1st Edition

The Biological Foundations of Action

By Derek M Jones Copyright 2017
    124 Pages 4 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    124 Pages 4 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    Philosophers have traditionally assumed that the difference between active and passive movement could be explained by the presence or absence of an intention in the mind of the agent. This assumption has led to the neglect of many interesting active behaviors that do not depend on intentions, including the "mindless" actions of humans and the activities of non-human animals. In this book Jones offers a broad account of agency that unifies these cases. The book addresses a range of questions, including: When are movements properly attributed to whole agents, rather than to their parts? What does it mean for an agent to guide its action? What distinguishes agents from other complex systems? What is the relationship between action and adaptive behavior? And why might the study of living systems be the key to understanding agency?

    This book makes an important contribution to current philosophical debate on the nature and origins of agency. It defines action as a uniquely biological process and recasts human intentional action as a specialized case of a broader and more common phenomenon than has been previously assumed. Uniting findings from philosophy, cognitive science, psychology, biology, computer science, complexity theory and ethology, this book will be of interest to students and scholars working in these areas.


    1.  On the Need for a Theory of Primitive Action

    2. Guidance and Deviance

    3. Whole-Organism Agency

    4. Guideless Guidance

    5. From Eddies of Order to Wellsprings of Value

    6. From Autopoiesis to Agency

    7. Conclusion: Beyond Primitive Agency



    Derek M. Jones is Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Director of Cognitive Science at the University of Evansville, USA.

    Recent decades have seen a rise of theories of human agency that acknowledge its biological roots. This development encompasses both the philosophy of biology and ‘classical’ analytic philosophy of mind and action—so far, however, in the form of two largely separate debates. Jones’ monograph on The Biological Foundations of Action is a most welcome contribution, as it engages with both of these debates.
    Anne Sophie Meincke, University of Exeter, History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences