This chapter examines whether, and in what sense, one can speak of agentive mental events. An adequate characterization of mental acts should respond to three main worries. First, mental acts cannot have pre-specified goal contents. For example, one cannot prespecify the content of a judgment or of a deliberation. Second, mental acts seem to depend crucially on receptive attitudes. Third, it does not seem that intentions play any role in mental actions. Given these three constraints, mental and bodily actions appear (...) to have a significantly different structure. A careful analysis of the role of normative requirements, distinguishing them from instrumental reasons, allows the distinction between mental and bodily forms of action to be clarified. Two kinds of motives must be present for a mental act to develop. The first kind is instrumental: a mental act is performed because of some basic informational need, such as the need to "remember the name of that play". The second kind is normative: given the specific type of mental action performed, there is a specific epistemic norm relevant to that act (such as truth, coherence, fluency, or consensus). These two motives actually correspond to different phases of a single mental act. The first motivates the mental act, i.e. makes salient the corresponding goal. The second offers an evaluation of the feasibility of the act, on the basis of its constitutive normative requirement(s). Conceived in this way, a characterization of mental acts avoids the three difficulties mentioned above. The possibility of pre-specifying the outcome of epistemic mental acts is blocked by the fact that such acts are constituted by strict normative requirements. That mental acts include receptive features is shown to be a necessary architectural constraint for mental agents to be sensitive to epistemic requirements (through emotional feelings and other normatively relevant attitudes). Finally, the phenomenology of intending is shown to be absent in most mental acts; the motivational structure of mental acts is, rather, associated with error- signals and self-directed doubtings. Mental acts need to be recognized as a natural kind of action meant to normatively control and enhance cognitive efficiency according to current processing needs. (shrink)
Given disagreements about the architecture of the mind, the nature of self-knowledge, and its epistemology, the question of how to understand the function and scope of metacognition – the control of one's cognition - is still a matter of hot debate. A dominant view, the self-ascriptive view (or one-function view), has been that metacognition necessarily requires representing one's own mental states as mental states, and, therefore, necessarily involves an ability to read one's own mind. The self-evaluative view (or two-function view), (...) in contrast, takes metacognition to involve a procedural form of knowledge that is generated by actually engaging in a first-order cognitive task, and monitoring its success. The comparative and developmental arguments supporting, respectively, each of these views are discussed in the light of Hampton's operational definition of metacognition. New arguments are presented in favor of the two-function view. Recent behaviorial and neuroscientific evidence suggests that metacognitive assessment relies on dedicated implicit mechanisms, which are wholly independent, and indeed dissociable, from theory-based self-attribution. The two-function view is claimed to be the best interpretation of these findings. (shrink)
An area in the theory of action that has received little attention is how mental agency and world-directed agency interact. The purpose of the present contribution is to clarify the rational conditions of such interaction, through an analysis of the central case of acceptance. There are several problems with the literature about acceptance. First, it remains unclear how a context of acceptance is to be construed. Second, the possibility of conjoining, in acceptance, an epistemic component, which is essentially mind-to-world, and (...) a utility component, which requires a world-to-mind direction of fit, is merely posited rather than derived from the rational structure of acceptance. Finally, the norm of acceptance is generally seen as related to truth, which turns out to be inapplicable in a number of cases. We will argue, first, that the specific context-dependence of acceptances is derived from their being mental actions, each embedded in a complex hierarchy of acceptances composing, together, a planning sequence. Second, that acceptances come in several varieties, corresponding to the specific epistemic norm(s) that constitute them. The selection of a particular norm for accepting answers to considerations of utility – to the association of an epistemic goal with an encompassing world-directed action. Once a type of acceptance is selected, however, the epistemic norm constitutive for that acceptance strictly applies. Third, we argue that context-dependence superimposes a decision criterion on the output of the initial epistemic acceptance. Strategic acceptance is regulated by instrumental norms of expected utility, which may rationally lead an agent to screen off her initial epistemic acceptance. (shrink)
Elqayam & Evans (E&E) are focused on the normative judgments used by theorists to characterize subjects' performances (e.g. in terms of logic or probability theory). They ignore the fact, however, that subjects themselves have an independent ability to evaluate their own reasoning performance, and that this ability plays a major role in controlling their first-order reasoning tasks.
