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Embodied cognition, causal theory of action and sense of agency

Fiorella Battaglia


It is necessary to wait for the most recent developments of embodied cognition to give empirical evidence to the bodily involvement of the agent in the theory of action. The construct of the “sense of agency” provides new elements to overcome the vision of an agency theorized in the absence of bodily mechanisms  of  sensory  processing  and  motor  control.  It  provides  a  direct  knowledge  of  our  actions  based  neither  on  observation  nor  inference  and  can  be  implemented in a computational model of the agent. What is more, robotics studies fit into this picture. By investigating what happens at the neural level when we add an extension to the agent’s body makes it possible to correlate the  knowledge  related  to  the  phenomenological  experience  with  the  knowledge related to the neural level. By combining a theoretical approach with a  radical  approach  that  relies  on  the  construction  of  complete  intelligent  sys-tems  with  a  real  apparatus  of  perception  and  movement  that  interacts  with  the  environment,  one  can  avoid  misleading  results.  This  approach  presents  strong  evidence  that  the  sense  of  agency  originates  in  the  neural  processes  responsible for the motor aspects of action. I will discuss how these recent results are compatible with a causal theory of action. My aim is to contribute to a compatibilist perspective able of integrating the knowledge stemming from different approaches to the same phenomenon. Paying scientific attention to the body does not necessarily mean surrendering to naturalism; it implies not being entangled in an alleged tension between two cultures.


embodied cognition; sense of agency; causal theory; experimental methods; biorobotics

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