Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Non-Representational Philosophies of Mind: A Summary Literature Review

This literature review is intended as a brief outline of the principal works and theorists currently pursuing non-representational approaches to the theorisation of cognition/mind. Since many of the theorists listed have already been mentioned on his blog, I have provided links to this material where relevantAlthough the interest in non-representational theories of mind is clearly growing, the academic literature published is relatively sparse when compared with the material published on representational theories. Many of the papers, chapters and books gathered here centre around or are informed by discussions of previously published material in both the Analytic and Continental traditions of philosophy; Gilbert Ryle (1949) and Maurice Merleau-Ponty (1945) being commonly cited forerunners. American Pragmatism has also exerted a notable influence – see, for example, the work of Timor Solymosi (2013 & 2014), who makes frequent reference to the philosophy of John Dewey. Likewise, Eric P. Charles (2011) draws upon the work of both William James and Edwin Holt to develop a “New Realism” in psychology that dispenses with any explanatory reliance upon inner representations.
Psychologists Andrew D. Wilson and Sabrina Golonka (2013) take the influential work of J.J. Gibson (1986) as a starting point for their exploration of perception via his concept of “affordances”. They argue that embodied cognition is the most “exciting hypothesis currently on offer in cognitive science and that “explicit representations of behaviour of knowledge have no place in embodied solutions.”
Pierre Steiner’s article in ‘Pragmatics and Cognition’ (2010) criticises the representationalist assumptions that pertain to contemporary models of cognition. He proposes that extended and distributed models of cognition should reject representationalism, suggesting that their adherence to such a model is a by-product of the extended character of science. Steiner is a philosopher, with a particular interest in non-representationalism nestled in the broader setting of mind and language.
This idea is further examined by Anthony Chemero in his article ‘Anti- Representationalism and the Dynamical Stance’ (2000). He aims to fill what he sees as gaps in the arguments in favour of non-representationalism in cognitive science. He divides this non-representationalism into two: ontological and epistemic, before debating the merits and disadvantages of each view. This article, published in the journal ‘Philosophy of Science’, sets out some of the arguments for and against different strands of non- representationalism within the wider area of cognition. In his 2009 book “Radical Embodied Cognitive Science” Chemero again takes up a pragmatist critique of representationalism. In it he argues that cognition should be viewed in terms of agent-environment dynamics rather than in terms of representation or computation.
A prominent theorist working in the Analytic tradition of philosophy and exploring different theories of mind is John Searle (1983, 1992). He too is concerned with the so-called ‘mind-body problem’ and, like Ryle before him, Searle is also the subject of much debate amongst academics. Dennis Sauvé (2006) claims that Searle writes of a collection of non-representational mental capacities that make intentionality possible. He examines the reasons for this observation and Searle’s conclusion that an intentional state cannot come into being without the existence of a ‘background’ (the underlying non-representational biological processes). Furthermore, Ronald McIntyre (1984) notes that Searle is part of a growing number of analytic philosophers who have taken an interest in the work of phenomenologist, Edmund Husserl. He draws many parallels between Searle and Husserl, most notably in his study of the former’s representationalist approach to intentionality. McIntyre devotes a lot of time to a discussion of ‘networks’ and ‘backgrounds’; terms used by Searle in his explanation of intentional content, and highlights his apparent struggle to separate the idea of a non-representational ‘background’ and a representational ‘intentional state’. Thus, whilst Searle’s work may not be particularly non-representational in nature, the discussions surrounding it provide some interesting points to consider, in particular surrounding the separation of representational and non-representational theories of mind.
Like Searle, Peter Hacker (2003) has a longstanding interest in the work of Ludwig Wittgenstein who, like many philosophers of the early 20th Century (Sartre being another prominent example) had no need for a representational theory of mind. Hacker is highly critical of what he sees as widespread conceptual confusion in the work of many contemporary neuroscientists and philosophers, including Searle. In collaboration with neuroscientist Maxwell Bennett, Hacker has written several books that attempt to show how the careless use of concepts leads scientists and philosophers astray. Amongst the many concepts that Hacker and Bennett analyse, “representation” is regarded as generating particular confusion. They explain (with examples drawn from neuroscience) how scientists commonly confuse ordinary language uses of the term with its more restricted technical usage.
