chapter  5
24 Pages

Ideal Agency: The Perception of Self as an Origin of Action

JESSE PRESTON AND DANIEL M. WEGNER

It is chiefly my will which leads me to discern that I bear a certain image and similitude of Deity.

—René Descartes, 1641/1901 “Meditations IV”

Each of us has ideals, things we would like to be. We would like to be happy, pretty, smart, brave, kind, or honest. Such desired characteristics are often appreciated in psychology as facets of a person’s ideal self (Cooley, 1902; Rogers, 1961), and studies of the ideal self commonly focus on the particular selection of such ideals that an individual embraces. These ideals are all descriptions of the “good person.” In this sense, they all skip right over an important point. There is a far more fundamental ideal that often goes unnoticed, a basic prerequisite for even being a person at all. This is the ideal of agency. Quite simply, we would rather be agents than objects.