Time-Horizon and Agency
I argue that our subjective sense of remaining time is vital to our agency. The argument, in outline, is this:
(1) A diminishing time-horizon diminishes one’s capacity to self-reauthor.
(2) The capacity to self-reauthor is constitutive of agency par excellence.
(C) Therefore, a diminishing time-horizon attenuates agency.
(1) says that the sense that we are running out of time saps our ability to deliberately change our characters. (2) says that this ability is essential for being creatures maximally in control of what we do. (2) is intuitively obvious: since your actions are partly determined by your character, the more control you have over your character, the more control you have over your actions. The argument for (1) has two stages. First, I argue on conceptual grounds that self-reauthoring requires, at a minimum, the capacities (a) for negative self-evaluation and (b) for long-term planning. Second, I adduce empirical evidence (from Socioemotional Selectivity Theory) that these are precisely the capacities that get eroded with time. If these arguments work, (C) follows deductively: our agency wanes with the waning time-horizon. Thus, if we ignore the integrity of the time-horizon to agency, we will miss both a vital feature of agency and the central tragedy of running out of time.
I obtained my PhD in Philosophy from Cambridge in 2007. Since then, I have held three Philosophy postdocs - in South Africa, Mexico, and currently at Vienna University. Although my areas of specialization are epistemology and metaethics, I have recently become really interested in the philosophy of old age. (A forthcoming publication in the area: ‘Age and Agency’, Ageing and the Elderly, special issue of Philosophical Papers).
from our workshop on Power, Time and Agency held in Manchester, January 2013