Coming from a phenomenological standpoint, Hubert L. Dreyfus (2002) provides an evaluation of the arguments set forth in Merlau-Ponty’s “Phenomenology of Perception” (1962), and proposes that the most basic forms of intelligent behaviour can be described and explained without recourse to mind or brain representations. Instead he suggests that the skills needed for the body to connect to the world are stored not as representations, but as dispositions to respond to the solicitations of situations in the world. Despite providing this interesting and useful assessment of Merleau-Ponty, Dreyfus’ other work interprets, in a fashion akin to Searle, the writings of Husserl to be rooted firmly in the representational tradition (1984). He even goes so far as to describe Husserl’s theories as being in line with those of Jerry Fodor. However, a number of papers and books are available that debate this, most notably those by Beth Preston (1994) and Christian Lotz (2007). Preston argues that Dreyfus should be seen as being at odds with the representational theory of mind. She remarks that the relationship between Dreyfus and Fodor needs to be re-examined, as well as the entire relationship between phenomenology and what she describes as the Anglo-American philosophy of mind. This defence of Husserl and subsequent criticism of Dreyfus is further explored in Lotz’s more recent paper.
Like Dreyfus, Varela, Thompson and Rorsch are clearly influenced by Merleau-Ponty in their 1991 book “The Embodied Mind” which disavows representationalism in favour of a situated, embodied and enactive theory. Shaun Gallagher and Dan Zahavi (2008) take a similarly enactive view, as does Richard Mennary (2007) in his book “Cognitive Integration: Mind and Cognition Unbounded”. Mennary argues that in the study of mind, the units of interest are often too narrowly restricted and he thus advocates a more extended and world involving conception.
AlvaNoë’s “actional” theory (2004) is another prominent extended philosophy that borrows to some degree from in Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology (in fact Noë was a student of Dreyfus). Noë denies “internal representation” yet he evidently sees no contradiction in his frequent reference to perceptual “content”. In contrast, Hutto and Myin (2013) are very critical of what is sometimes known as the “content view”. They take a more radical position and argue that content (i.e. representation) is limited to minds involved in “scaffolded” cultural practices.
Like Hutto and Myin, Mark H. Bickhard (1993) rejects the content view and raises some very significant logical challenges for representationalism. He explores a version of what has come to be known as the “Symbol Grounding Problem” (Harnad 1990) in order to critique what he terms “encodingism”: the mistaken assumption that intelligent processes necessarily involve representations.
On several seperate occasions Kevin O’Regan (2011) has collaborated with Alva Noë and Eric Myin and his approach obviously shares much in common with these two theorists. In recent years he has further developed his sensorimotor theory of embodied and extended cognition in which our manipulation of the environment is a central feature of perception.
Another contemporary paper comes from Alex Morgan (2013) who builds his argument around the theories put forward by William Ramsey (2007). Ramsey agrees with the structural conception of mental representation, yet uses it to develop an argument against representationalism. From here, Morgan explores the idea that although structural representations might count as genuine representations, they aren’t distinctively mental representations, as they can be found in a number of non-intentional systems.
Karim Zahidi (2013) argues that non-representational cognitive science is a relatively new paradigm in the study of cognition, that illustrates a radical departure from classical cognitive science. In a similar way to the work of Miller, Zahidi shows how one can develop a form of realism that reflects rather than accommodates the core principles of non-representationalist embodied cognitive science.
These books and articles suggest that non-representational theories are of growing interest and importance within both psychology and the philosophy of mind. Whilst this review is neither extensive nor detailed, it is intended to highlight the major theorists in the field, alongside some of the academics discussing their work in current publications.

BENNETT, M.R. AND HACKER, P.M.S., 2003. Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience. UK: Blackwell Publishing.
BICKHARD, M.H., 1993. Representational content in humans and machines.Journal of Experimental & Theoretical Artificial Intelligence5(4), pp.285-333.
