Agency Begins with Saying No

Ideas from BYU Family Life Professor Thomas Draper

This suggests that the power to meet our goals lies in our ability to say no to distractions, etc. We have the power to choose what we do. We are not powerless. Perhaps we should make “No” our new favorite word we tell ourselves.


Agency exists because we can say no despite what physiological reaction we have to stimulus. Professor Thomas Draper of BYU says in his SFL 290 class presentation 6 on critical thinking.


“First, it exists. Despite neuropsychological studies that say it is a self-flattering illusion.

Neurological studies are helpful, but usually  interpreted incompletely.”


He refers to Libet’s experiment on when we react to stimuli. Libet suggests that it’s just an illusion that we chose to do things, that we are powerless to stimuli.


“The beginning of agency is

saying “No” to what is starting to happen

In your body.” says Draper.


He continues, “No doubt, some actions are prefigured by neural impulses of Biology; Temptations; Natural man (or woman) Pre-decisions Habits”


Consider Joseph fleeing from Potiphar’s wife.


Draper continues,

there are moral moments

more complex, unlike the simple hand and finger movements in the neuroscience experiments.

They cause us to pause and break

out of our everyday routine and do

a much more complex moral

evaluation, and take more complex



The parable of the Good Samaritan

The baby in the road


Consider that “we get to choose our goals”


Sailor on the lake metaphor:

The boat = genetic endowment

The lake and the winds = the physical and social environments

The person sailing the boat = the moral agent


But after we do we must obey the laws that will get us to our goals.

Often not a lot of choice about how we must behave to get to the goal.

Saying “yes” to the goal means saying “no” to distractions & temptations.


Getting to the same goal can be harder for some people than others.


[due to]


Different genetics


Different social and

physical environment


But if is a moral goal one will have Divine help and grace to get there.

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