living body insofar as

it denotes the basic relation between things I am intending to do and my awareness that it is

I who is intending them. Merleau-Ponty describes this as the role of the implicit body-

world relation in structuring my intention and conversely, the role of my intention in

structuring my relation to the world. Anscombe recognized however, that the observational

knowledge and reflective monitoring central to the P-intention play an important role in

our awareness of the effects our intentions have on the world:

28
My knowledge of what I do is not by observation. A very clear and interesting

case of this is that in which I shut my eyes and write something. I can say what

I am writing. And what I say I am writing will almost always in fact appear on

the paper. Now here it is clear that my capacity to say what is written is not

derived from any observation. In practice of course what I write will very likely

not go on being very legible if I don’t use my eyes; but isn’t the role of all our

observational knowledge in knowing what we are doing like the role of the eyes

in producing successful writing? That is to say, once given that we have

knowledge or opinion about the matter in which we perform intentional actions,

our observation is merely an aid (Anscombe, 1957, p. 57).

The intention with which I act (which we might here understand as the intentional aspect of

SA1) is known to me without a need for inference from sensory (observational)

information, and this information provides a valuable means by which we can fine-tune

and progressively improve our relation to the world. This is perhaps what Pacherie means

to highlight with her account of the P-intention, yet we can also argue that Anscombe’s

own understanding of NOK, while progressive for her time, lacked the sort of embodied,

culturally embedded, enactive conception of action-consciousness we are here developing.

In addition to this clarification, there is more we can say about the role of experience in

shaping intention and action-consciousness.

For Merleau-Ponty’s football player, the movement of the player through the field

dynamically shapes whatever P-intention he may form in playing, i.e. to shoot this goal or

slide-tackle some opponent, and these individual actions in turn alter the perceptual

saliencies and phenomenological presentation of the field, and therefore whatever P-

29
intentions might be formed in the course of the game. Here we might consult another

relation by which the formation of P-intentions is dynamically structured by the agent-

world relationship. What I am referring to here is the phenomenon of transparent coping,

discussed by Merleau-Ponty in terms of ‘maximal grip’, or the observation of ‘the body’s

tendency to refine its responses so as to bring the current situation closer to an optimal

gestalt’ (Dreyfus, 2002, 367).

Merleau-Ponty, following Husserl, discussed at length the role of experience in shaping the

way the world presents itself to me and the effects of expertise on my action execution.

This relationship is characterized by an increasingly specialized presentation of the world

to an agent in terms of affordances, and the body’s ability to schematically integrate

increasingly complex actions as expertise with a particular problem set is gained.13 An

example will help to illustrate this point.

Let’s imagine I’m on my way to a speed-dating function, and that I’m 6 feet tall.

Additionally, I’ve lived my entire life amongst entirely 5-foot tall peers and thus consider

myself to be a rather tall, strapping lad. Now imagine that upon entering the room where

the speed-dating is going to occur, I notice (as they turn to gawk at me) that all the women

in the room are 6.5 feet tall. Assuming I’m sensitive to the difference, it’s clear that I might

now experience a rather different sense of agency for whatever I’m going to do to get a

date, than I would if I had entered a room where all the women were 5-feet tall. My prior

experiences are here shaping the affordances for action I perceive in the group of women,

and whether I consider myself tall or short enough to get one of them to go out with me can

really only be specified in relation to the specific circumstance I find myself in, and the
13
Husserl gave a famous example of this in terms of a layman and an archeologist that both arrive
in Greenland. For the layman, Greenland may be a confusing, unfamiliar, and bewildering place.
For the archeologist, Greenland instead represents a complex sociocultural history that is rich with
meaning and action-affordances (Husserl, 1970, 2nd Investigation).
30
relation of that circumstance to my previous actions. Any situated reflective considerations

(P-intentions) I might undertake (which girl to talk to, whether or not to order a drink, or

two) will start from this point, and whichever action I choose (insofar as I perceive it as a

successful action) will then shape my ongoing perception of my chances to win a date.14

The notion that agents pre-reflectively inhabit a world implicitly shaped by the body is a

common idea throughout phenomenological texts. It is thus troublesome that Pacherie’s

