Enactivism and the unity of perception and action

Topoi 28 (1):63-73 (2009)
This paper contrasts two enactive theories of visual experience: the sensorimotor theory (O’Regan and Noë, Behav Brain Sci 24(5):939–1031, 2001; Noë and O’Regan, Vision and mind, 2002; Noë, Action in perception, 2004) and Susan Hurley’s (Consciousness in action, 1998, Synthese 129:3–40, 2001) theory of active perception. We criticise the sensorimotor theory for its commitment to a distinction between mere sensorimotor behaviour and cognition. This is a distinction that is firmly rejected by Hurley. Hurley argues that personal level cognitive abilities emerge out of a complex dynamic feedback system at the subpersonal level. Moreover reflection on the role of eye movements in visual perception establishes a further sense in which a distinction between sensorimotor behaviour and cognition cannot be sustained. The sensorimotor theory has recently come under critical fire (see e.g. Block, J Philos CII(5):259–272, 2005; Prinz, Psyche, 12(1):1–19, 2006; Aizawa, J Philos CIV(1), 2007) for mistaking a merely causal contribution of action to perception for a constitutive contribution. We further argue that the sensorimotor theory is particularly vulnerable to this objection in a way that Hurley’s active perception theory is not. This presents an additional reason for preferring Hurley’s theory as providing a conceptual framework for the enactive programme.
Keywords Perception  Action  Sensorimotor  Enactivism
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DOI 10.1007/s11245-008-9047-y
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