Explanation, Enaction and Naturalised Phenomenology

Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences:1-21 (2022)
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This paper explores the implications of conceptualising phenomenology as explanatory for the ongoing dialogue between the phenomenological tradition and cognitive science, especially enactive approaches to cognition. The first half of the paper offers three interlinked arguments: Firstly, that differentiating between phenomenology and the natural sciences by designating one as descriptive and the other as explanatory undermines opportunities for the kind of productive friction that is required for genuine ‘mutual enlightenment’. Secondly, that conceiving of phenomenology as descriptive rather than explanatory risks committing us to what Zahavi (2019) identifies as the error of equating the phenomenological with the phenomenal. Finally, that the erroneous reduction to the descriptive occludes the rich resources that the phenomenological tradition can contribute to investigations of non-human cognition. The second half of the paper then turns to focus specifically on the promising relationship between phenomenology and enactive approaches to cognition. It will suggest that phenomenology must be seen as having explanatory capacities if it is to shed light on the structures of “mind in life” (Thompson, 2007), before drawing on the model of explanation put forward by Louis Sass to explore what this might look like.

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Marilyn Stendera
University of Wollongong


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