Publication 6557

Schlicht T. & Starzak T. (2019) Prospects of enactivist approaches to intentionality and cognition. Synthese Online first. Fulltext at
We discuss various implications of some radical anti-representationalist views of cognition and what they have to offer with regard to the naturalization of intentionality and the explanation of cognitive phenomena. Our focus is on recent arguments from proponents of enactive views of cognition to the effect that basic cognition is intentional but not representational and that cognition is co-extensive with life. We focus on lower rather than higher forms of cognition, namely the question regarding the intentional and representational nature of cognition found in organisms simpler than human beings, because enactivists do not deny that more sophisticated cognitive phenomena are representational and involve content. After introducing the debate on the naturalization of intentionality (Sect. 2), we briefly review different varieties of enactivism and introduce their central claims (Sect. 3). In Sect. 4 we turn to radical enactivism in order to focus on the arguments for a thoroughly non-representational, enactive account of perception and basic cognition. In particular, we discuss three major issues: First, what is supposed to replace the representational analysis of perception in a radical-enactive explanation of perception? How does the enactive explanation of perception compare to the best scientific work on the neuroscience of perception? Second, what is – on an enactive account – the function of neural processing in the brain for the generation of perception if not to produce representations? This question is especially pressing since one implication of autopoietic enactivism (accepted by radical enactivists) is that even the simplest organisms i.e. single-celled organisms, have cognitive capacities (Sect. 5). Since they lack brains and nervous systems, enactivists must specify the (possibly) unique contribution of the brain and nervous system in those animals who have them. In Sect. 5, we evaluate the advantages of an autopoietic–enactive approach to the naturalization of intentionality and end with a suggestion how cognition may relate to intentionality and representation.


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