5:30 to 7pm
Pushing Donald Davidson’s Buttons: Agency, the Non-Human, and the Binary Switch
Recent theorists of non-human agency have roundly rejected earlier, more humanistic assumptions, but in this paper, I show how Donald Davidson’s causal theory of action anticipates them by decades. Although overtly humanistic and individualistic, Davidson’s causal theory of action nonetheless betrays an early consciousness of human-machine hybridity. By looking closely at Davidson’s famous example of turning on a light switch, I argue that the binary switch did much more than just exemplify his philosophy of agency: for more than a century now, binary switches have helped their users imagine that agency belongs to humans alone.