Embodied cognition and temporally extended agency

Synthese 195 (5):2089-2112 (2018)
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Abstract

According to radical versions of embodied cognition, human cognition and agency should be explained without the ascription of representational mental states. According to a standard reply, accounts of embodied cognition can explain only instances of cognition and agency that are not “representation-hungry”. Two main types of such representation-hungry phenomena have been discussed: cognition about “the absent” and about “the abstract”. Proponents of representationalism have maintained that a satisfactory account of such phenomena requires the ascription of mental representations. Opponents have denied this. I will argue that there is another important representation-hungry phenomenon that has been overlooked in this debate: temporally extended planning agency. In particular, I will argue that it is very difficult to see how planning agency can be explained without the ascription of mental representations, even if we grant, for the sake of argument, that cognition about the absent and abstract can. We will see that this is a serious challenge for the radical as well as the more modest anti-representationalist versions of embodied cognition, and we will see that modest anti-representationalism is an unstable position.

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