A New Framework for Enactivism: Understanding the enactive body through structural flexibility and Merleau-Ponty’s ontology of flesh


Authors
John Jenkinson
University of Western Ontario
Abstract
The enactive approach to cognition and consciousness offers a valuable alternative to the standard approaches dominant in the sciences of mind. As an embodied account, enactivism incorporates theoretical perspectives on the body from phenomenology, cognitive science, and biology, which provides a unique interpretation of embodiment with critical insight into the embodied nature of cognition and consciousness. Nonetheless, I argue that several revisions are required to make enactivism viable within the context of the sciences of mind. The enactive account of subjectivity is problematic, in light of arguments developed in Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s later texts, because it is implicitly dualistic. I demonstrate that this implicit dualism can be resolved by incorporating the conceptual framework of flesh that Merleau-Ponty introduces in his later works. However, this new framework presents a challenge of understanding how body can break with world in experience. I provide a solution to this problem by way of developing revisions to the enactive account of cognition, which I argue is problematic in its generality. I offer a new interpretation of enactive cognition modelled on structural flexibility that overcomes the difficulties of the previous account. These revisions to enactive cognition provide a way of understanding how body can break with world, resulting in an account of the enactive body as expressing a massive integration of its different ways of being in the world, as cognitive, conscious, affective, and agentive. These revisions provide a more consistent and plausible articulation of the enactive approach that is more amenable to guiding the sciences of mind.
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