Forms of Agency

April 7, 2011 | 46 comments
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Agency is closely linked to power. Without power, we cannot make choices, and without choices we have no agency. It is by our power to help, to learn, to build that we exercise agency. Each of these — helping, learning, building — are forms of agency. (Agency is also closely linked to work and value, but I’ll come back to those later.)

I’m fascinated by the idea of “forms of agency”. Most of us tend to exercise agency in only a very few forms, limited by our ignorance of the options available. For example, if you decided to bake muffins, you could exercise your agency to choose between several “forms of muffins”: blueberry, bran, orange, etc. But how about pepperoni muffins? Even if you had all the ingredients for pepperoni muffins in your kitchen, you could not have exercised your agency to bake them; the thought wouldn’t have entered your mind (at least not until you’d read about them here. Now when you bake muffins, your agency will be expanded as a result of having read this post — and that’s what Times & Seasons is here for: expanding your culinary agency :) ). In other words, beyond requiring just resources and skills, agency also requires awareness of the available options.

So I’ve created a framework of forms of agency. Each form is labeled with an archetype. I’m going to explore seven of these forms in a series here, starting today with “Knight”. My hope is that through discussing these forms of agency we might discover whole swaths of our lives that we miss exploring, just because we’re unaware of them.

SevenFormsofAgency
Knight (popularity, achievement, recognition, leadership)

Like I mentioned, each form of agency is tied to a specific type of power. The power represented by the knight is the power of gathering, organizing, and directing people. It’s the power of popularity. (Like I said, my ultimate goal with this exercise isn’t to just abstractly enumerate powers, but specifically to do it with an end toward making people aware of powers available to them. Is “popularity” something that you’ve ever exercised? We talk about it as though it were something you either have or you don’t. But if we have agency, then it makes sense to me that popularity is a power you can choose to develop, like skill in music or programming.)

A lot of the knight’s power derives from his or her crowd. In fact, that’s the reason I chose the term “knight”. The knights in modern stories go on mystical quests and holy crusades. However, that’s not what historical knights are about at all. Historically, knights are about noble status and recognition, securing position, and building and protecting a manor (their “in” crowd).

Today, knights are the popular kids at school. They maintain an “in” circle, and there are benefits to belonging to a knight’s “in” circle. The knight is about making things happen. Knights are fun, but they’re not necessarily nice. (In fact, studies show that popularity is correlated with aggression, except at the highest levels of popularity. An easy example is the bloggernacle. The most popular members of the ‘nacle aren’t its nicest members.) Professionally, the agency of the knight is exercised by managers and executives, celebrities, activists, and clergy. These are all jobs where popularity and social influence lead to success.

Popularity isn’t a form of agency especially encouraged in the church (in fact, it’s probably the least encouraged of the seven forms of agency in my chart), but it still affects us. Generally the church encourages us to exercise agency in terms of obedience (the Monk) and service (Healer), and to a lesser extent through provident living (parts Merchant and Artisan). Along with popularity, creative expression (Muse) and learning for learning’s sake (Sage) also get short shrift. However, the church does encourage us to develop leadership skills, and popularity is an effective tool in leadership.

So how can you develop your “knightly powers”? I can’t say that I know. It’s not a form of agency I’ve explored much. But, from the outside looking in, here are my observations on what works:

  • Make things happen socially. Invite people to your house. Throw parties. Join and lead in local organizations, or at church. Be fun and have fun.
  • Be conscious of your image. Being a knight isn’t just about making things happen. It’s about making people think that you can make things happen. This means choosing how you present yourself in your clothes, words, actions, and internet presence. (This smacks of superficiality, and, in retrospect, that’s a lot of the reason that I’ve avoided this form of agency throughout my life. As I get older, I see it less as being superficial and more about recognizing that image is a form of communication and influence.)
  • Be a little bit (or a lot) arrogant, aggressive, and obnoxious. (Knights are confident, but it’s really useless to tell someone to “be confident”, as though you could just will yourself into a new trait. What you can do is “do” until you are able to “be”. And, as far as I can tell, arrogance, aggression, and obnoxiousness are the “piano lessons” of becoming confident.)
  • Humor. Knights make people laugh. This is as much about being confident as it is about being witty.
  • [addition: Competition. Part of being a knight is demonstrating superiority. Knights are involved in sports in school rather than drama club. In sports, there’s a clear winner and a clear loser, and everyone know which is which.]