Controlling one's mental agency encompasses two forms of metacognitive operations, self-probing and post-evaluating. Metacognition so defined might seem to fuel an internalist view of epistemic norms, where rational feelings are available to instruct a thinker of what she can do, and allow her to be responsible for her mental agency. Such a view, however, ignores the dynamics of the mind–world interactions that calibrate the epistemic sentiments as reliable indicators of epistemic norms. A 'brain in the lab' thought experiment suggests that (...) an internalist view of epistemic feelings is unable to account for the contrast between norm-tracking, educated sentiments, and illusory feelings. (shrink)
Metacognition is often defined as thinking about thinking. It is exemplified in all the activities through which one tries to predict and evaluate one’s own mental dispositions, states and properties for their cognitive adequacy. This article discusses the view that metacognition has metarepresentational structure. Properties such as causal contiguity, epistemic transparency and procedural reflexivity are present in metacognition but missing in metarepresentation, while open-ended recursivity and inferential promiscuity only occur in metarepresentation. It is concluded that, although metarepresentations can redescribe metacognitive (...) contents, metacognition and metarepresentation are functionally distinct. (shrink)
Growing suspicions were raised however that an exclusively language-oriented view of the mind, focussing on the characterization of anhistorical, static mental states through their propositional contents, was hardly compatible with what is currently known of brain architecture and did not fare well when confronted with results from many behavioral studies of mental functions. My aim in what follows is to show that these forms of dissatisfaction stem from the fact that brain evolution and development were either entirely ignored, or insufficiently (...) taken into account in inquiries about the structure of mental contents. I will discuss how evolutionary and developmental approaches to human cognition are now in a position to substantially alter the central paradigms currently used in cognitive science. (shrink)
Dans son compte-rendu de mon livre, Les Animaux Pensent-ils?, Machery objecte que l'évolution n'étant ni hiérarchique ni linéaire, il n'et pas justifié de proposer une analyse hiérarchique des représentations. Je réponds à cette objection, en montrant qu'on peut en effet distinguer des types de représentation par leurs propriétés sémantiques et computationnelles. On peut reconnaître le caractère anagénétique du développement de la cognition sans pour autant légitimer une conception hiérarchique et continuiste de l'évolution des espèces.
Against the view that metacognition is a capacity that parallels theory of mind, it is argued that metacognition need involve neither metarepresentation nor semantic forms of reflexivity, but only process-reflexivity, through which a task-specific system monitors its own internal feedback by using quantitative cues. Metacognitive activities, however, may be redescribed in metarepresentational, mentalistic terms in species endowed with a theory of mind.
What is a person, and how can a person come to know that she is a person identical to herself over time ? The article defends the view that the sense of being oneself in this sense consists in the ability to consciously affect oneself : in the memory of having affected oneself, joint to the consciousness of being able to affect oneself again. In other words, being a self requires a capacity for metacognition (control and monitoring of one's own (...) internal states). This view is compatible with the hypothesis that the self is a dynamic representation emerging out of a higher level control system, - valuation control - whose articulation with control of plans and perceptual/motor control is discussed in the context of normal and pertrubed agency. (shrink)
This book deals with the experience of externality, i.e. an experience, common in schizophrenia, present both in verbal hallucination and in thought insertion. The view defended is that thought insertion is a case of failed agency, experienced by the agent at the personal level as an intelligible thought with which she cannot identify. Such a case in which sense of agency and sense of subjectivity come apart reveals the existence of two dimensions in self-consciousness. Several difficulties of the solution offered (...) are discussed, in connection with the causal-explanatory role of the phenomenological features of the experience and with the view that thinking is a variety of acting. (shrink)
The book under review offers two important contributions. One is a valuable discussion of the various ways of addressing the paradoxical experience of externality. The other is an emphasis on a distinction between the experience of subjectivity and the experience of agency. This review tries to show that this distinction is indeed a crucial feature in any solution to the question of externality, but that it is associated with a view of thinking as acting that is questionable.
