Affordances: An Ecological Approach to First Philosophy

In Gail Weiss & Honi Fern Haber (eds.), Perspectives on Embodiment: The Intersections of Nature and Culture. Routledge. pp. 121--42 (1999)
John T. Sanders
Rochester Institute of Technology
Interest in "embodiment", and over how one may best express the implications of embodiment, is no parochial question, of interest only to a small number of effete philosophers. It confronts perceptual psychologists, developmental psychologists, and psychotherapists, of course. It may not be surprising, either, that it has become an important issue to some students of history and sociology, and to linguists, literary theorists and aestheticians. But that's not all. As physicists -- working within the very bastion of "objective" analysis -- have tried to find expression for what seems to be going on in the domain of sub-atomic nature, they have begun to suggest that physical description itself is inevitably situated. And within the study of artificial intelligence, support is growing for the contention that intelligence cannot be understood entirely formalistically. Intelligence must at least be embodied -- it must somehow display "engaged agency" -- if it is to be recognizable as intelligence. It is within this context that the contribution offered by this essay must be understood. I shall contend that a particular conception -- that of "affordances" -- can, when suitably qualified, offer a conceptual tool of quite exceptional value in the construction of a positive theory of embodied agency, and of its philosophical consequences.
Keywords embodiment  affordances  Merleau-Ponty, Maurice  Gibson, James J.
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