Human nature and cognitive–developmental niche construction

Recent theories in cognitive science have begun to focus on the active role of organisms in shaping their own environment, and the role of these environmental resources for cognition. Approaches such as situated, embedded, ecological, distributed and particularly extended cognition look beyond ‘what is inside your head’ to the old Gibsonian question of ‘what your head is inside of’ and with which it forms a wider whole—its internal and external cognitive niche. Since these views have been treated as a radical departure from the received view of cognition, their proponents have looked for support to similar extended views within (the philosophy of) biology, most notably the theory of niche construction. This paper argues that there is an even closer and more fruitful parallel with developmental systems theory and developmental niche construction. These ask not ‘what is inside the genes you inherited’, but ‘what the inherited genes are inside of’ and with which they form a wider whole—their internal and external ontogenetic niche, understood as the set of epigenetic, social, ecological, epistemic and symbolic legacies inherited by the organism as necessary developmental resources. To the cognizing agent, the epistemic niche presents itself not just as a partially self-engineered selective niche, as the niche construction paradigm will have it, but even more so as a partially self-engineered ontogenetic niche, a problem-solving resource and scaffold for individual development and learning. This move should be beneficial for coming to grips with our own (including cognitive) nature: what is most distinctive about humans is their developmentally plastic brains immersed into a well-engineered, cumulatively constructed cognitive–developmental niche
Keywords Ontogenetic niche  Developmental systems theory  extended mind  Cognitive niche construction  Human nature
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.1007/s11097-010-9178-7
 Save to my reading list
Follow the author(s)
My bibliography
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Revision history Request removal from index
Download options
PhilPapers Archive

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy on self-archival     Papers currently archived: 23,280
External links
Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library
References found in this work BETA

View all 30 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA
Richard Menary (2010). Introduction to the Special Issue on 4E Cognition. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 9 (4):459-463.

View all 14 citations / Add more citations

Similar books and articles
Kim Sterelny (2010). Minds: Extended or Scaffolded? [REVIEW] Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 9 (4):465-481.

Monthly downloads

Added to index


Total downloads

67 ( #71,399 of 1,932,522 )

Recent downloads (6 months)

7 ( #132,735 of 1,932,522 )

How can I increase my downloads?

My notes
Sign in to use this feature

Start a new thread
There  are no threads in this forum
Nothing in this forum yet.