The given and the hard problem of content

Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences:1-26 (2022)
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Abstract

Wilfrid Sellars’ denunciation of the Myth of the Given was meant to clarify, against empiricism, that perceptual episodes alone are insufficient to ground and justify perceptual knowledge. Sellars showed that in order to accomplish such epistemic tasks, more resources and capacities, such as those involved in using concepts, are needed. Perceptual knowledge belongs to the space of reasons and not to an independent realm of experience. Dan Hutto and Eric Myin have recently presented the Hard Problem of Content as an ensemble of reasons against naturalistic accounts of content. In a nutshell, it states that covariance relations—even though they are naturalistically acceptable explanatory resources—do not constitute content. The authors exploit this move in order to promote their preferred radical enactivist and anti-representationalist option, according to which, basic minds—the lower stratum of cognition—do not involve content. Although it is controversial to argue that the Hard Problem of Content effectively dismisses naturalistic theories of representation, a central aspect of it—the idea that information as covariance does not suffice to explain content—finds support among the defenders of classical cognitive representationalism, such as Marcin Miłkowski. This support—together with the acknowledgment this remark about covariance is a point already made by Sellars in his criticism of the Myth of the Given—has a number of interesting implications. Not only is it of interest for the debates about representationalism in cognitive science, where it can be understood as an anticipatory move, but it also offers some clues and insights for reconsidering some issues along Sellarsian lines—a conflation between two concepts of representation that is often assumed in cognitive science, a distinction between two types of relevant normativities, and a reconsideration of the naturalism involved in such explanations.

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