Implicit knowledge: expanding the bounds of agency
Arnon Cahen (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)
22 October 2021, 16:00 (Lisbon Time – GMT+1) | Sala Mattos Romão (Departamento de Filosofia)
Abstract: In their classic (1977), ‘Telling more than we can Know’, Nisbett and Wilson purportedly show that we are often blind to factors influencing our actions. When explaining our actions, we are prone to confabulation. Underlying these confabulations is the fact that we attempt to ‘tell’ more than we ‘can know’. Their work has bred a vast empirical literature pointing in the same direction – a proper explanation of our actions commonly appeals to features of which we are completely unaware. One unsettling consequence of such research, which many have been quick to draw, is that our commonsensical conceptions of human agency, freedom, and (epistemic, moral, and legal) responsibility, must be abandoned or, at least, substantially modified. Our actions, the story goes, can no longer be seen as outcomes of our conscious, rational, assessment of our situation. Rather, they are controlled by situational factors of which we are unaware; factors that ‘bypass’ our conscious decision-making processes altogether. In this talk I aim to uncover, and call into question, some of the assumptions embodied in this literature. I cast doubt on the transition from our ‘failure to tell’ and ‘inability to know’. Indeed, I argue, a ‘failure to tell’ is characteristic of the kind of knowing underlying the bulk of our genuinely agential engagements with the world. Rather than presenting a threat to our notion of agency, such literature calls for a broadening of its proper scope of applicability.