‘phenomenology of agency’ is without considerations of the living structure of action. It

would be a mistake however, to throw out the phenomenological baby with the

reductionistic bath water. Pacherie’s model does not exclude a place for certain aspects of

our pre-reflective action-consciousness, namely the significance of pre-reflective action

monitoring and the teleological/intentional aspects of forward-looking intentions in

contributing to both SA1 and SA2. Furthermore, her model shares more in common with

contemporary phenomenologically inspired neurocognitive models of agency than it lacks;

both make heavy use of the notion of an inherent neural mechanism that compares efferent

and afferent sensorimotor information to produce, in one fashion or another, our minimal

sense of agency.

Pacherie’s hierarchical model then, if made to accommodate the phenomenological notion

of the pre-reflective relation of body and world, presents an ambitious and effective

schema for the relationship between purely pre-reflective action and the deliberative

processes that undeniably underlie some of our intentional acts and co-create our sense of

agency. To further this analysis, we’ll examine the phenomenology of compulsion in order

14
Of course, I may have worked out an entire strategy for just such a case (F-intention), which
would then further structure my perception of my chances and consequently, the P-intentions and
M-intentions I’ll engage in.
31
to show another important dimension that is so far missing in the previous discussion; the

social, interpersonal, and intersubjective elements of action-consciousness.

SECTION 2 THE PHENOMENOLOGY OF COMPULSION

To explore the relationship between the reflective and pre-reflective in detail, we’ll

construct a phenomenological account of extreme compulsive behavior (of the sort

involved in drug addiction) in order to shed light on the nature of every day action-

consciousness. My argument is that through the example of extreme compulsive behavior,

we can begin to understand the essential relationship between SA1 (the pre-reflective

components of action-consciousness) and SA2 (the prospective and retrospective reflective

components of action-consciousness). But we will also be able to see from this example

that even this integrated account of the sense of agency is not sufficient, and that we need

to extend the account to include the environmental and especially social aspects.

To begin, we picture our imaginary participant as an ordinary individual with typical

beliefs and desires concerning broad-level life goals, i.e. the pursuit of health, liberty, and

happiness. Imagine that this individual, never having desired to become a drug addict, and

in full possession of the belief that drug taking behaviors are negative behaviors, enters an

environment in which his peers are consummately using heroin. Upon entering this new

social environment, the agent finds himself surrounded by peers quite happy to inject

mind-altering drugs (heroin, in this case) into their veins. For the sake of argument, our

agent also wants to fit in and be a part of his social group, and so he eventually gives in and

tries an injection.

32
At this particular moment, let’s focus in on our actor’s body. As he lifts the syringe to his

arm, it is safe to assume that his motor system generates an efferent copy for each

individual action. If we accept the comparator model of the SA1, it seems true that

throughout the unfolding of this action his system made use of congruent forward/inverse

models and is therefore experiencing an undiminished pre-reflective experience of agency,

SA1. It is also true that he had a positive prior-intention to live well, be happy, and so

forth. Insofar as he actually made a decision (‘inject heroin’ or perhaps ‘stay close to my

friends’), he also formed a proper P-intention that enabled him to ensure the drug was

properly injected. Thus our agent, as he partakes in drug taking behaviors that conflict with

his overall intentions, could be said on both DTI and minimal conceptions of agency (SA1)

to have maintained his own sense of agency.

This however seems somehow incomplete. It seems much more likely something might

have felt off the moment he lifted the needle to his arm. This could cash out at the

intentional level in a variety of ways. Pre-reflectively (without retrospection), his prior

stance that drugs are contra the good life might alter the presentation of the needle or room

such that while he does not stop to reflect on his akrasia he may feel a certain will-related

anxiety. 15 Perhaps the needle is perceived as more menacing, or he feels a certain anxiety,

manifest within his pre-reflective awareness as a feeling of guilt (or naughtiness, or

recklessness) that tints his SA116. Perhaps it’s merely something in his body, a sudden

flush and increased heartbeat; the effects of a sudden dump of cortisol into the blood

stream by the brain. The point is simply that, in the presence of a functioning motor

system, even if the act of injection is something he consciously decides, controls, or

initiates (P-intention), his SA1 will diminish. One possible explanation is that his P-
15
If he did stop to reflect, he might flee the room or at least debate the issue.
16
This is similar to the case in which we find ourselves wandering in the kitchen, quite sure we
came for something but completely unaware of our specific intention.
33
intention, which is means-end coherent with his F-intention to maintain his friendships, is

in conflict with the F-intention to live well. We might call this an intention-intention

disturbance, in which two mutually desired reflective or pseudo-reflective acts compete for

satisfaction, creating a conflict where the agent must form P- and M-intentions in what is

essentially a no-win situation.