So, to you knights out there, tell us about being popular. How’s that work for you? Is it a form of agency that you’re conscious of, and that you consciously take advantage of? Or is it just a natural part of who you are?

46 Responses to Forms of Agency

  1. Michael on April 7, 2011 at 9:02 am

    Very interesting post. I never considered myself a “knight” but your bullet points describe what is in my head perfectly. I still am not as witty as I would like and I tend to sometimes cross the line from confident and “action-oriented” into obnoxiousness but that is only because other people just don’t have any “fire in the belly” to get things moving. I cannot stand whining and complaining when taking action would help solve the problem.

    I have often thought that maybe being a gay man without the daily interaction with a female spouse (in fact, without any spouse – male or female) has led me to discount the importance of deeply exploring the emotions surrounding a situation but then I get over it and say “let’s just solve the problem”. Very typical male of me, I know.

  2. Dane Laverty on April 7, 2011 at 10:35 am

    I think that the “getting things done” mentality you describe is another core attribute of this form of agency. Is that approach to life just a part of who you’ve always been, or is it something you’ve consciously developed?

  3. Michael on April 7, 2011 at 10:48 am

    I would venture to say that I have always been a hyper kind of person since childhood. I have wondered if drive and ambition is a learned behaviour.

  4. Dane Laverty on April 7, 2011 at 10:57 am

    I believe that everything is a skill, that everything can be learned. I hear people say that you can’t teach some things, like “an eye for design” or passion or whatever. I believe that those things can be taught, but that we just haven’t developed a pedagogy for them, as we have for piano or math.

  5. Michael on April 7, 2011 at 11:01 am

    Dane,

    I don’t know if I agree. As I age (I am 49) my experience leads me to believe that while many things can be learned there are certain things that appear innate. Could it be something from the pre-mortal existence? It is an interesting thought.

  6. Dane Laverty on April 7, 2011 at 11:14 am

    I agree that some things come more naturally to people than others, and that there are limits on how far any person can develop a particular talent in this life. I’ll might never be a concert pianist, but I could take piano lessons to become more proficient than I am now. I may not be particularly bright/fun/outgoing/social, but I could become more so than I am now. The only difference I see is that there’s a market structure in place for kids to take piano lessons, but there’s not one for kids to take outgoingness lessons (which is too bad, since being outgoing is probably a lot more useful than being a good pianist.)

  7. Gdub on April 7, 2011 at 11:32 am

    Great thoughts Dane! I would love to read more about the connection between knowledge of these options and powers can enhance our agency. That’s a seldom-considered concept which seems highly important. Great job at putting that in easily digestible terms.

  8. Michael on April 7, 2011 at 11:47 am

    There is a structure in place for kids to take ‘outgoingness’ lessons. It is through the family personality and ambition structure. If the parents are outgoing, friendly, personable and full of ambition the children will absorb that and be the same. While it may not naturally come out of them in their youth, it will exhibit itself later in the college years if the parents emphasized it during their childhood.

    I am a firm believer in the adage “the apple does not fall far from the tree”.

  9. Dane Laverty on April 7, 2011 at 12:16 pm

    Thanks Gdub, those are some concepts I’m looking forward to discussing in more depth.

    Michael, you’re right that a lot of the skills we develop come through our life (and family) experiences. But where do kids get their “outgoingness” lessons if they don’t come from an outgoing environment?

  10. Suleiman on April 7, 2011 at 12:23 pm

    Michael,

    I agree. As a high school teacher, I’ve noted that students involved in activities which dealt with competition and even conflict (arts, athletics, debate, martial arts, etc.), not only opted for higher levels of academic development, but also more readily coped with the stresses of those choices. They are more confident in class. I believe we should encourage a bit of the “warrior” or “knight” in our youth.

    But in doing so, we often fail to establish or teach a “warrior’s code.” Chivalry can’t be dead, or the aggression that Dane warned about will quickly harm others.

  11. Dane Laverty on April 7, 2011 at 12:48 pm

    Suleiman, good point about the balance. I’ll come to that I address the other forms of agency in my framework. None of them are healthy taken to an extreme on their own. The sort of standards, values, and code of living that you’re talking about is what the Monk’s form of agency is about — the decision to live according to a rule. Knights who have no capacity as a Monk will likely be selfish, exciting, egotistical, and destructive. But such people exist, and I don’t want to deny that. The forms of agency aren’t about making ideal choices — they’re about identifying the range of choices available.

