Bio-Agency and the Possibility of Artificial Agents

  • Anne Sophie Meincke
Part of the European Studies in Philosophy of Science book series (ESPS, volume 9)


Within the philosophy of biology, recently promising steps have been made towards a biologically grounded concept of agency. Agency is described as bio-agency: the intrinsically normative adaptive behaviour of human and non-human organisms, arising from their biological autonomy. My paper assesses the bio-agency approach by examining criticism recently directed by its proponents against the project of embodied robotics. Defenders of the bio-agency approach have claimed that embodied robots do not, and for fundamental reasons cannot, qualify as artificial agents because they do not fully realise biological autonomy. More particularly, it has been claimed that embodied robots fail to be agents because agency essentially requires metabolism. I shall argue that this criticism, while being valuable in bringing to the fore important differences between bio-agents and existing embodied robots, nevertheless is too strong. It relies on inferences from agency-as-we-know-it to agency-as-it-could-be which are justified neither empirically nor conceptually.


Bio-agency Biological autonomy Metabolism Normativity Embodied robotics Artificial life 



This paper was funded by the European Research Council, grant agreement number 324186 (“A Process Ontology for Contemporary Biology”). Previous versions of this paper were presented in September 2015 at the Internal “Physics and Philosophy” workshop of the Research Project “Agency and (Quantum) Mechanics” (funded by the Templeton World Charity Foundation) in Reichenau at Lake Constance in Germany, in March 2016 at the 2016 Conference of the German Society of the Philosophy of Science (GWP) in Düsseldorf in Germany and in June 2016 at the 2016 meeting of Philosophy of Biology in the UK (PBUK) in Bristol in the United Kingdom. I am grateful to the organisers and audiences, especially Hans F. Briegel, Thomas Müller and Josef Quitterer, for helpful discussions and suggestions. I am also grateful to John Dupré and an anonymous referee for helpful comments on an earlier draft of this paper.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Sociology, Philosophy and AnthropologyUniversity of ExeterExeterUK

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