Publication 7976

Bruineberg J. P. & Van den Herik J. C. (2021) Embodying mental affordances. Inquiry, Latest articles. Fulltext at
The concept of affordances is rapidly gaining traction in the philosophy of mind and cognitive sciences. Affordances are opportunities for action provided by the environment. An important open question is whether affordances can be used to explain mental action such as attention, counting, and imagination. In this paper, we critically discuss McClelland’s (‘The Mental Affordance Hypothesis’, 2020, Mind, 129(514), pp. 401–427) mental affordance hypothesis. While we agree that the affordance concept can be fruitfully employed to explain mental action, we argue that McClelland’s mental affordance hypothesis contain remnants of a Cartesian understanding of the mind. By discussing the theoretical framework of the affordance competition hypothesis, we sketch an alternative research program based on the principles of embodied cognition that evades the Cartesian worries. We show how paradigmatic mental acts, such as imagination, counting, and arithmetic, are dependent on sensorimotor interaction with an affording environment. Rather than make a clear distinction between bodily and mental action, the mental affordances highlight the embodied nature of our mental action. We think that in developing our alternative research program on mental affordances, we can maintain many of the excellent insights of McClelland’s account without reintroducing the very distinctions that affordances were supposed to overcome.


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