The varieties of activity

Hans Reiner’s contribution

Authored by: Christopher Erhard

The Routledge Handbook of Phenomenology of Agency

Print publication date:  October  2020
Online publication date:  October  2020

Print ISBN: 9781138098978
eBook ISBN: 9781315104249
Adobe ISBN:


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It is often said that finite conscious animals like us are essentially active and passive beings – both agents and patients. Just think of Kant’s famous thesis in the Critique of Pure Reason according to which human cognition results from the receptivity/passivity of sensibility and the spontaneity/activity of understanding (cf. e.g. A51/B75). This Kantian entanglement thesis, as we might call it, seems easily generalizable to almost all human experiences. At this very moment, for instance, while I’m actively typing words, I am also passively affected by the smooth hardness of my notebook’s keys that affects my writing activity. Indeed, it seems hard to imagine episodes of either “pure” activity or “pure” passivity. As long as we are conscious and alive, we seem to be inextricably both.

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