This sort of conflict would certainly undermine the agent’s pre-reflective sense of agency,

and even more so should the agent resolve the conflict by actually injecting the drug. In

this case, there would be multiple sources for a positive sense of agency; the formation of

the F-intention to maintain one’s friendships, the P-intention to inject the drug, and the

sensorimotor processes of efference and re-afference from the actual act of injecting the

drug, as well as multiple negative sources for a sense of agency; the social status of heroin,

his peers’ behavior, the desire to conform, and the needle itself. If the balance tips too far

in one direction, the agent is almost certain to experience some loss of agency. Working

out the precise direction of this loss is a difficult task.

One counter-intuitive possibility is that the co-ordinate presence of the intermixed

examples of strong positive and negative influence, where the presence of a strongly

positive signal (I am injecting heroin) has an overall negative affect; if there is a strong

innate bodily agency for simple motor acts, then one would feel a strong sense of

immediate authorship for a highly self-disruptive act, and the net effect should then be

negative. Thus far these effects remain pre-reflective; we can however increased the

amount of reflectivity before, during, and after the act and presumably increase the

resultant damage to both SA1 and SA2.

34
The actual world-agent dynamics now become highly relevant for determining the actual

course of agency-loss; as the act itself becomes habitual and true addiction develops, the

link between immediate and extended agency may itself sever, with the agent possessing

little to no self-control for drug related stimuli. At this juncture the agency loss is near

catastrophic; the drug taker can no longer successfully control or initiate immediate

intentions (‘hold off this injection until after work’) nor reconcile this fact with their life-

narrative. The agent’s dreams and long-term intentions have largely been set aside, or they

become examples of non-intentional ‘hoping without satisfaction’. Finally, ruminations or

reminiscences over the agent’s pre-drug life or post drug future are now likely to only

further undermine the self-as-agent narrative (SA2). The addict is now not unlike an

injured animal that has fallen into a mud pit; without strong and determined external

assistance, escape from the negative spiral becomes less possible with every act.

The sense of agency is thus very complex, as multiple sources can come in conflict with

one another depending upon the totality of an agent’s prior intentions and the actual motor

acts he engages in.17 What is important here is thus not only the content of the intentions,

but also their context and the particular dynamics between SA’s varying sources. Certainly

my drive to work will not (typically) undermine my SA1, yet if I find myself in an

impulsive mood and inject heroin when I get home, I will feel out of control as I commit

the act (diminishing SA1) and thereafter (diminishing SA2). This highlights that

something is missing from both DTI and the minimal model, and we’ll discuss some

possible candidates shortly.

17
This last point is crucial, as it points towards the actual acts-in-the-world as a source of agency.
In a nutshell, different acts should have different experiences of agency, regardless of the presence
of F-, P-, and M-intentions.
35
Of course, in the case of the naïve drug taker, the fact that his motor system is functioning

informs us that at some basic level, he maintains a sense of SA1 insofar as if we were to

ask him what he was doing, he’d say I am injecting drugs. The loss of SA1 is thus initially

incomplete, falling short in kind and severity from the radical disruption we’d expect to

find in a severe case of paranoid schizophrenia. The next time the agent forms a drug-

related intention, or perhaps a more general intention to do anything requiring intention-

action consistency, we could easily expect his reflective sense of agency (SA2) to in turn

be diminished. Each of these examples is meant to show that it is the dynamic between the

variable sources for agency that itself results in whatever action-consciousness comes

about from particular actions, and that these dynamics can be disrupted in a variety of ways

depending upon the agent and the particular world the agent is a part of.

