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Keywords:

  • agency;
  • autonomy;
  • colonization of the lifeworld;
  • equality;
  • freedom;
  • Habermas;
  • ideology;
  • Nietzsche;
  • populism;
  • power;
  • subjectivity

Abstract: Many of the things we do in social and political philosophy, whether normative or critical, presuppose some understanding and evaluation of agency. To have a clear idea of our normative or critical enterprise, the underlying account of agency needs spelling out. This article begins with a descriptive account: human agency consists in power (or causal efficacy) organized as subjectivity (or selfhood), and such organization takes place through attributions of power informed by values. Some such descriptive account is useful for understanding and comparing forms of agency. But as we move beyond it to construct an evaluative account of agency, we face problems that are symptomatic of our social and political condition. While quantitative assessment of agency does not work, qualitative assessment seems out of place in our modern world of pluralism and yet is unavoidable for those who, like Habermas, take issue with such phenomena as colonization of the lifeworld.