CHARLES, E.P. ed., 2011. A new look at New Realism: The psychology and philosophy of EB Holt (Vol. 1). Transaction Publishers.
CHEMERO, A., 2000. Anti-representationalism and the dynamical stance. Philosophy of Science, 67(4), pp. 625-647
CHEMERO, A., 2009. Radical Embodied Cognitive Science.  MIT press.
CLARK, A. and TORIBIO, J., 1994. Doing without representing? Synthese, 101(3), pp. 401-431
DREYFUS, H.L., 2002. Intelligence without Representation. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, 1(4), pp. 367-386
GALLAGHER, S. AND ZAHAVI, D., 2002. The Phenomenological Mind
HARNAD, S. (1990) The Symbol Grounding Problem. Physica D 42: 335-346.
HUTTO, D. AND MYIN, E., 2013, Radical Enactivism: Basic Minds Without Content.
LOTZ, C., 2007. Cognitivism and practical intentionality: A critique of Dreyfus's critique of Husserl. International Philosophical Quarterly, 47(2), pp. 153-166
MANDELBAUM, M., 1958. Ryle and Psychology. Philosophical Review, 67(4), pp. 522-530
MASÍS, J., 2012. Phenomenological skillful coping: Another counter-argument to Daniel Dennett’s. Journal of Philosophy of Life, 2(1), pp. 67-91
MATTENS, F., 2010. Philosophy and 'Experience' - A conflict of interests? Philosophy, Phenomenology, Sciences. Springer. pp. 405-438
MCINTYRE, RONALD, 1984. Searle on Intentionality. Inquiry, 27, pp. 468-483
MORGAN, A., 2013. Representations gone mental. Synthese. [Online] Available from: http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11229-013-0328-7 [Accessed 2 June 2016]
NOË, A., 2004. Action in perception. MIT press.
O’REGAN, J.K., 2011. Why red doesnt sound like a bell: Understanding the feel of consciousness. Oxford University Press.

PRESTON, B., 1994. Husserl’s non-representational theory of mind. Southern Journal of Philosophy, 32(2), pp. 209-232
PRESTON, B., 2012. A Philosophy of Material Culture: Action, Function and Mind
RAMSEY, W.M., 2007. Representation reconsidered. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
RYLE, G., 1949. The concept of mind. Chicago: Chicago University Press.
SAUVE, D., 2006. Intentionality background according to John Searle. Dialogue- Canadian Philosophical Review, 45(1), pp. 3-27
MAURICE MERLEAU-PONTY, 1962. Phenomenology of perception. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
SEARLE, J., 1983. Intentionality: An essay in the philosophy of mind. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
SEARLE, J., 1992. The rediscovery of the mind. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press.
SHARON, B., 1993. The representational and the presentational: An essay on cognition and the study of mind. Hertfordshire: Harvester Wheatsheaf.
SMALL, R., 1981. Ryle and Husserl. Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology, 12(3), pp. 195-211
SOLYMOSI, T., 2013. “Against Representation: A Brief Introduction to Cultural Affordances,” Human Affairs 23(4): 594–605.
SOLYMOSI, TIBOR. Neuroscience, Neurophilosophy and Pragmatism: Brains at Work with the World. Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.
SORENSEN, E., 2012. The mind and distributed cognition: The place of knowing in a maths class. Theory & Psychology, 22(6), pp. 717-737
STEINER, P., 2010. The bounds of representation: A non-representationalist use of the resources of the model of extended cognition. Pragmatics & Cognition, 18(2), pp. 235-272
VARELA, F.J. THOMPSON, E., & ROSCH, E. 1991. The embodied mind: Cognitive science and human experience.
WHEELER, M., 2001. Two Threats to Representation. Synthese, 129(2), pp. 211- 231
Wilson, A.D. and Golonka, S., 2013. Embodied cognition is not what you think it is. Front. Psychol., 12 February 2013 | http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00058 [Accessed 2 June 2016]
ZAHIDI, K., 2013. Non-representationalist cognitive science and realism. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences. [Online] Available from: http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11097-013-9310-6 [Accessed 2 June 2016]


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