We can conclude that his continuing actions of piercing his skin and depressing the plunger

in some way dramatically undermine his SA1 and SA2. We can now explore a third

possibility: suppose that merely being in the room with his peers, prior to any drug-taking,

threatens his sense of agency.

However, this supposition entails that we reject the thesis that the sense of agency can be

located solely in the deliberative process or the computations of the comparator. The

physical and social environment may have an effect on SA. If even prior to injecting any

drugs, the agent experiences some diminishment in the sense of agency, what are some

possible sources for this experience? Recalling our example of speed-dating, we might now

begin to consider the role that interpersonal factors play in structuring our sense of agency.

Actions are embedded in contexts that are both physical and social. Intention formation is

itself a process performed within a social context where possibilities are defined by social

norms and affordances.


36
At the interpersonal level, we perform elaborate acts of joint-attention and social cognition

through a real-time allocation with respect to agency.18 At the individual level, the kinds of

considerations vital, not only to the deliberative process, but even to the comparator model

are not divorced from social factors. Consider, for example, the many studies of the neural

correlates of the sense of agency that involve the contrast between sense of self-agency and

sense of other-agency (e.g. Chaminade, Meltzoff, & Decety, 2005; Farrer et al., 2003).

Simply put, if I want to interact with you, your intentional state becomes a crucial element

in my comparator’s ‘sensory input box’. This view excludes neither the reflective nor the

pre-reflective; it allows room for both ongoing reflection upon actions and the pre-

reflective awareness of action. It allows for this, and at the same time it takes seriously the

idea that the subject is in-the-world, embodied and embedded in a social environment that

contributes or diminishes his sense of agency.

If the sense of agency is relational and not dependent on any singular process, one might

object that action-consciousness seems to rely on the explicit re-evaluation of our actions.

Perhaps it is retrospective evaluation that ties it all together and creates a sense of agency

(see Graham & Stephens, 1994; Wegner, 2004).

This objection however, does not consider that the specific mechanism driving agency

breakdown in the case of compulsive or addictive behavior is not necessarily a cognitive

re-evaluation of past actions but rather, a direct and immediate loss or diminishment of

SA1 due to the conflict dynamic between SA1 and SA2 at multiple levels, as previously

indicated. Phenomenology supports this claim; our pre-reflective experience takes the body

18
In the sense that a joint-activity requires an ongoing negotiation in terms of whom the group is to
allocate agency to and how much agency should be shared amongst particular agents (leaders, sub-
leaders, followers, etc) for a given task as well as more complex dynamic/temporal considerations
depending upon the task at hand.
37
as subject, rather than as object. The body as subject is not the object of retrospective,

reflective introspection, but rather continually structures our engagement with the world.

The phenomenal sense of agency then is not necessarily generated in retrospection, but is

rather a fundamental property of bodily activity that is dynamically shaped in the agent-

world relation.

To further clarify my argument, I would like to suggest that the above vignette captures an

aspect of our everyday activity. We can draw this conclusion from our everyday

phenomenology, in which many of the actions we engage in on a daily basis are not

explicitly intentional in the clear sense that we reflectively create a deliberative action plan

that we then endorse and translate into activity; rather they are characterized as pre-

reflective (Gallagher, in press). This is not meant to suggest that the reflective is not

essential for a healthy intention-action dynamic, rather the previous examples show the

exact opposite of this.

Take for example the sweatshop worker, laboring tirelessly for little to no personal

incentive beyond survival. Here the mundane, pointless nature of the worker’s daily task

can have a deleterious effect on the sense of agency. And like our drug user, we can

anticipate the efferent SA1 to conflict with the intention to live well, where every act of

sweatshop labor further cements for the man that he will never fulfill his dreams.

Eventually, we’d predict a breakdown of both SA1 and SA2, as the tireless litany of

actions becomes so automatic as to no longer elicit a sense of immediate agency. The

man’s life has become one solid line, and he may feel on his deathbed as if he’s been little

more than an automaton for the duration of his life. This kind of alienation, driven by

38
structures of economic and social arrangements, robs such individuals of their sense of

agency.

Again, we can start to see the influence of society and interpersonal affordances on our

action-consciousness. Many of us are familiar with such phenomena. We groan in agony

over the thought of sitting through a pointless faculty meeting, but we do it because we

have to. We might feel a sense of unease as we enter a party full of tall beautiful women, or

lose ourselves in the kiss of our lover in a sort of euphoric agency-loss. Many young adults

faced with the grim prospects of finding a job in a failing economy can relate to the sense

of dread and possibly helplessness that accompanies the process of a job search.19 In all of

these examples, social arrangements and social forces, or simple intersubjective relations

impact our sense of agency.

We’ve come full circle now – we can now see how the reflective considerations of the F-

and P-intentions, the pre-reflective action consciousness, as well as the non-conscious

processes of the M-intention, collude to produce the full variety of action-consciousness.

We’ve also seen, through examining the interrelations of SA1 and SA2, that there are

inherent problems in an overreliance on boxologies of agency. The boxes drawn by

Pacherie et al all fit too neatly within the head – either mind or brain – and exclude out of

the box phenomena like social affordances. In most accounts of the comparator, while

marking off a box for ‘sensory input’ is quite convenient, the approach excludes from the

debate a vast array of important considerations, these being primarily the specific relation

19
Another example of a ‘social affordance’ or important contributor to SA not accounted for by
DTI or SA1; a Colleague recently related a situation his daughter, a peace-worker in station in
South Africa, described, relating how indigenous locals refused the possibility that they might grow
their own sustainable gardens. They thought it was impossible for them to do so because they had
become convinced, under apartheid social structures, that they were ‘lazy’ and therefore simply
could not do anything of the kind. They were content to conceive of things this way and to continue
to rely on government, which simply reinforced their sense of their own inability to create a garden
without state assistance.
39
between a given prior intention and it’s bodily satisfaction, the institutions that support and

extend the limits of agency, and the interpersonal practices and social affordances that

represent agency directly in the world.

Although we may possess the appropriate prior-intentions to live well, and our actions can

be presumed to involve a sense of agency in so far as they generate motor efference, we

have shown that the summation of these elements does not necessarily account for a full

sense of agency. To the extent that our actions begin to lose immediate, interpersonal, and

societal satisfaction, our self-experience, both pre-reflectively and reflectively, begins to

break down. This insight reveals the full scope of the multi-faceted and dynamically

interrelated nature of our sense of agency.

SECTION 2.1 INCENTIVE-SALIENCE AND THE WEAKNESS OF THE WILL

Having made claims about this fuller scope of the sense of agency, involving

environmental and social aspects, based primarily on phenomenological analysis, in this

section I present empirical evidence in support of these claims. Returning to our

investigation of compulsive actions, we might ask what in the brain contributes to these

behaviors. As I have argued, we need not appeal to subpersonal drug-related

neuroadaptations to discover cases in which the relation between our prior intent and

embodied sense of agency conflict. Still, it makes for a fuller investigation if we turn to the

report of the established addict, who might commonly claim a loss of agency; ‘it was the

drugs that made me do it.’ Clinical psychology recently provided an effective model of

addictive behaviors to guide us in our exploration of the sub-personal mechanisms

contributing to agency-loss.

40
The incentive-sensitization (IS) model hypothesizes that pathological addictive behaviors

occur whenever an agent has engaged in drug-taking behavior such that the salience of

drug related behaviors and stimuli are altered, become increasingly significant to the agent,

and eventually alter the agent’s perceptual world to the point where normal hedonic stimuli

no longer compete with drug-related stimuli (Robinson & Berridge 2000; 1993). The

perceived world for the addict, on the IS model, has become one of singular motivations, in

which all roads lead toward drug taking behavior.

IS has found strong empirical and theoretical support in recent years, rising out of

previously competing models that considered compulsive behavior to be a symptom of

either drug-wanting (purely hedonic theories) or the reduction of withdrawal related

symptoms (purely aversive theories). Hedonic and aversive views are in decline however,

having recently lost favor in light of evidence indicating that compulsive drug-related

behaviors correlate neither with the degree of pleasure reported by users nor with

reductions in withdrawal symptoms as measured in placebo studies and the subjective

reports of users (Robinson & Berridge, 2000).

