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Michael E. Bratman (Stanford) – Planning and its function in our lives [SAP Annual Lecture 2023; KCL]

14 September 2023, 4:00 PM5:30 PM BST


Date and time

Thu, 14 Sep 2023 16:00 – 17:30 BST


Nash Lecture Theatre
The Strand London WC2R 2LS

About this event

SAP Annual Lecture 2023: Planning and its function in our lives, Professor Michael E Bratman (Stanford University).

About the Speaker:

Michael E Bratman is Professor of Philosophy U. G. and Abbie Birch Durfee Professor in the School of Humanities and Sciences at Stanford University


Our human capacity for planning agency is for us a core capacity, one that underlies inter-related forms of mind-shaped practical organization that play fundamental roles in our lives. These forms of organization include the cross-temporal organization of individual agency, the small-scale social organization of shared agency, the social rules that pervade our sociality, and large-scale rule-guided organized institutions. This points to the idea that a central function of our capacity for planning agency is the support of these forms of practical organization. To develop this idea, I follow Peter Godfrey-Smith and highlight the contrast between the “Wright function” of something as “the effect it has which explains why it is there” and “Cummins functions” that “are capacities or effects of components of systems, which are salient in the explanation of capacities of the larger system.” Drawing on Paul Grice’s strategy of “creature construction” and on recent work of my own, I articulate a sequence of nested constructions: from temporally extended planning agency to shared agency to shared policies to social rules to rule-guided organized institutions. This supports seeing our capacity for planning agency as part of an explanation of how we achieve the cited forms of practical organization, and so as having nested Cummins functions of supporting those forms of organization. This is primarily an explanation of what good our planning capacity does rather than an explanation of why that capacity has come to be there. This sets the stage for reflection on related ideas in H.L.A Hart’s theory of law and on a challenge to the planning theory from J. David Velleman. And this put us in a position more deeply to understand the moral and political significance of our capacity for planning agency.


Nash Lecture Theatre
The Strand
London, WC2R 2LS United Kingdom
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