Transformative Embodied Cognition

Ergo: An Open Access Journal of Philosophy (forthcoming)
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How should accounts that stress the embodied, embedded and engaged character of human minds accommodate the role of rationality in human subjectivity? Drawing on Matthew Boyle’s contrast between ‘additive’ and ‘transformative’ conceptions of rationality, I argue that contemporary work on embodied cognition tends towards a problematic ‘additivism’ about the relationship between mature human capacities to think and act for reasons, and sensorimotor capacities to skillfully engage with salient features of the environment. Additivists view rational capacities to reason and reflect as a distinct ‘layer’ or ‘storey’ of human cognition, with a normative structure that differs from that of the sensorimotor coping skills which support it. I argue that emphasizing the embodied and engaged character of human minds is better combined with a ‘transformative’ conception of rationality – one which holds that acquiring abilities to give and ask for reasons transforms the normative structure of our unreflective embodied dealings with the environment. And I argue that a transformative embodied cognitive science of human rationality is not only possible, but underway. Integrating existing work on embodied cognition with work on the cultural and developmental contexts that shape human minds suggests how human immersion in culture transforms the structure of sensorimotor engagements by bringing about the communicability and negotiability of the meanings to which those engagements attune us.

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Dave Ward
University of Edinburgh


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