The essential thesis of incentive-sensitization models is that the abuse of psycho-motor

drugs alters neural systems critical for processing motivation and reward related stimuli.

These adaptations are thought to leave these systems hypersensitized to drugs at a

neurobiological level, up regulating dopamine receptor sites to respond with greater

duration and intensity to drug associated stimuli. The brain regions associated with craving

behaviors are not believed to mediate the euphoric effects of drugs, or drug liking, but

instead mediate a subcomponent of reward (‘drug wanting’) that is specifically responsible

for instrumental drug-seeking and taking behavior (ibid, p. 94).

41
Recent PET and fMRI studies of addiction and drug-taking behavior have localized the

mechanism of IS to a neural network that overlaps with those implicated in studies of

intention and action; findings have correlated drug-craving with signal increases in the

nucleus accumbens region, parahippocampal, and lateral prefrontal cortices (Breiter et al.,

1997). Grant et al (1996) found correlations between self-reports of craving and activation

in the prefrontal cortex, amygdale, and cerebellum while Wang et al (1999) reported

similar correlations of self-reports with activation of the orbito-frontal cortex, insula, and

cerebellum. In a further study, researchers found that heroin-related cues activated regions

of the midbrain (periaqueductal grey and ventral tegmental) that consistently predicted

response to drug-related cues in the anterior cingulate, amygdala, and dorsolateral

prefrontal cortex (Sell et al., 1999). Importantly, the regions mediating IS are inscribed

within those that process action specification, executive control, and social cognition.

The IS model of compulsion can be further substantiated by recent empirical data

regarding the neurology of stress. Although early theorists largely assumed stress to be a

generalized flight-or-flight response to any aversive stimuli, a recent meta-analysis of 208

fMRI investigations of stress has overturned this hypothesis (Dickerson & Kemeny, 2004).

To briefly review, contemporary stress research indicates that in stressful situations, hyper-

activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis results in the release of the

hormone cortisol. Once in the blood, this powerful chemical results in a strong

physiological response (cold sweats, increased blood flow, increased blood pressure, etc)

and a direct, dynamic modulation of pre-frontal activations in the previously mentioned

brain regions (DLPFC, ACC, etc) leading to increased thoughts about the stressor that can

in turn further increase cortisol responding. These regions are also heavily implicated in

studies of self-agency (e.g. Frith, Decety, et al).

42
Following their quantitative meta-analysis, these authors find ‘that uncontrollable threats to

the goal of maintaining the ‘social self’ trigger reliable and substantial cortisol changes’

and that across studies, the factors of “controllability” and “social evaluation” interacted to

explain more than two-thirds of the empirical results (Dickerson & Kemeny, 2004).

Threats to the social self can thus be understood as threats to the salient environmental or

interpersonal factors of our agency, in terms of what I can control and how I expect others

to evaluate my actions. The point is that being with others, e.g. my drug-taking friends

leads to specific interpersonal stress, here clarified as an agency-loss related experience

(possible loss of control, pressure to use, etc.). The finding that primary factors driving

acute stress response relate to elements of controlling or maintaining a self in relation to

others supports my argument that interpersonal factors are heavily implicated in the sense

of agency. The agency loss of the drug taker or speed-dater might then be partially

accounted for by the acute stress response, which is essentially tied into external social

factors and supported by bodily-hormonal processes.

What can we conclude from this evidence? First, compulsive actions appear to depend in

part on neuronal processes mediating the phenomenal presentation of the environment to

the agent; as behaviors alter neurology, the phenomenal field is altered, and this alteration

in turn alters behavior and neural mechanisms in a reciprocal feedback loop. Similarly, as

intentions alter actions, actions alter intentions. That this salience-mediating mechanism is

instantiated in regions of the brain thought to code for intentional deliberation, social

navigation, and action, reinforces the idea that situational salience (that is, the salience that

we find in certain environments, certain people, etc.) contributes to intention formation and

the sense of agency. This relationship is again triadic, for the neural correlates of decision

43
making and cognition are integrally tied into those responsible for social, interpersonal,

and agency-related cognition, which are themselves tied up within those responsible for the

phenomenological saliencies of the agent.

