Approach «Enactivism»

Enactivism has long and diverse roots in various disciplines (McGee 2005McGee K. (2005) Enactive Cognitive Science. Part 1: History and Research Themes. Constructivist Foundations 1(1): 19–34.), especially in second-order cybernetics (Froese 2010Froese T. (2010) From Cybernetics to Second-Order Cybernetics: A Comparative Analysis of Their Central Ideas. Constructivist Foundations 5(2): 75-85.). The approach was first systematically introduced as a new paradigm for cognitive science by Varela, Thompson, and Rosch in their book The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience (Varela , Thompson & Rosch 1991Varela F. J., Thompson E. & Rosch E. (1991) The embodied mind: Cognitive science and human experience. MIT Press, Cambridge.). That original proposal is best known for two contributions:
1. The key theoretical claim was that the mind is not best understood in representational terms but rather as embodied and situated, and in particular that perceptual experience is constituted by perceptually guided action in the world. This claim has been developed into a philosophical position that explicitly rejects internalism as an adequate foundation of epistemology (Noë 2009Noë A. (2009) Out of our heads: Why you are not your brain. Hill and Wang, New York.; Hutto & Myin 2013Hutto D. D. & Myin E. (2013) Radicalizing enactivism: Basic minds without content. MIT Press, Cambridge MA.; Beaton 2013Beaton M. (2013) Phenomenology and Embodied Action. Constructivist Foundations 8(3): 298-313.). This later development therefore also is in tension with radical constructivism, especially with regard to the constitutive role of the other in shaping our experiential world (Di Paolo 2008Di Paolo E. A. (2008) A Mind of Many. Constructivist Foundations 3(2): 89–91.).
2. The main methodological proposal was to take the phenomenology of our first-person experience seriously as a source of data and insights for cognitive science, but with the caveat that this phenomenology must be analyzed by means of qualitative methods based on disciplined reflection on our own conscious experience, such as phenomenological epoché and meditative expertise. More recently, the paucity of trained subjects has led to a greater emphasis on the use of semi-structured interviews to guide introspection (Petitmengin 2006Petitmengin C. (2006) Describing one’s subjective experience in the second person: An interview method for a science of consciousness. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 5(3): 229–269.; for a review, see Froese , Gould & Barrett 2011Froese T., Gould C. & Barrett A. (2011) Re-Viewing from Within: A Commentary on First- and Second-Person Methods in the Science of Consciousness. Constructivist Foundations 6(2): 254–269.).
In the years following the original proposal enactivism has been applied to an increasingly broad set of disciplines, and has become diversified into a range of mutually sympathetic yet distinctive strands of enactivist research (see Stewart , Gapenne & Di Paolo 2010Stewart J., Gapenne O. & Di Paolo E. A. (eds.) (2010) Enaction: Toward a new paradigm for cognitive science. MIT Press, Cambridge MA. and the special issue on Exploring the Diversity within Enactivism and Neurophenomenology). There are three prominent ones:
1. The key theoretical claim regarding perceptual experience has been systematically studied by sensorimotor enactivism, albeit more in the tradition of psychology and analytic philosophy of mind without concern for disciplined methods of phenomenological reflection (O’Regan & Noë 2001O’Regan J. K. & Noë A. (2001) A sensorimotor account of vision and visual consciousness. Behavioral and brain sciences 24: 939–1031.; Noë 2004Noë A. (2004) Action in perception. MIT Press, Cambridge MA.).
3. The non-representational stance has found its most systematic expression in radical enactivism, which claims that basic minds are contentless minds (Hutto & Myin 2013Hutto D. D. & Myin E. (2013) Radicalizing enactivism: Basic minds without content. MIT Press, Cambridge MA.).
All of these strands of enactivism jointly face the challenge of scaling up their theories from basic minds to specifically human minds. Overcoming this cognitive gap seems to require appeals to various forms of autonomous social dynamics (Froese & Di Paolo 2011Froese T. & Di Paolo E. (2011) The enactive approach: Theoretical sketches from cell to society. Pragmatics and Cognition 19(1): 1–36.) and cultural scaffolding (Gallagher 2013Gallagher S. (2013) The socially extended mind. Cognitive Systems Research 25: 4–12.), in particular those that enable subjects to go beyond immediate biological sense-making so as to navigate the non-sense inherent in arbitrary symbol systems that are regulated by conventional norms instead (Cappuccio & Froese 2014Cappuccio M. & Froese T. (eds.) (2014) Enactive cognition at the edge of sense-making: Making sense of non-sense. Palgrave Macmillan, Houndmills.).
Cite this definition as: Tom Froese (2016) Enactivism. Constructivist E-Paper Archive. Version of 20 February 2016. Available at

Publications Found: 214 · Show All Abstracts

Aizawa K. (2014) The enactivist revolution. Avant 5(2): 19–42. Fulltext at
Baggs E. (2018) A Psychology of the In Between? Constructivist Foundations 13(3): 395–397. Fulltext at
Barandiaran X. (2017) Autonomy and enactivism: Towards a theory of sensorimotor autonomous agency. Topoi 36 first(3): 409–430. Fulltext at
Barbaras R. (2002) Francisco Varela: A new idea of perception and life. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Science 1: 127–132.
Barrett L. (2016) Why brains are not computers, why behaviorism is not satanism, and why dolphins are not aquatic apes. The Behavior Analyst 39(1): 9–23. Fulltext at
Beaton M. (2016) Sensorimotor Direct Realism: How We Enact Our World. Constructivist Foundations 11(2): 265–276. Fulltext at
Bersini H. (2002) Self-assertion versus self-recognition: A tribute to Francisco Varela. In: Timmis J. & Bentley P. J. (eds.) Proceeding of the first international conference on artificial immune system (ICARIS-2002). University of Kent, Canterbury: 103–108. Fulltext at
Bitbol M. (2014) Making sense of non-sense in physics: The quantum koan. In: Cappuccio M. & Froese T. (eds.) Enactive cognition at the edge of sense-making: Making sense of non-sense. Palgrave Macmillan, Houndmills: 61–80. Fulltext at
Bottineau D. (2010) Language and enaction. In: Stewart J., Gapenne O. & Di Paolo E. A. (eds.) Enaction: Toward a new paradigm for cognitive science. MIT Press, Cambridge MA: 267–306. Fulltext at
Bruineberg J., Kiverstein J. & Rietveld E. (2018) The anticipating brain is not a scientist: The free-energy principle from an ecological-enactive perspective. Synthese 195(6): 2417–2444. Fulltext at
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