  12. Adam Greenwood on April 7, 2011 at 1:30 pm

    Well . . . someone’s got to explore the fruitful connection between LDS thought and role-playing games.

  13. Gdub on April 7, 2011 at 1:51 pm

    Adam FTW!

  14. Dane Laverty on April 7, 2011 at 3:24 pm

    Thanks Adam :) That’s actually more accurate than you may know.

  15. Eric Russell on April 7, 2011 at 4:17 pm

    Dane, I have a hard time getting on board with your use of “agency”. I think better terms for what you refer to are “freedom” or “liberty”. I think the LDS concept of agency, which is grounded in 2 Ne. 2 (in spite of the fact that the word isn’t used there), refers to something else.

  16. Dane Laverty on April 7, 2011 at 4:21 pm

    Eric, please expand. I’m not sure what you mean. Are you talking about an agency grounded in something other than choice?

  17. Eric Russell on April 7, 2011 at 4:50 pm

    Dane, no. I think agency is the ability to choose otherwise. And even if an option doesn’t present itself, agency still points to the ability to have chosen otherwise if it did. Agency is the ability to act without being acted upon – the ability to choose in spite of the biological and environmental forces that act upon us.

    So if I go to jail, my freedom is reduced and my liberty is reduced, but my agency remains the same. There may be fewer things that I can do with my agency, but my level of agency itself remains constant. I’m no less responsible than I was before for what choices I do make, even if the number of available choices is reduced.

  18. Dane on April 8, 2011 at 2:26 am

    That makes sense. You’re talking about agency in terms of potential — the choices a person could possibly make if they were in a situation, whether or not they actually encounter that situation. I’m not sold on that approach for a couple of reasons. First, it implies that our decisions are pre-made for us, i.e. if I have X level of agency, then I will choose Y given the option. Second, it reduces agency to a capacity or resource, like strength or aptitude or dexterity. I think agency is qualitatively different from our capacities, because it governs them.

  19. Eric Russell on April 8, 2011 at 8:02 am

    Dane, I’m not sure how you reached those conclusions, because I thought what I said implies the exact opposite. In any case, maybe the easiest way to say it is that I think there’s a case to be made that “agency” is essentially synonomous with “free will”. Agency simply means that our actions are not predetermined.

  20. Dane Laverty on April 8, 2011 at 9:59 am

    I understand that you want agency to mean “free will”, but your description of agency as something that exists abstractly from a decision is at odds “free will”. Take the example of exercising agency to pay or not pay tithing. As I understand you, you’re saying that a person in prison has that agency (either to pay or not to pay), even though he or she isn’t actually in a position to pay. In other words, even though the decision isn’t immediately present, the person’s agency already exists with regards to that decision. To me, that sounds a lot like predetermination — that there is something inside of us, what you’re calling “agency”, that has already determined how we will act, whether or not we will pay tithing. And when we are actually presented with the decision to pay tithing, we are just playing out the decision that our “agency” has already made for us.

  21. Jax on April 8, 2011 at 10:26 am

    Dane,

    I think what he is saying is that not knowing a choice exists doesn’t limit your agency. Or, that being in jail, my agency isn’t limited or reduced just because I can’t pay tithing. My agency exists, regardless of the choices – not that my choices are predetermined.

    Agency is the ability to choose. Even in jail we have the ability to choose. We get to choose how to deal with our physical environment, but not what that environment is, how it reacts to our choices, or choose what choices other make. It is the same for people not in jail. I can only choose how to react to my physical environment. My agency isn’t limited because I can’t make the grass purple, or fly like a bird, or make myself taller. Those aren’t options I have, but I still have full use of my agency.

    I’m pretty sure that is what Eric is saying

  22. Dane Laverty on April 8, 2011 at 12:49 pm

    I hear you and Eric both saying that your agency is not reduced even when your choices are reduced, but then I’m not sure what you mean by agency. When you say that agency is the “ability to choose”, doesn’t that require there to be choices? I have ability to choose to the extent that I have choices to choose from.

    Maybe a better question for me to ask is, do you believe that there is anything that can reduce or increase agency? You said that being in jail doesn’t decrease your agency, but how about tobacco addiction? Is there a difference between the two?