As Damasio has extensively argued (Bechara, Damasio, & Damasio, 2000; Damasio,

1995) the case of Phineas Gage should remind us that that the rational deliberative

processes many view as integral to intention formation and control of actionare innately

social; damage the prefrontal regions associated with them and you will find no overt

detriment in the patient’s behavior. The deficit is there however, and will make itself

known the first time the agent is required to make a decision with any social significance;

appropriate conversational responses, financial decisions, and the everyday problems of

intersubjective beings become utterly meaningless for patients like Gage. Another way to

put this would be to say that the presentation of social saliencies and affordances have flat-

lined for the patient with prefrontal damage.

Returning to our original vignette, we might now better explain the neurophenomenology

of a decent into compulsive behavior.

The IS view of compulsion argues that rather than relegating the effects of drug-taking

behavior to the realm of hedonic or aversive behaviors, we might better understand them as

altering the basic salience of worldly incentives. Although it is well established that the

neurobiological effects of drugs like heroin and cocaine are decisive in the long-term

alteration of these networks, the fact that these neurobiological effects occur not only at the

extremely subpersonal level of the lower and midbrain, but also in those regions associated

with narrative and decision making, again highlights the role of social affordances in the

production of behavior and action consciousness.

44
In taking drugs, the addict’s comparator mechanism is operating efficiently insofar as it is

forward modeling his actions. The tension arising between present action and prior intent

and action might here be clarified as a tension between situational salience, for example,

the specifics of the environment, the presence of his peers, the behavior of his own body,

and the prior-intentions laid down by the agent previously. Any further actions taken by the

agent along this path will clearly continue to alter his fundamental access to the world by

means of the comparator’s intimate integration within the social cognitive and pre-

reflective brain networks. The addict’s life world has ceased to be specified solely by his

prior intention but is now being dynamically shaped in relation to his peers’ behavior

concerning drugs and the subpersonal neuroadaptations of his action-perception networks.

Working in the background of this incentive-salience mechanism is the clash between

morality and motivation; the agent’s prior motivations no longer fit within the reality he

has begun building by means of his drug-taking behavior.

SECTION 2.2 OUR ORDINARY ADDICTIONS TO THE LIFE-WORLD

We need not restrict these mechanisms to the extreme case of drug addiction. What I want

to argue here, in fact is that through the lens of compulsion we can begin to see how many

of our ordinary intentional actions are but one intentional description away from feeling

compulsive rather than willfull. A vast variety of pathologies, such as trichotillomania

(compulsive grooming), obsession compulsion, and eating disorders can be presumed to

trade on mechanisms similar to those mentioned above. The list of candidates for

perceptual-alterations via the brain’s incentive-salience mechanism is quite lengthy;

specific locations (a certain car or apartment), tools (different utensils or a certain article of

clothing), and specific peer groups might all be stimuli culprits for alteration of the IS

45
related brain networks when coupled with any compulsive, habitual behavior (e.g. drug

taking, nail biting, etc). We might even suggest that our own prior intentions might become

a source for a sub-compulsive alteration of these networks, tingeing our world with the

presence of whatever narrative, or theory with which we happen to be enraptured at the

moment. We may get locked up into our own self-made, or socially constructed, habits and

dogmas and addictions.

How does compulsion mirror our everyday capacity for, and consciousness of, action? To

begin with, as we have already noted, one does not need the radical example of brain-

altering drugs to find a mechanism for compulsion. The mere act of driving to work each

morning, should I no longer take pleasure in the stimuli associated with it, can be quasi-

compulsive in the sense that I must make the trip in order to conform to my learned desire

to be a productive citizen. As I drive each and every day to work, the old pleasures of

moving my body in such and such a way begin to give way to my forward-looking

knowledge; perhaps I have just learned I’ll never be up for tenure and now find myself lost

– my action meaningless - without a teleological motivation for my intention in action.

In this case, each individual movement towards my place of employment will erode my

sense of agency a bit more; it may be a growing implicit sense that my action is furthering

my own entrapment (SA1) or I may reflect on my situation and realize my actions no

longer satisfy my desires (SA2). Like the drug addict who slowly finds his brain displaying

a world that is devoid of salience save for drug-related stimuli, my own world in quasi-

compulsion begins to be dominated by cues that rob me of experiencing myself-as-author.

