A property cluster theory of cognition

Philosophical Psychology (3):1-30 (2013)
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Our prominent definitions of cognition are too vague and lack empirical grounding. They have not kept up with recent developments, and cannot bear the weight placed on them across many different debates. I here articulate and defend a more adequate theory. On this theory, behaviors under the control of cognition tend to display a cluster of characteristic properties, a cluster which tends to be absent from behaviors produced by non-cognitive processes. This cluster is reverse-engineered from the empirical tests that comparative psychologists use to determine whether a behavior was generated by a cognitive or a non-cognitive process. Cognition should be understood as the natural kind of psychological process that non-accidentally exhibits the properties assessed by these tests (as well as others we have not yet discovered). Finally, I review two plausible neural accounts of cognition's underlying mechanisms?one based in localization of function to particular brain regions and another based in the more recent distributed networks approach to neuroscience?which would explain why these properties non-accidentally cluster. While this notion of cognition may be useful for a number of debates, I here focus on its application to a recent crisis over the distinction between cognition and association in comparative psychology

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Cameron Buckner
University of Houston


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