Skip to main content
Article thumbnail
Location of Repository

At the Potter’s Wheel: An Argument for Material Agency

By Dr Lambros Malafouris


Consider a potter throwing a vessel on the wheel. Think of the complex ways brain, body, wheel and clay relate and interact with one another throughout the different stages of this activity and try to imagine some of the resources (physical, mental or biological) needed for the enaction of this creative process. Focus, for instance, on the first minutes of action when the potter attempts to centre the lump of clay on the wheel. The hands are grasping the clay. The fingers, bent slightly following the surface curvature, sense the clay and exchange vital tactile information necessary for a number of crucial decisions that are about to follow in the next few seconds. What is it that guides\ud the dextrous positioning of the potter’s hands and decides upon the precise amount of forward or downward pressure necessary for centring a lump of clay on the wheel? How do the potter’s fingers come to know the precise force of the\ud appropriate grip? What makes these questions even more fascinating is the ease by which the phenomena which they describe are accomplished. Yet underlying the effortless manner in which the potter’s hand reaches for and gradually\ud shapes the wet clay lies a whole set of conceptual challenges to some of our most deeply entrenched assumptions about what it means to be a human agent

Topics: Philosophy of Mind, Human Computer Interaction, Dynamical Systems, Robotics
Publisher: Springer
Year: 2007
OAI identifier:
Download PDF:
Sorry, we are unable to provide the full text but you may find it at the following location(s):
  • (external link)
  • (external link)
  • Suggested articles


    1. (1998). Art and Agency: An Anthropological Theory.
    2. (1997). Being There: Putting Brain, Body and World Together Again.
    3. (2005). How the Body Shapes the Mind.
    4. (2001). Intentions as emergent products of social interactions.
    5. (1998). Mind as Action. doi
    6. (2000). Philosophical conceptions of the self: Implications for cognitive science.
    7. (1953). Philosophical Investigations. Basil Blackwell, doi
    8. (2004). Precis of the illusion of conscious will. doi
    9. (1973). Steps to an Ecology of Mind.
    10. (1998). The Extended Mind.
    11. (2002). The Illusion of Conscious Will. doi
    12. (1987). The Intentional Stance.
    13. (2003). The mind’s best trick: How we experience conscious will. doi
    14. (1998). The Mind’s Past.
    15. (1981). Unscrewing the Big Leviathan. InAdvances in Social Theory and Methodology: Towards an Integration of Micro and Macro-Sociology, edited by K. Knorr-Cetina

    To submit an update or takedown request for this paper, please submit an Update/Correction/Removal Request.