Intelligent Agency on Multiple Scales

  • TWCF Number:


  • Project Duration:

    February 17, 2020 - February 28, 2022

  • Core Funding Area:

    Big Questions

  • Priority:

    Diverse Intelligences

  • Region:


  • Amount Awarded:


Director: Patrick McGivern

Institution: The University of Wollongong

To investigate the diversity of intelligence, we need an account of intelligent action that isn’t biased toward the human scale. Small-scale creatures, such as bacteria, and slow-acting ones, such as plants and slime molds, need to be understood on their own terms, rather than being judged by human standards. 

This Diverse Intelligences project will develop such an account by focusing on the central concept of agency. Agency distinguishes intelligent action from merely mechanical responsiveness and from unguided spontaneity. But most standard accounts of agency also show a bias toward the human scale. Thus, agency needs to be re-conceived in a way that is compatible with activity on multiple scales.

Through philosophical analysis and through engagement with scientists working on “minimal” forms of intelligence in systems such as bacteria, plants, and slime molds, the project team will develop a rigorous account of agency that can apply across a diverse range of spatial and temporal scales. This will involve integrating agency with other scale-dependent concepts and building a better understanding of how we must conceive of agency at different levels of explanation.

The project will involve a two-year collaboration between Patrick McGivern and a postdoctoral fellow, resulting in a series of papers and a monograph tentatively titled “The Abundance of Agency: Understanding Agents on Multiple Scales.”


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