Hostile Scaffolding

Philosophical Papers 52 (1):1-30 (2023)
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Most accounts of cognitive scaffolding focus on ways that external structure can support or augment an agent’s cognitive capacities. We call cases where the interests of the user are served benign scaffolding and argue for the possibility and reality of hostile scaffolding. This is scaffolding which depends on the same capacities of an agent to make cognitive use of external structure as in benign cases, but that undermines or exploits the user while serving the interests of another agent. We develop criteria for scaffolding being hostile and show by reference to examples including the design features of electronic gambling machines and casino management systems that hostile scaffolding exists and can be highly effective. In cases where the scaffolding is deep and permits the offloading of significant cognitive work, hostile scaffolding exploitatively manipulates cognitive processing itself. Given the extent of human reliance on scaffolding this is an important and neglected vulnerability. [This is an updated version of the paper, added in February 2023.]

Author Profiles

Ryan Timms
University of KwaZulu-Natal
David Spurrett
University of KwaZulu-Natal


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