What Is Left of the Active Externalism Debate?

European Journal of Philosophy 25 (4):1614-1639 (2017)
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Since the publication of Clark and Chalmers' Extended Mind paper, the central claims of that paper, viz. the thesis that cognitive processes and cognitive or mental states extend beyond the brain and body, have been vigorously debated within philosophy of mind and philosophy of cognitive science. Both defenders and detractors of these claims have since marshalled an impressive battery of arguments for and against “active externalism.” However, despite the amount of philosophical energy expended, this debate remains far from settled. We argue that this debate can be understood as answering two metaphysical questions. Yet prominent voices within the debate have assumed that there is a tight relationship between these two questions such that one question can be answered via the other. We defend an alternative ‘wide’ view, whereby mentality is understood as constituted by wide social and cultural factors. Our wide view entails that the two metaphysical questions are separate and should be kept distinct. This suggests that active externalism as understood by prominent voices within that debate requires dissolution, rather than solution. However, if the debate were instead understood as only focusing on the second of the two questions, then there could be a possible future for this debate.

Author Profiles

Victor Loughlin
University of Antwerp
Karim Zahidi
University of Antwerp


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