At CSMN we are investigating one of the principal manifestations of mind – agency, or the capacity for acting intentionally – in a problem-oriented, empirically informed manner. Agency of such a kind is susceptible to assessment in the light of various standards, rules or norms. Our research focuses on the most distinctive features of human agency and its attendant normativity. Accordingly, we are investigating rational, linguistic, and moral aspects of human agency, as well as their relations to non-human forms.
Normativity and Naturalization
Research in these three areas is unified by a focus on normativity: In the exercise of these capacities, we become subject to assessment in light of reasons, norms and rules. Norms differ from natural laws: they can be violated and give rise to obligations.
Due to their normative features, these capacities are very important to us as human agents. At the same time they are arguably also particularly recalcitrant to naturalization. By understanding the rational, linguistic and moral agency as integrated parts of the natural world we can come a long way towards understanding the mind and its place in nature.
Interconnections between the Research Areas
Linguistic and moral agency are special cases of rational agency, making rational agency more fundamental. At the same time, linguistic agency is arguably the rational activity par excellence: it is essential for reflective, critical thought, just as our social, political and moral life could not exist without it. The sphere of moral agency, on the other hand, provides us with the most salient examples of norms. Furthermore, moral norms are those about which we most explicitly care, while at the same time giving rise to the greatest controversies both at the individual and social levels.T
he three research areas are also unified insofar as the relevant empirical research programs the Center addresses all have normative presuppositions built into them: In the study of rationality, for example, economists and decision theorists make basic assumptions about the structure of the mind and the causes of actions. Accounts of linguistic agency and communication involve characterizations of conditions of success and failure, which are normative in nature.
Normativity in human life
The sciences of human behavior provide us with examples of empirical inquiries utilising assumptions about the specific kinds of values or preferences on the basis of which we act. This suggests that philosophical studies of normativity may be of direct relevance to the pursuit of these kinds of empiricial knowledge.
At the same time, sciences of human behavior have produced experimental results that bear on widely held assumptions, often shared by philosophers, about the norms and values on the basis of which humans supposedly act.
Not only must philosophical theories take such findings into account; they often provide the most promising starting point for developing a general understanding of normativity in human life.