Publication 4772

Cowley S. J. & Gahrn-Andersen R. (2015) Deflating autonomy: Human interactivity in the emerging social world. Intellectica 62: 49–63. Fulltext at https://cepa.info/4772
This article critiques recent enactivist attempts to bridge an epistemological divide between the individual and the social (i.e. to fill in the posited macro-micro gap) Its central claim is that an inflated view of ‘autonomy’ leads to error. Scrutinising two contributions, we find that methodological solipsism taints Varela’s model: It induces De Jaegher & Di Paolo to ascribe social knowledge to perturbances – contingencies whose logic arises from the closed organization of an individual (De Jaegher & Di Paolo, 2007) and Steiner & Stewart to posit that the pre-dispositions of an organizationally closed world prompt individuals to “receive” shared norms (Steiner & Stewart, 2009) On our deflated view, neither organizational closure nor participatory sense making apply to most human cognition. Rather, we invoke a developmental process based on the recursive self-maintenance that is found in all organism-environment systems (including bacteria) Humans differ in that infants discover ways of making skilled use of phenomenal experience: they learn to predicate something of lived experience. As observers, they connect impersonal resources of culture (artifacts, institutions, languages etc.) with on-going social and environmental activity. This human kind of heteronomy links social processes to agent-environment systems that sustain – and are sustained by – historically positioned modes of life. Far from being organisationally closed, human subjects depend on using sensorimotoric prompts to connect the phenomenal with the impersonal and open up a partly shared, partly lived, reality.

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