Distal engagement: Intentions in perception

Consciousness and Cognition 79 (March 2020) (2020)
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Non-representational approaches to cognition have struggled to provide accounts of long-term planning that forgo the use of representations. An explanation comes easier for cognitivist accounts, which hold that we concoct and use contentful mental representations as guides to coordinate a series of actions towards an end state. One non-representational approach, ecological-enactivism, has recently seen several proposals that account for “high-level” or “representation-hungry” capacities, including long-term planning and action coordination. In this paper, we demonstrate the explanatory gap in these accounts that stems from avoiding the incorporation of long-term intentions, as they play an important role both in action coordination and perception on the ecological account. Using recent enactive accounts of language, we argue for a non-representational conception of intentions, their formation, and their role in coordinating pre-reflective action. We provide an account for the coordination of our present actions towards a distant goal, a skill we call distal engagement. Rather than positing intentions as an actual cognitive entity in need of explanation, we argue that we take them up in this way as a practice due to linguistically scaffolded attitudes towards language use.

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