  23. brian larsen on April 8, 2011 at 2:02 pm

    @Jax and Eric: Elder Hales said a few years ago in conference that agency can be limited or even lost, and he gives being in jail as an example of when it becomes limited. (“To Act for Ourselves,” April 2006.)

    I’m very interested in the ideas that Dane is working through here, though I’m a bit confused by “forms” of agency. I guess I’m sort of looking at these categories like various personae, each of which offer their personal expertise to a situation, and through which, if I develop their skills and knowledge, will result in more possibilities for me in which to deal with a situation. Anyway – it’s a semantics problem. Dane, can you help me out with your use of “forms?” Would it be fair for me to interchange “forms” with “mode of employing”, or something like that, e.g. a “knight” personality would employ his agency to . . . . It seems like that is what you mean, but I’m just checking to see if it is more than that.

  24. Eric Russell on April 8, 2011 at 3:24 pm

    Jax, yes.

    Brian, like the atonment, agency isn’t always used in an entirely consistent way among GA’s, so pointing to specific uses doesn’t get us very far.

    Dane, those are the right questions. Ultimately, I think agency simply means that we are responsible for our actions, that our will has the final vote. When we take the road on the right, we reduce the choices that we might have made if we turned to the left – but we’re still fully responsible for whatever choices we do make.

    Addiction is complicated, but I think it, along with mental illness, is something that can actually reduce physical agency. But so long as we have the final say in our actions, we possess agency.

  25. brian larsen on April 8, 2011 at 3:47 pm

    @Eric Yes, well, you provided prison example. It seems like you are more interested in YOUR definition of the word than meeting what others seem to be saying. If I think I only have two choices, my utilization of agency is limited to those two choices – but if I become aware of more choices, I can use my agency in ways I couldn’t before, which, in sense, allows me more choice/power over my actions – which is what Dane seems to be saying. I’ll grant you that “agency” can be defined certain ways, but that is another post.

  26. Dane Laverty on April 8, 2011 at 3:49 pm

    brian, good question. Let me try to distinguish “personality” from “form of agency”. The two are related, but different. Your personality is who you are. Your forms of agency represent the options you have available in a situation. Your personality will naturally influence the forms of agency you develop in life. It will lead you act in the forms of agency you’re comfortable with, and might leave you unaware of other forms of agency you haven’t explored. To me, the value in identifying various forms of agency is that it allows people to say, “Hey, I never realized that [popularity] is even an option for me. I thought it was a trait, but it’s really just a skill. It’s something I can develop, even though it doesn’t come naturally to me.”

  27. Dane Laverty on April 8, 2011 at 3:50 pm

    (#26 was in response to #23)

  28. brian larsen on April 8, 2011 at 4:20 pm

    @Dane #26 Thanks for the clarification. Much of this discussion, I think, will require some initial definitions so that we can all be on the same page.

    @Eric My response in 25 came across as harsh. Sorry. I don’t know if Dane has provided room for the “dark side” of his “forms” in this discussion, and it would make sense in some ways if he didn’t because the “dark forms” would, according to some definitions, limit our “agency” or whatever we want to call it. Regardless, I tend too often to exercise something like a “vigilante” form of agency.

  29. Dane Laverty on April 8, 2011 at 4:23 pm

    RE: “dark forms”, like Suleiman pointed out in #10 (and I responded to in #11), any form of agency can be used for better or worse. They’re all just tools. Expanded agency expands your potential for both good and evil.

  30. Jax on April 8, 2011 at 4:53 pm

    Eric,

    People do use ‘agency’ differently and it causes a problem of understanding. Elder Oaks talked about it in his talk Freedom and Free Agency. “Free Agency” isn’t a scriptural term. Freedom is, and so is agency. But we often use the term “free agency” in our speeck and the combination of terms causes confusion and poor communication (even among GA’s) on the meaning of both ‘freedom’ and ‘agency’.

    Being placed in jail limits my freedom or available choices. It does not however limit my agency, my ABILITY to choose. I’ve been in prison (as an employee) and experienced the fact that despite nearly identical circumstances, restrictions, and limitations, an inmates ability to choose is unhindered – they all make different choices, and to Kent’s point, they make some choices that guards, officials, and other inmates didn’t even know where options. Some of what their options are very appealing, but they do have full functioning agency, though not full freedom.

