Research Project


Adaptive Agency

Dr. Mercedes Valmisa

One of the major philosophical problems in Early China was the relationship between the individual and the world. Early Chinese thinkers were particularly concerned with agency: how to act efficiently in different situations, how much control humans have over the course of events and the outcomes of their actions, how to cope with uncertainty and unpredictability in ordinary life, and how to relate to the larger context successfully. In relation to these questions, my project analyzes an extraordinary model of successful agency and a strategy for dealing with upcoming, unexpected situations that lie outside one's control, termed "adaptation" (yin 因). As opposed to forceful, arbitrary and prescriptive behaviors, adaptability requires of the agent a great capacity for situational awareness, reflection, flexibility and creativity in order to produce responses ad hoc, and solutions to specific, non-permanent and non-generalizable life problems, whether these be related to political, military, professional, medical, religious or ordinary life contexts. My project introduces a contemporary audience to Early Chinese philosophy by demonstrating how we can use adaptability as a philosophical strategy today as we seek ways to understand the changing nature of our world more comprehensively, enhance the success rate of our actions in the face of unpredictability and risk, maintain sustainable interactions with both the social and natural environments, cope with sickness, misfortune, and death, avoid opposition and solve conflicts, and gain a sense of existential competence and freedom in our daily life.

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