Rowlands M. J. (2007) Understanding the “active” in “enactive”. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 6(4): 427–443. https://cepa.info/5059
Understanding the “active” in “enactive”.
Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 6(4): 427–443.
Fulltext at https://cepa.info/5059
Much recent work on cognition is characterized by an augmentation of the role of action coupled with an attenuation of the role of representation. This coupling is no accident. The appeal to action is seen either as a way of explaining representation or explaining it away. This paper argues that the appeal to action as a way of explaining, supplementing, or even supplanting, representation can lead to a serious dilemma. On the one hand, the concept of action to which we appeal cannot, on pain of circularity, be a representational concept. Such an appeal would presuppose representation and therefore can neither explain it nor explain it away. On the other hand, I shall argue, if the concept of action to which we appeal is not a representational one, there is every reason for supposing that it will not be the sort of thing that can explain, or supplement, let alone supplant, representation. The resulting dilemma, I shall argue, is not fatal. But avoiding it requires us to embrace a certain thesis about the nature of action, a thesis whose broad outline this paper delineates. Anyone who wishes to employ action as a way of explaining or explaining away representation should, I shall argue, take this conception of action very seriously indeed. I am going to discuss these issues with respect to a influential recent contribution to this debate: the sensorimotor or enactive model of perception developed by Kevin O’Regan and Alva Noë.