    It is the same argument the Church and it’s members make when faced with nay-sayers who say the the LDS don’t have agency – that the church tells us everything we should do and we don’t have any choice. But we know we are free to disagree with the church, disregard the commandments, and act just like everyone else.

    I don’t think addiction causes a loss of agency either, or else NO ONE would EVER be able to quit. If the weren’t able to choose each time to take a drink or puff or pill, then they would never be able to choose not to. I know that being under the influence of drugs or alcohol can make you unable to choose; being incapacitated means you are not CAPABLE of making choices. That is why date rape drugs work, the victim can’t choose.

    Despite my disagreement with Kent and Brian on definition, I did like the use of Agency in the article. I like thinking that I can choose to be a Knight, Artisan, Sage at different periods. I approved of its use in those terms, even though I have a different text book definition.

  31. Eric Russell on April 8, 2011 at 8:21 pm

    Agreed on all counts, Jax. Still, I like to point out the traditional meaning of agency whenever it’s used in the “number of choices” sense because the notion that we can expand or increase agency obscures the most important aspect of agency, specifically: that we are already fully free and therefore fully responsible.

  32. Suleiman on April 9, 2011 at 3:04 pm

    Jax & Eric Russell:

    I’m sorry… I can’t make heads or tails of your definition. Agency exists in the abstract for you, so even if we can’t use it… we still have it? That’s a bit like being ordained to the priesthood but never being allowed to bless your wife and children. Do you really have it? Is it even possible for someone to violate or sin against another’s agency?

  33. Eric Russell on April 9, 2011 at 4:53 pm

    Suleiman, I’m not sure I totally understand where you’re coming from, but I’ll give it a try here.

    There is no situation where we “can’t use” agency. We’re always using agency, at every moment. But I can’t use my agency to make a choice right now about whether to turn left or right on 12th and Grand in LA, because I’m not there. But that doesn’t mean I lack agency. I still posses agency – the power to choose. It’s just that I can’t make that choice at this moment because it’s not an available option to me.

    Likewise, going someplace where there’s a seven lane intersection doesn’t increase or expand my agency. I don’t have any less agency at the four lane intersection than I did at the seven lane intersection, I just have fewer options at that juncture. My actual ability to choose from among my options remains the same. Now if I were not the driver, but a passenger, that’s a case where I actually lack agency to choose which way I turn.

  34. Suleiman on April 9, 2011 at 7:49 pm

    Sorry Eric, I greatly appreciate your reply, and this is a rather random response:

    1. As previously noted 2 Ne 2 is the background for your definition. But 2 Ne 2:16 seems to place the emphasis on actually acting, not merely having the potential to act.

    2. Moses 4: 3-4 implies that Satan sought (and still seeks) to destroy the agency of man. Those who succumb to his efforts are described as being “captive at his will.” I think that is where Elder Hales based his thinking.

    3. You wrote: “There is no situation where we can’t use agency. We’re always using agency, at every moment.” I do not believe this is true. Take the case of the date rape drug mentioned above. In that ugly moment, the victim has no capacity to choose. Have you ever seen fetal alcohol syndrome? Agency, “the power to choose,” has been nullified. Agency can be nullified, even destroyed, by extortion, torture, mental illness, etc. And if someone radicalized your definition, (I am not saying that you would ever do such a thing) they would find it easier to “blame the victim” in a variety of situations.

    Also, I do connect agency with accountability. So I’ll take a sliding scale of agency, because it makes the sliding scale of accountability (based on condition and position) which I hope the Lord will use at the last judgment make much more sense.

    Thanks again for your reply.

  35. Jax on April 9, 2011 at 8:08 pm

    Suleiman,

    Agency is only lost when we are incapable of making choices, but being in jail you still have choices. Under the influence of drugs, severe mental limitations, being unconscious, during those periods it can be impossible to make choices, thus a period without agency. But as you said, also a period where we are not held accountable for what happens to us if we didn’t choose to use the drug, etc.

    But, as a military interrogator, I can say that even under torture, duress, extreme stress, etc, there are still choices to be made. I may not choose to be tortured, but I can choose how to react to it (cry, give in, resist, fight…). That is all anyone can choose – how to react to the conditions around us. No one can choose how their environment, especially the people, around them act, we can only choose what how we act. And as long as a person is conscious and alert your agency is fully functional.