Social arrangements and social affordances play a large part in this. Even in the presence of

both appropriate prior intent and bodily control we may be prevented from attributing to

ourselves the proper role of agent. Thus it could be the presence of my supervisor (or a

46
certain environment, or a work place) that robs me of my sense of agency, just as the peers

and paraphernalia of the addict replace his sensible salience with a drug-laden life-world.

Sartre gave this an extreme expression, ‘hell is other people’, and this may be very true not

only for the drug addict. But this also goes the other way, insofar as the good in the world

is also the product not only of individual intentions but of a collective world-crafting.

CONCLUSION

In our investigation of action-consciousness, we’ve explored both the intentional and

bodily components of action. Through considerations of Searle, Anscombe, and Pacherie,

we’ve seen that the prior intention is formative in shaping our subsequent action, and our

experience of that action. It may be the case the communicative and narrative practices are

the foundation of this, lending a concrete quality to my extended agency, as when I dream

of the future or even declare my intention to achieve something in a conversation with my

partner.

Our intentions thus depend upon our experience, but also constrain our action-

consciousness and guide us when we are in-action. In fleshing out the minimal sense of

agency, with the help of Merleau-Ponty, we’ve found that the process of intention

formation is itself not static, but rather a dynamic function of our being-in-the-world.

We’ve seen how individual contributories to action-consciousness, such as sensorimotor

comparator processes and teleological control, as well as prior intention formation and

conscious control of action, and the external factors of society and interpersonal relations,

combine to create the dynamic sense of agency.

We then also developed an expanded definition of the sense of agency through the

phenomenological exploration of cases in which it is threatened or even absent, with


47
special focus on compulsion and addiction. We explored some of the neuroscience of

compulsion, moving from philosophy and phenomenology to recent empirical data,

constructing an integrated explanation for actions in which the sense of agency is impaired

or altogether absent, ultimately deriving from the empirical data a refined philosophical

explanation. Our final model of agency is then one that is dynamically embedded in the

world through physical and social affordances, embodied in agents that stand in certain

kinds of relations to their world.

Let me note some of the limitations of the above analysis. For example, the experience of

compulsion is itself likely to be as complex as the sense of agency, and here we have only

explored the minimal relations between the two. There is thus extensive work to be done

evaluating not only the phenomenology of compulsion, but also the specific ways in which

compulsive experiences emerge. Here we can mention the sense of ownership as well; a

phenomenon that I have ignored due to the limitations of space, but that we can be

reasonably sure plays an important role in experiences of both compulsion and agency. The

notion of ownership itself, one might add, can likely be analyzed into intersubjective

components in a similar vein as the present investigation. It is also essential to note that the

view of agency as intersubjective does not end with the analyses presented here. Ongoing

research is exploring the contributions of social institutions (Gallagher & Crisafi, 2009)

and meta-cognitive processes (Synofzik, Vosgerau, & Newen, 2008a, 2008b) to the

varying conceptions of action consciousness we have here explored. Finally, as we can see

in the recent debates on free will (Wegner 2004, Habermas 2007, etc.) there are profound

ethical implications involved in the conception of the sense of agency on which we have

not even touched.

48
To conclude, what can we now understand about the sense of agency? We can certainly

now see that whether or not we experience or attribute agency to ourselves depends

crucially on the world in which we live, and the peers with whom we engage. This

extended model of the sense of agency suggests that within my daily routine there are a

plethora of ways in which my culture and its institutions shape my ability to act affectively,

and are thus important in my ongoing sense of myself as author. Intentionally speaking, the

field of possibilities from which I can select my future actions depends crucially on the

physical environments and social practices within which I am embedded, and my overall

sense of myself as agent will depend upon my ability to evaluate my own position within

these systems and act accordingly. The difference between compulsive and willful actions

thus arises from a milieu of factors; if I am no longer able to project myself into the future

as an agent, because of drug addiction or brain pathology, or an imposed social structure,

my ongoing bodily actions will be in constant contrast with the possibility of experiencing

myself as a free agent.

49
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