Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences

, Volume 7, Issue 3, pp 415–424 | Cite as

The anachronism of moral individualism and the responsibility of extended agency



Recent social theory has departed from methodological individualism’s explanation of action according to the motives and dispositions of human individuals in favor of explanation in terms of broader agencies consisting of both human and nonhuman elements described as cyborgs, actor-networks, extended agencies, or distributed cognition. This paper proposes that moral responsibility for action also be vested in extended agencies. It advances a consequentialist view of responsibility that takes moral responsibility to be a species of causal responsibility, and it answers objections that might be raised on the basis of intentions and deserts.


Methodological individualism Moral responsibility Extended agency Cyborg Actor-network Distributed cognition 


  1. Althusser, L. (1976). Essays in self criticism. London: NLB.Google Scholar
  2. Best, S., & Kellner, D. (1991). Postmodern theory: Critical interrogations. New York: Guildford.Google Scholar
  3. Burckhardt, J. (1954). The civilization of the Renaissance in Italy (S. G. C. Middlemore, Trans.). New York: Modern Library. (Original work published 1860).Google Scholar
  4. Clark, A. (2003). Natural-born cyborgs: Minds, technologies, and the future of human intelligence. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  5. Flew, A. (1995). Thinking about social thinking. (2nd ed). Amherst, NY: Prometheus.Google Scholar
  6. Foucault, M. (1970). The order of things: An archaeology of the human sciences. New York: Vintage.Google Scholar
  7. Foucault, M. (1980). Power/knowledge. New York: Pantheon.Google Scholar
  8. Friedman, B., & Kahn, P. H., Jr. (1992). Human agency and responsible computing: Implications for computer system design. Journal of Systems and Software, 17(1), 7–14.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Fromm, E. (1941). Escape from freedom. New York: Rinehart.Google Scholar
  10. Giere, R. N. (2006). Scientific perspectivism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  11. Hanson, F. A. (2004). The new superorganic. Current Anthropology, 45, 467–482.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Haraway, D. J. (1991). Simians, cyborgs, and women: The reinvention of nature. London: Free Association.Google Scholar
  13. Ihde, D. (1990). Technology and the lifeworld. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
  14. Ihde, D. (2002). Bodies in technology. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
  15. Johnson, D. G. (2006). Computer systems: Moral entities but not moral agents. Ethics and Information Technology, 8, 195–204.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Jones, R. H. (2000). Reductionism: Analysis and the fullness of reality. Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press.Google Scholar
  17. Kincaid, H. (1997). Individualism and the unity of science: Essays on reduction, explanation, and the special sciences. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.Google Scholar
  18. Ladd, J. (1989). Computers and moral responsibility: a framework for an ethical analysis. In C. C. Gould (Ed.), The information web: Ethical and social implications of computer networking. Boulder, CO: Westview.Google Scholar
  19. Law, J., & Hassard, J. (1999). Actor network theory and after. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  20. Resnick, L. B., Levine, J. M., & Teasley, S. D. (eds.). (1991). Perspectives on socially shared cognition. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.Google Scholar
  21. Said, E. W. (2000, December 17). Deconstructing the system [Review of Power: Essential works of Foucault, 1954–1984, Volume Three]. New York Times Book Review, 16–17.Google Scholar
  22. Selinger, E., & Engström, T. (2007). On naturally embodied cyborgs: identities, metaphors, and models. Janus Head, 9, 553–584.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department AnthropologyUniversity of KansasLawrenceUSA

Personalised recommendations