Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Humanities and Social Inquiry


The long standing and still highly influential mindreading framework claims that social cog- nition is best understood as an ability to predict and explain others’ behavior in terms of their mental states. This ability is explained by appealing to mental representations and inferential reasoning via rule-based knowledge. However, recent enactive work on social cognition questions most, if not all, of the main assumptions on which mindreading is founded. Enac- tivism’s emphasis on the structural coupling of the brain-body-world constitutes the foundation of the framework, which rejects the representational and inferential reasoning claims of the mindreading framework. For enactivists, social cognition is best explained in terms of the direct embodied and embedded interactions an agent has with her socio-material world. In continuing this work, the thesis provides new developments of the enactive project for investigating and explaining social cognition. The thesis utilizes two approaches to achieve this goal. First, it dialectally defends enactivism vis-a-vis the mindreading framework. It does this by both securing established enactive claims from criticism, and by developing new objections against the mindreading framework. Secondly, the thesis offers new enactive interpretations of empirical developmental data, and presents new ways of investigating three central areas of debate within the field of social cognition: the metaphysical basis of social cognitive processes, the false-belief test literature, and the concept of empathy in relation to therapeutic practices and autism.

The thesis is composed of five different, but thematically intertwined papers. The first paper targets the constitutive basis of social cognition by attempting to dissolve the causal-constitutive fallacy through appealing to a diachronic conception of constitution. This move both secures established enactive claims and develops a more thorough account of what is meant by enactive constitutive claims. The second paper then examines infant social cognitive capacities, arguing cognitivist explanations of these capacities rely on fallacious as- sumptions regarding the nature of perception. The paper then offers an alternative enactive and ecological account of these capacities. The third paper argues both innate and construc- tivist mindreading accounts of the folk psychological know-how required to reliably succeed on false-belief tests fall prey to an infinite regress problem. The paper ends by briefly pre- senting an alternative enactive, narrative explanation of the empirical data. The fourth paper then shifts focus to examine the concept empathy and practice of empathizing. It argues there are advantages to conceiving of empathy as enactive and exploratory, in the sense that when we empathize with others we understand them in a deeper and richer way, through

exploring their self-authored narratives. Finally, the fifth paper re-examines our understand- ing of autism by integrating the enactive framework with a neurodiversity approach to cognition. It argues this integration can help us better understand how neurotypical social practices and institutions effect the development, and well-being, of autistic individuals. Through these substantial expansions of established enactivist accounts, and by offering new objections to the mindreading framework, the thesis provides reasons to prefer an enactivist framework in exploring human abilities for social cognition.



Unless otherwise indicated, the views expressed in this thesis are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Wollongong.