The neuroethics of agency: the problem of attributing mental states to people with disorders of consciousness
How can we be certain that another creature is a conscious being? One path is to rely on introspective reports we can grasp in communication or observation of their behavior. Another path is to infer mentality and consciousness by means of markers tied to their intentional behavior, that is, agency. In this paper we will argue that even if agency is a marker of consciousness in several normal instances (paradigmatically, for mature and healthy human beings), it is not a good marker in several pathological instances, such as the blindsight case, the vegetative state, the akinetic mutism and the locked-in syndrome. If we are right, this can be of great utility in neuroethics; for those kinds of disorders of consciousness are not, after all, instances of complete absence of consciousness.
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