Against cognitive artifacts: extended cognition and the problem of defining ‘artifact’

Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 16 (5):879-892 (2017)
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In this paper I examine the notion of ‘artifact’ and related notions in the dominant version of extended cognition theory grounded on extended functionalism. Although the term is ubiquitous in the literature, it is far from clear what ECT means by it. How are artifacts conceptualized in ECT? Is ‘artifact’ a meaningful and useful category for ECT? If the answer to the previous question is negative, should we worry? Is it important for ECT to have a coherent theory of artifacts? And what are the demands and constraints that ECT imposes on this theory? I distinguish between two aspects of ECT, one narrow, aligned with extended functionalism ; and one broad or pluralistic, in which EF is combined with other theoretical resources in the context of diverse research programs. I begin by determining the problems in conceptualizing artifacts from EF. Then I address the question of why a concept of artifact may be relevant to ECT. Next, I examine the efforts of Richard Heersmink to combine ECT with dominant theories of artifacts in the philosophy of technology. I argue that both approaches fail to yield a meaningful notion of artifact, let alone one of ‘cognitive’ artifact. Finally, I argue that narrow ECT places rather strong constraints on a theory of artifacts, since it locates the specificity of ‘artifact’ in material aspects of realization that are, by definition, outside its theoretical purview. I examine, then discard, the possibility that a materialist and objectivist theory of artifacts may be of help. And finally I briefly explore some ways in which a broad, pluralistic ECT may address some of these shortcomings.



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References found in this work

Action in Perception.Alva Noë - 2005 - MIT Press.
Sameness and Substance.David Wiggins - 1980 - Harvard University Press.
Action in Perception. [REVIEW]Alva Noë - 2005 - Journal of Philosophy 102 (5):259-272.

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