Conceptual Inventory

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Active Matter

Material systems composed of energy-consuming and force-generating parts whose collective activities can generate complex behaviors. Examples include cellular cytoskeletons and schools of fish.


Needleman, D. and Z. Dogic (2017). “Active matter at the interface between materials science and cell biology.” Nature Reviews Materials 2:1–14.


The quality or state of being well-suited to a set of conditions; or, a phenotypic character that contributes to fitting an organism to a set of conditions; or, the process that results in organisms becoming better suited to a set of conditions.


Amundson, R. (1996). “Historical development of the concept of adaptation.” In M.R. Rose & G.V. Lauder (Eds.), Adaptation (pp. 11–54). New York: Academic Press.

Agency (Collective)

The capacity of two or more individuals to act together in pursuit of a shared aim, in particular, when achieving this aim requires coordinated action.


Roth, A.S. (2017). "Shared agency.” In E.N. Zalta (Ed.), The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2017 Edition).

Topical Filter:
Agency and Autonomy

Agency (General, or Minimal)

The capacity of a system to act on its own behalf: to initiate, sustain and terminate activities within an environment.


Kauffman, S.A. (2000). Investigations. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Agency (Intentional)

The capacity of a system to perform activities guided by intentional states (states that represent, or are directed upon, things and states of affairs beyond the system).


O’Brien, L. (2022). “Intentional agency.” In L. Ferrero (Ed.), The Routledge Handbook of Philosophy of Agency (pp. 109–117). London: Routledge.

Agential Explanation

A form of explanation that involves reference to the goals (real or apparent) of agents. Here “agents” should be understood as entities exhibiting at least minimal agency. See “Agency (General, or Minimal).”


Okasha, S. (2018). Agents and goals in evolution. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


The relative independence of a system from environmental determination, usually involving an enhanced capacity for self-determination (producing its own parts, responding actively to perturbations, etc.). See “Self-Determination.”


Moreno A, and M. Mossio (2015). Biological Autonomy: A Philosophical and Theoretical Inquiry. Dordrecht: Springer.

Allied Concepts:
Agency (General, or Minimal), Constraint, Organizational Closure, Robustness, Work-Constraint Cycle,