Context: The majority of contemporary enactivist work is influenced by the philosophical biology of Hans Jonas. Jonas credits all living organisms with experience that involves particular “existential” structures: nascent forms of concern for self-preservation and desire for objects and outcomes that promote well-being. We argue that Jonas’s attitude towards living systems involves a problematic anthropomorphism that threatens to place enactivism at odds with cognitive science, and undermine its legitimate aims to become a new paradigm for scientific investigation and understanding of the mind. Problem: Enactivism needs to address the tension between its Jonasian influences and its aspirations to become a new paradigm for cognitive science. By relying on Jonasian phenomenology, contemporary enactivism obscures alternative ways in which phenomenology can be more smoothly integrated with cognitive science. Method: We outline the historical relationship between enactivism and phenomenology, and explain why anthropomorphism is problematic for a research program that aspires to become a new paradigm for cognitive science. We examine the roots of Jonas’s existential interpretation of biological facts, and describe how and why Jonas himself understood his project as founded on an anthropomorphic assumption that is incompatible with a crucial methodological assumption of scientific enquiry: the prohibition of unexplained natural purposes. We describe the way in which phenomenology can be integrated into Maturana’s autopoietic theory, and use this as an example of how an alternative, non-anthropomorphic science of the biological roots of cognition might proceed. Results: Our analysis reveals a crucial tension between Jonas’s influence on enactivism and enactivism’s paradigmatic aspirations. This suggests the possibility of, and need to investigate, other ways of integrating phenomenology with cognitive science that do not succumb to this tension. Implications: In light of this, enactivists should either eliminate the Jonasian inference from properties of our human experience to properties of the experience of all living organisms, or articulate an alternative conception of scientific enquiry that can tolerate the anthropomorphism this inference entails. The Maturanian view we present in the article’s final section constitutes a possible framework within which enactivist tools and concepts can be used to understand cognition and phenomenology, and that does not involve a problematic anthropomorphism. Constructivist content: Any constructivist approach that aims for integration with current scientific practice must either avoid the type of anthropomorphic inference on which Jonas bases his work, or specify a new conception of scientific enquiry that renders anthropomorphism unproblematic.
Context: Von Foerster’s concept of eigenbehavior can be recognized against the broader context of enactivism as it has been advocated by Varela, Thompson and Rosch, by Noë and recently by Hutto and Myin, among others. This flourishing constellation of ideas is on its way to becoming the new paradigm of cognitive science. However, in my reading, enactivism, putting stress on the constitutive role of action when it comes to mind and perception, faces a serious philosophical challenge when attempting to account for the way we actually perceive our environments, most importantly for the fact that we perceive things or objects. Von Foester’s eigenbehavior is understood here as a concept supposed to take on this challenge. Problem: In this article I tackle the following issues: (1) Enactivism must be able to account for the apparent stability of the perceived world: this is not a realm of a never-ending flux of stimuli; it is a realm of stable things. (2) Enactivism is committed to the anti-Cartesian endeavor seeking to bridge the gap between the inner and the outer; between the subjective and the objective. Now, these two points constrain each other so that one cannot address (1) simply by regarding the apparent stability of things as a projection that springs out of the internal machinery binding inputs with outputs. This is because the very idea of such an internal machinery opposes (2), i.e., it employs the Cartesian dichotomy. So, enactivism is in need of an account of (1) that would not oppose its anti-Cartesian commitment. Method: I introduce the ontology of location and niche theory, as it has been brought forth by Varzi, Casati, and Smith, and develop it so that it can be used in the philosophy of mind. This is a conceptual, semi-formal philosophical analysis. Results: I shall come up with the idea of object conceived of a product of action, and - drawing on von Foerster’s central idea - as a product of coordination of perceptions. Yet, it is not coordination of stimuli but coordination of cognitive connections. The notion of connection is thus articulated in the article and cast as the central concept in my proposal. Implications: We are able to account for both (1) and (2. The apparent stability of the perceived world is due to the setting up and maintaining of connections between the perceiver and the things perceived, resulting in the establishment of what I call a cognitive niche. Constructivist content: Constructivism, broadly construed, takes, in my reading, a negative stance in the first place. Namely, it opposes what I call the metaphysics of the ready-made world. So, it holds that there is no ready-made reality; however it remains open when it comes to positive claims: a mind-independent reality does not exist at all or it does exist but it is not ready-made and as such it must be brought to completion, so to speak, or enacted, as Varela et al. would say, by a cognitive subject. In this article, I follow the latter and address one specific issue: how the enacted world gains its relatively stable architecture.
Upshot: Chemero provides a modern re-interpretation of Gibson’s ecological psychology and his affordance concept that is more coherent than the original and in line with antirepresentationalist, dynamical theories in embodied cognitive science. He argues for a radical embodied cognitive science, in which ecological and enactive approaches join forces against the more watered-down, mainstream embodied cognitive science that still maintains traditional commitments to representationalism and computationalism. He also defends a special version of realism, entity realism, which many constructivists might not find entirely convincing, but which is nevertheless more or less compatible with enactive theories of embodied cognition.