Philosophical Studies

, Volume 168, Issue 2, pp 545–568 | Cite as

Rationalizing flow: agency in skilled unreflective action

  • Michael Brownstein


In recent work, Peter Railton, Julia Annas, and David Velleman aim to reconcile the phenomenon of “flow”—broadly understood as describing the “unreflective” aspect of skilled action—with one or another familiar conception of agency. While there are important differences between their arguments, Railton, Annas, and Velleman all make, or are committed to, at least one similar pivotal claim. Each argues, directly or indirectly, that agents who perform skilled unreflective actions can, in principle, accurately answer “Anscombean” questions—”what” and “why” questions— about what they do. I argue against this claim and explore the ramifications for theories of skilled action and agency.


Agency Skilled action Flow Expertise Nondeliberative action Self-awareness 



For much needed help and feedback on this paper, many thanks to Nobel Ang, Michael Brent, John Christman, James Dow, Katie Gasdaglis, Tamar Gendler, Daniel Kelly, Eliot Michaelson, James Rocha and Steven Weimer. Special thanks to an anonymous reviewer for Philosophical Studies for cogent, detailed, and invaluable suggestions, and to Alex Madva for reading multiple drafts of this paper and for continuing to be an exemplary interlocutor and friend. I am also deeply grateful for all the helpful comments and questions I received after presenting parts of this paper at the 2012 Midsouth Philosophy Conference, the 2012 LSU Philosophy Conference, and the 2012 Eastern Division meeting of the American Philosophical Association.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of HumanitiesNew Jersey Institute of TechnologyNewarkUSA

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