    This form of agency isn’t ‘in the abstract’. It is very definable. If you have the ability to choose, then you have agency. The battle in mortality isn’t over the right to choose – that battle was won in the pre-existence, and only the severely mentally handicapped don’t have it (though that is debatable). Our battle here is how we choose to use it. Do we choose good or evil, Christ or Lucifer, order or chaos, etc?

    I offer as an example Alma and Amulek in prison. Stripped. Beaten. Starved. Tied. Ordered what to say, did they have choice? There was nothing the persecutors could do to take their agency away. Alma and Amulek could still choose how to conduct themselves and to serve the Lord despite the efforts to get them to do otherwise.

  36. Dane Laverty on April 9, 2011 at 8:19 pm

    Jax, you’re a military interrogator? Not to threadjack myself, but wow. As for agency, I think that you and Eric are using “agency” to refer to something like “willpower”, while Suleiman, brian, and I are using it to refer to something like “affordances of available options”. My guess is that we probably agree, but just are using the same words to refer to different things.

  37. Jax on April 9, 2011 at 8:43 pm

    Dane,

    Was an interrogator until just recently.

    I don’t disagree with your use in the article, I liked the word for your purposes. But for definition purposes (not sure why we started defining it though) I don’t think willpower is a good synonym. Every prisoner has the option of resisting the guards, the ability to choose to do so, even if they don’t have the willpower to do so.

    Take me now at my computer. I have my agency now. I can choose lots of things, but since I’m in Arkansas instead of Paris I can’t choose to go for a walk around the Eiffel Tower. I don’t have the funds to get myself there, but I still have agency.

    So let me aske, by your definition does my agency increase if my bank accound does? because it would make more choices available to me?

  38. Dane Laverty on April 10, 2011 at 12:50 am

    To answer your last question first, yes. I see agency as distinctly rooted in the choices available to us. God has the greatest agency of all, because He is all-powerful.

    I don’t understand in what way a prisoner has the option to resist if he lacks the willpower. That’s like saying you have the option to walk around the Eiffel Tower even though you’re in Arkansas. If I understand you, you’re saying that you have the agency to walk around the Eiffel Tower based on the fact that, if you were theoretically in Paris, you could choose to do it. In the same sense, I guess that the prisoner who lacks the willpower still has the agency to resist if he theoretically had the willpower. But at the point the term “agency” becomes meaningless to me, because it essentially just says, “if you have the mental/physical/emotional/financial resources to do a thing, then you could choose to do that thing.”

  39. Jax on April 10, 2011 at 7:58 am

    Dane,

    You seemed to contradict yourself. You said YES to more agency with more money, then ended by saying agency becomes meaningless because “If you have the mental/physical/emotional/FINANCIAL resources to do a thing, then you could choose to do that thing.” So now I’m not sure if I misunderstood or if you said something you didn’t mean.

    But one prisoner resists. He fights the guards when they come in. He pisses on them as they walk by. He starts riots. But he gets abused because of it. He is constantly subdued with paintball guns and fireman like water hoses. He talks to another inmate and says “you should resist with me” the second says “Um, no thanks. I like the extra cigarettes and other perks the guards give me for NOT resisting.” This second guard has the option of resisting, but he uses his agency to not do so. The first has the agency to not resist, but doesn’t have the willpower to go along. Both have full agency but make different choices.

  40. brian larsen on April 10, 2011 at 1:39 pm

    @Jax and Eric I’m totally NOT on board with the Arkansas/Paris analogy or the LA/”not being there” analogy to the topic we’re discussing. The seven lane highway is closer, but still not there. I think what Dane is mainly talking about in the post is becoming AWARE of options, and how that can provide us with not only a greater capacity to chose wisely, but simultaneously more power over what we act upon, and how we act upon it – or, more agency.

    What Dane, seems to be pointing out in #38 at the end – though I’m also a bit confused by it (mainly because he responding to some very spurious examples of yours which confuse me more)- is what he sees as the tautology of your claim: if you can do it, then you can. But he also seems to note also how that doesn’t hold up to your own definitions: you seem to argue that even if you can’t do something because you’re not physically there, you still have agency in that regards.

    Or, are you actually saying that in some situations you don’t have agency to make certain choices because of that/your situation? If you are, then you are agreeing with Dane. If you aren’t, we can’t make our way around your definition. Still confused by your definitions as you seem to be by ours . . . . hm. . . .

