I am a biologist but have strong interests in the most fundamental questions of Life, so I had to educate quite a bit on philosophy to be able to delve into them. One of the concepts I had to become familiar with was that of agency. I now think there is simply no way to be familiar with theoretical biology if you haven't heard of the concept of agency. It is often implied that what distinguishes animate from inanimate matter is the agency of the first over the second. Basically, it means living organisms can act on their own behalf, while inanimate objects always follow a predetermined path. Am I correct?
Then, the question comes-can an agent choose not to use its ability to counter the effects of the environment through its agency and follow a predetermined path just like any other physical object. But then is it really an agent?
To translate the question in a little but more "biological"(and "scientific" for that matter)way consider this. If a molecule "chooses" to evolve into a more fit version of itself for a certain process does it really has this "choice" and the agency for this matter or is it predetermined to do so. There are several papers which I think pertain very well to theoretical biology here, here and here among many others which discuss the role of the notion of agency/autonomy for a proper definition of Life. As far as I know agency always(I want to pay attention here to this key point)implies its bearer to have the free will to take one course of action or the other. I can very well see how this concept pertains to biology as a molecule in a sense has "the choice"(under the circumstances used to defined the word)to transform its "progeny" into different versions of itself. This is how chemical evolution works and chemical evolution is an important step on the road to Life. But ultimately it is driven by natural laws and as such it is under the constraint of those laws and not an independent process itself. The molecule can evolove different forms of itself but it can not not choose to evolve. Then is its choice of the particular form it evolves into an act of agency or not? And more precisely when does agency starts for such molecules-when they start to change under the pressure of the environment or when they self-generate this change going into a cycle of change where the change of the previous step is the cause of the change in the next step and so on until a maximum fitness is achieved. Does the concept of agency implies this process is the "choice" of the molecules or is it an extension of the changes started by the environment to them(therefore, implying agency isn't the reason of the particular "choice" made by the molecules)which are determined by the laws of nature and therefore the molecules aren't themselves responsible for them?
Does the agency starts when the molecule can choose its new form and generate change by itself or when it starts to change no matter the causes? Is agency equal to the ability to change or is it equal to changes under only special circumstances driven by the changes in the molecule itself(e.g. its "choice" to evolve)?