Trivializing modularity. An associative-representational account of cognition

Epistemologia (2):201-215 (2016)
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In the present paper I analyse the modularity thesis and, more specifically, the thesis of domain-specificity of processing. I argue that this thesis is not trivial only under the assumption of a variety of processes which differ from each other at the implementation level; otherwise, the variety of cognitive processes can only be explained as emergent on the basic mechanism of associative activation in that it operates on domain-specific representations, which is something that no one would deny. But that assumption is untenable: there are no other processes than associative activation (and inhibition) at the implementation level. Any claim to the contrary is the result of a conceptual confusion between two senses of “associative”: a behavioural one, relative to which there are cognitive processes that exceed the ability to code elementary spatio-temporal contingencies, and one that lies instead at the implementation level. Since the assumption of a plurality of processes at the implementation level is untenable, the only viable interpretation of modularism (as far as domain-specificity is concerned) is a trivial one. By this I do not mean that the thesis is devoid of any content. However, its content is scarcely debatable, and far less thrilling than the debate has suggested so far.



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Marco Mazzone
University of Catania

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