Year

2020

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

School of Liberal Arts

Abstract

This thesis offers positive reasons for thinking that, at its core, cognition is interactive in character. In making room for this possibility, it however challenges the widespread assumption that cognition is fundamentally theoretical in character. Analytic philosophers of cognition and cognitive scientists tend to model all forms of cognition on theorising of some kind or other: they assume Cognition is Essentially Theoretical, or CET. CET, as a thesis about cognition, is inspired by the idea that we always and everywhere take an intellectual, theoretical stance towards the things we deal with in the world, whatever they may be. Standard views inspire the picture of what adopting such a theorising stance involves in the philosophy of science. Scientific theorising is the basis of predictions and explanations, where this is typically assumed to involve making inferences, and forming and testing hypotheses about various subject matters. To assume that cognising is always some kind of theorising leaves open whether the theorising in question is always conceptually grounded and propositional or couched in some form of modelling that need not be intrinsically contentful. Yet whatever particular view one takes on the character of the theorising in question, those committed to CET assume that cognition always involves theorising of some kind or another.

A serious challenge for CET emerges from the more radical versions of E approaches to cognition. For radicals, cognition is best understood in terms of dynamically unfolding, situated, embodied interactions and engagements between the organism and aspects of its world. Radically Enactive Cognition, or REC, disputes that the most basic forms of cognition involve or constitute any mediated form of knowledge or content. Interestingly, even radical forms of enactivism need not reject CET. In the case of modelling, cognition is intrinsically contentless and yet a form of modelling, which is sufficient for CET. In this case, there must be special reasons why systems that can be modelled, like the nervous system, must themselves be modelling and, therefore, are theorising.

The aim of this thesis is to raise doubts as to whether we need to conceive of cognitive interactions in terms of modelling and thereby theorising. What is distinctive about the position defended in this thesis is that it argues that cognition is not special in this regard: it rejects the thesis that cognition is, always and everywhere, essentially a form of theorising.

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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.