A prominent but poorly understood domain of human agency is mental action, i.e., thecapacity for reaching specific desirable mental statesthrough an appropriate monitoring of one's own mentalprocesses. The present paper aims to define mentalacts, and to defend their explanatory role againsttwo objections. One is Gilbert Ryle's contention thatpostulating mental acts leads to an infinite regress.The other is a different although related difficulty,here called the access puzzle: How can the mindalready know how to act in order to reach somepredefined result? A (...) crucial element in the solutionof these puzzles consists in making explicit thecontingency between mental acts and mentaloperations, parallel to the contingency betweenphysical acts and bodily movements. The paper finallydiscusses the kind of reflexivity at stake in mentalacts; it is shown that the capacity to refer tooneself is not a necessary condition of the successfulexecution of mental acts. (shrink)
This paper discusses the content of agency awareness. It contrast three elements in content: what the goal is, how it is to be reached, and who is having the goal/performing the action ? Marc Jeannerod's claim that goal representations are self-other neutral is discussed. If goal representations are essentially sharable, then we do not understand other people by projecting a piece of internal knowledge on to them, as often assumed. The problem which our brain has to solve is the converse (...) problem : determining who the agent is, once a goal is identified. This view has interesting consequences on the theory of mentalization. One can plausibly speculate that observing action, with an additional simulatory component for action memory, form major building blocks in understanding other minds. Metarepresenting, in this perspective, would depend on additional executive capacities for maintaining distinct the inferences from diverse simulated contexts of action. (shrink)
La connaissance de soi suppose que l'on puisse former des pensées vraies de la forme 'je Y que P', où 'Y' fait référence à une attitude propositionnelle, 'P' à son contenu, et 'je' au penseur de cette pensée. La question qui se pose est de savoir, ce qui, dans le contenu mental occurrent [P], justifie l'auto-attribution de cette pensée. Ce problème dit de la transition soulève trois difficultés ; celle de la préservation du contenu intentionnel entre la pensée de premier (...) et de second ordre ; celle de la reconnaissance de l'attitude ayant ce contenu intentionnel pour objet, et enfin la reconnaissance que ce qui est pensé l'est par le sujet qui pense. Le présent article se propose de montrer que la troisième difficulté résiste à une approche fondée sur l'expérience ou sur la signification cognitive de [P], et avance l'idée que la notion d'action mentale permet d'éclairer les conditions d'identité du penseur de [P] et du sujet de l'auto-attribution de l'attitude propositionnelle 'Y que P'.Self-knowledge requires the capacity to think true thoughts of the form 'I Y that P', where 'Y' refers to a propositional attitude, 'P' to a propositional content, and 'I' to the thinker of the thought of content P. The question that this requirement raises is to know what, in the occurrent mental content [P] , justifies the self-attribution of this thought. This problem, called the transition problem, includes three difficulties : how is intentional content stable across first- and second-order thoughts ? How is the attitude with this intentional content identified by the thinker ? And how is the thinker of the second-order thought able to claim truly that he himself is the thinker of the first-order thought ? The present paper's aim is to show that the third difficulty cannot be solved through an examination of the experience of having [P] or on the basis of the cognitive significance of P, and suggests that an analysis of mental actions in which propositional attitudes play a causal and feedback role give a better grasp on the conditions of identity of the thinker of [P] with the thinker of the propositional attitude 'Y that P'. (shrink)
Granted that a given species is able to entertain beliefs and desires, i.e. to have (epistemic and motivational) internal states with semantically evaluable contents, one can raise the question of whether the species under investigation is, in addition, able to represent properties and events that are not only perceptual or physical, but mental, and use the latter to guide their actions, not only as reliable cues for achieving some output, but as mental cues (that is: whether it can 'read minds'). (...) The main aim of this article is to suggest that mindreading depends on two prior capacities : exercising simulation, as when one actively disengages from the present environment to imagine a counterfactual situation, and exploiting simulation, which implies that an imaginary situation is relocated within the real world. It is claimed that although apes have the first capacity, they don't have the second one, and therefore do not have access to mental attribution. (shrink)
This articles examines three ways in which the connection between semantic and pragmatic representations of a single action can be tightened up in order to remedy the puzzle of deviant causation. A first move consists in making the feedback process, i.e. the dynamics of the relationship between both representational components, a central element in the definition of an action. A second step brings in the action-effect principle, emphasizing the teleological relation of each pragmatic representation type with its external effects. A (...) final step consists in elucidating the constitutive character of demonstrative reference for the contents of working memory states. (shrink)
This article is a summary of two chapters of a book published in French in 1997, entitled Comment L'esprit vient aux Bêtes, Paris, Gallimard. The core idea is that the crucial distinction between internal and external states, often used uncritically by theorists of intentionality, needs to be made on a non-circular basis. The proposal is that objectivity - the capacity to reidentify individuals as the same across places and times depends on the capacity to extract spatial crossmodal invariants, which in (...) turn presupposes a capacity to (re)calibrate perceptual inputs across modalities in a principled way. (shrink)
The abilities to attribute an action to its proper agent and to understand its meaning when it is produced by someone else are basic aspects of human social communication. Several psychiatric syndromes, such as schizophrenia, seem to lead to a dysfunction of the awareness of one’s own action as well as of recognition of actions performed by other. Such syndromes offer a framework for studying the determinants of agency, the ability to correctly attribute actions to their veridical source. Thirty normal (...) subjects and 30 schizophrenic patients with and without hallucinations and/or delusional experiences were required to execute simple finger and wrist movements, without direct visual control of their hand. The image of either their own hand or an alien hand executing the same or a different movement was presented on a TV-screen in real time. The task for the subjects was to discriminate whether the hand presented on the screen was their own or not. Hallucinating and deluded schizophrenic patients were more impaired in discriminating their own hand from the alien one than the non-hallucinating ones, and tended to misattribute the alien hand to themselves. Results are discussed according to a model of action control. A tentative description of the mechanisms leading to action consciousness is proposed. (shrink)