Review of Radicalizing Enactivism by Hutto and Myin (2012) (review revised 2019)

In Talking Monkeys-- Philosophy, Psychology, Science, Religion and Politics on a Doomed Planet -- Articles and Reviews 2006-2019 Michael Starks 3rd Edition. Las Vegas, NV USA: Reality Press. pp. 230-253 (2019)
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Probably the leading exponent of Wittgenstein’s ideas on the language games of inner and outer (the ‘Two Selves’ operation of our personality or intentionality or EP etc.) the prolific Daniel Hutto’s approach is called ‘Radical Enactivism’ and is well explained in numerous recent books and papers. It is a development of or version of the Embodied Mind ideas now current and, cleansed of its jargon, it is a straightforward extension of Wittgenstein’s 2nd and 3rd period writings (though Hutto seems only intermittently aware of this). The basic idea of the Embodied Mind or Enactivism is that much of behavior is automated and does not involve representations (basically S2 dispositions-see Hutto’s lovely dissection of the ‘representation rats nest’ in his online papers). To me this is just another way of stating the fact that System 1 precedes the operation of System 2 which is a standard feature of contemporary psychology, which I have explained above and in further detail in my reviews of Wittgenstein (hereafter W-who was the first to see this and explored it in great detail) and Searle (hereafter S-who called it The Phenomenological Illusion in his superb essay of this name in his book Philosophy in a New Century, which I have also reviewed). Since these are basic incontrovertible facts of animal behavior and I have already discussed them I won’t dwell on it here. This book is a sustained argument against other similar ways of describing behavior which he calls CEC and CIC in favor of REC (Radical Embodied Cognition), which he characterizes as “the strongest reading of the embodiment thesis—one that uncompromisingly maintains that basic cognition is literally constituted by, and to be understood in terms of concrete patterns of environmental situated organismic activity, nothing more or less” (p11). This is clear as a bell if you understand the two systems view explained above but likely opaque if you don’t. Much clearer is Fodor’s characterization which he quotes as “abilities are prior to theories”, that “competence is prior to content” and that “knowing how is the paradigm cognitive state and it is prior to knowing that” (p10). That is, the unconscious automatisms of S1 are evolutionarily and behaviorally prior to the slow conscious dispositions of S2. This is classic Hutto high-level philosophical dialog, which is quite elegant, but somewhat too dense and a tad pretentious for the rest of us. I have not before encountered his coauthor Myin, so can’t say how much of this text is really due to him. It is clear from this and the rest of Hutto’s work that (like everyone else) he has not quite kept up with the latest work in psychology nor really grasped the full power of W or S, even though he is one of the top Wittgensteinians alive and as bright as anyone in the field. His discussions of the language games of “information” and “representation” in his other papers and books (and much else including his deconstructions of Dennett and Fodor) should be required reading for anyone interested in behavior. So, I have the greatest respect for him, but one hopes that he will mellow with time and write descriptions of behavior (i.e., all we can really do as philosophers according to W) in more mundane prose such as this lovely summation on p15. “Hence, REC is nothing less than a fundamental rethinking of the very foundations of standard approaches to cognitive science and philosophy of mind.” Yes, and what a pity that this great Wittgensteinian (and everyone else) does not realize that W laid it all out with unmatched clarity in his third period works over 60 years ago. I have much less sympathy for the extended and scaffolded minds of Chap 7. I don’t see how one can lay the burden of explaining how the ‘mind’ works at Searle’s door, nor how the convoluted prose about “decoupled contentful activities” etc. helps at all. Why not just say that automated unconscious prelinguistic S1 feeds deliberate, conscious linguistic S2, which is axiomatically extended by public language into the myriad wonders of culture (S3)? Beginning and end of story. Their last chapter is about “regaining consciousness,” but I would say that if one has understood Wittgenstein and Searle, one has never lost it. And, though this is an excellent book by two of the brightest and the best, I suggest an even better filter for folly is mulling over my thoughts in this and other reviews, and reading Johnston and the latest from Searle, along of course with as much of 3rd period W as feasible. In sum an excellent book with various faults which I try to correct. Those wishing a comprehensive up to date framework for human behavior from the modern two systems view may consult my book ‘The Logical Structure of Philosophy, Psychology, Mind and Language in Ludwig Wittgenstein and John Searle’ 2nd ed (2019). Those interested in more of my writings may see ‘Talking Monkeys--Philosophy, Psychology, Science, Religion and Politics on a Doomed Planet--Articles and Reviews 2006-2019 3rd ed (2019), The Logical Structure of Human Behavior (2019), and Suicidal Utopian Delusions in the 21st Century 4th ed (2019)
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