“A car rammed into counter-protesters during a violent white nationalist rally,” for example, is a sentence that may legitimately be criticized for neglecting to point out that someone was at the wheel of said car; in this case, though, the avoidance of explicit agency is a moral failure, not a grammatical one.”

Could anyone help me understand the meaning of “agency” in this paragraph? I did check it in a dictionary but still I have no idea.

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    In 'Bill kicked the cat', the subject ('Bill') or rather the subject referent (Bill, the shifty bloke who lives round the corner ...' is the agent, the perpetrator. In 'The cat was kicked by Bill', 'The cat' has been made the subject, but the agent, the perpetrator, is still the shifty .... // But if we drop the by-phrase in the passivised form, 'The cat was kicked', we drop the agent, and shifty Bill is not named and shamed. // Agents are often sentient. // 'Agency' is 'The notion of the action carried out by an agent, or the carrying out'. Commented Feb 27, 2020 at 15:45
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    Does this answer your question? What do "agent" and "agency" mean respectively in "moral agent" and “moral agency”? Commented Feb 27, 2020 at 15:51
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    Thank you Edwin! This has been really helpful.
    – Emma Zhou
    Commented Feb 27, 2020 at 16:15

2 Answers 2


"Avoidance of explicit agency" is referring to the way that the article does not attribute the action to the driver--opting instead to personify and implicate the vehicle.

Agency in this sense is choice and freedom of action. The driver was in control of the vehicle and made the choice to drive into the protesters, and the critic is accusing the author of minimizing that.


agency, noun
2: the capacity, condition, or state of acting or of exerting power : OPERATION

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