A Cognitive-Semiotic Approach to Agency: Assessing Ideas from Cognitive Science and Neuroscience

Juan Mendoza-Collazos, Jordan Zlatev

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Following the levels of intentionality and semiosis distinguished by the Semiotic Hierarchy (a layered model of semiosis/intentionality), and the distinction between original agency (without the use of artefacts) and enhanced agency (the prosthetic incorporation of artefacts), we propose a model of an agency hierarchy, consisting of six layers. Consistent with the phenomenological orientation of cognitive semiotics, a central claim is that agency and subjectivity are complementary aspects of intentionality. Hence, there is no agency without at least the minimal sense/feeling of agency. This perspective rules out all artefacts as genuine agents, as well as simple organisms, since it is highly unlikely that e.g. bacteria have any first-person perspective. Using this model, we review and assess recent proposals on the nature of agency from cognitive science, and neuroscience, and draw conclusions on how to
incorporate aspects of them within a synthetic cognitive-semiotic framework.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)141-170
Issue number1
Early online date2022
Publication statusPublished - 2022

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • General Language Studies and Linguistics

Free keywords

  • Agency hierarchy
  • Agentive semiotics
  • Cognitive semiotics
  • Enhanced agency
  • Phenomenology
  • Semiotic hierarchy


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