  41. Eric Russell on April 10, 2011 at 5:26 pm

    Brian, I don’t think there’s any confusion, at least on our part, and I don’t think there’s any actual disagreement on anything but the traditional meaning of “agency.” I was just noting that I think that, in LDS theology, our understanding of “agency” is essentially the same as the concepts of free will or, in my opinion, libertarian free will in particular. Basically I’m saying that agency just means we are free.

  42. Suleiman on April 11, 2011 at 1:45 pm

    Hi Jax,

    You lost me again. You wrote “Every prisoner has the option of resisting the guards, the ability to choose to do so, even if they don’t have the willpower to do so.”

    I feel like I’m being flippant and no disrespect is intended, but isn’t that about as logical as saying that Jimmy has option of being a high school quaterback, the ability to choose to do so, even if he doesn’t have any physical legs because he is an amputee?

  43. Jax on April 11, 2011 at 3:01 pm

    Suleiman,

    Not wanting to do something, or even not knowing it was an option, is not the same as not being physically capable of doing it. Isn’t it “logical” to understand the difference? The prisoner can make choices how to conduct himself, so can the quadrapalegic (did I spell that right?), and so can the billionaire. They all have agency. The guy in the coma, the unconscious, the person under the influence of certain drugs, and possibly the severely mentally handicapped are not able to make choices for their behavior. They lack agency.

    Here is my contention, and has been all along: if you are able to make choices on how you behave, then you have agency.

    I can’t choose to walk around the Eiffel Tower, and the guy in Paris can’t choose to walk around my yard. Niether of us has more agency than the other. The prisoner can choose to walk around his cell. The parapalegic can’t walk, but he can push himself in a wheelchair or drag himself with his arms, or just sit and blink – whatever he chooses. But he doesn’t have less agency than I do because of his limitations, any more than all humans have a lack of full agency because we don’t have wings. I see agency as a cut and dry thing, black and white. You either have it, or you don’t. Your status can change, but you either have agency and are responsible for your behavior, or you don’t and aren’t. That is the way I see it.

  44. Jax on April 11, 2011 at 3:04 pm

    After stating the above, I should say I can see the argument on the other side. That agency increases with the number of options available. I’ve said I like the use of the word agency in the original posting/article. I just have a different basic definition. I don’t think winning the lottery increases my agency because I have more options available. I would say I have more choice, not more agency. I consider myself in possession(?) of full agency as I sit here.

  45. Chuck Whicker on April 16, 2011 at 12:21 am

    I’ve always kind of wondered about the scripture which says that the Lord “hardened Pharoah’s heart”. I questioned how such a thing could be done without taking away Pharoah’s agency to choose his own attitude. Then it occurred to me that the Lord’s familiarity with an individual makes it possible for Him to predict that individual’s reaction to a given situation. He knew Pharoah’s nature, He knew his m. o., He knew his record in eternity (or premortality). Therefore, he knew that Pharoah would, of his own nature and free will, rebel at the circumstances God was about to put him through. In this manner, the Lord “hardened Pharoah’s heart” by creating those circumstances. It was foreknowledge, not manipulation. It wasn’t tampering with agency.

  46. Chuck Whicker on April 16, 2011 at 11:02 am

    In response to Brian, #23: I believe that the Lord’s view of agency is that it is a constant with all men, regardless of circumstance. Lucifer sought to destroy the agency of man. How did he do it? His proposal was to take away the consequences. It’s not that he wanted to take away our choices, as many suppose, but the consequences of our choices. In other words, he offered to save all men no matter their choice. Agency is not permitted to play out when natural consequences are illegitimized or stopped. With this understanding in mind, the man stuck in jail has not been deprived of his agency at all, since he is being permitted to suffer consequences. If a man is put in jail unjustly, he still has full agency because he is allowed to respond according to his own will and suffer the consequences. A consequence doesn’t have to be just, to fulfill agency — sometimes the consequence men pay is in the form of a righteous sacrifice, such as when righteous men bear witness of the truth and are imprisoned for it, or put to death. They are bearing the cost of their choice to serve as a witness, abiding the consequence as well as the added glory and blessing that will come to them at a later period. All this is done without the least threat to agency — but Lucifer’s attempt to destroy agency was comprised of his attempt to do away with justifiable consequence. This is my opinion as I gather together the countless stories in scripture as to how God has dealt with man.