PPIG: Philosophy, Psychology, and Informatics Group

Speaker: Kate Nave (University of Edinburgh)

Title: Control is not the goal: Biological Autonomy & Intentionality

Abstract: The mark of the mental, as Brentano proposed, is the mind’s capacity to be directed towards a target that it might fail to hit. In broadly analytic approaches to the philosophy of mind and cognition, this has almost exclusively been understood in terms of the relation between the content of a representation and an external object – a relation that is normatively evaluable with respect to whether it meets the standard of accuracy. The difficulty in providing a naturalistic account of how a system can be directed towards accurate correspondence has led many to reject the idea of the mind as intentionally directed and to claim that we should seek to eliminate such normative evaluations from the science of the mind.

Drawing upon phenomenological approaches to intentionality, enactivists have proposed a third alternative that treats agency as prior to knowledge.  The mind does aim at targets that it might fail to achieve, but this aiming consists primarily in the directedness of actions, not representations. Still, replacing one form of directedness with another does not resolve the fundamental problem of how a physical system can be directed in the first place. To account for this enactivists have often drawn upon cybernetic accounts of purposiveness in terms of homeostasis and feedback control.

I argue that this is a mistake. Accounts of cognition in terms of control are subject to the same problems of triviality and indeterminacy that afflict representational accounts of cognition. We cannot derive claims about what a system should do from a dispositional analysis of what it tends to do. This does not mean that we need to abandon enactive intentionality also. Rather we need to understand systems as having needs as well as tendencies. By doing so we can identify a uniquely intentional system as one that contributes to the fulfilment of its own needs.

Further information

We are a group of researchers from diverse backgrounds in the above-mentioned groups (and beyond) who aim to gain an interdisciplinary yet deep understanding of the threads that bind the human mind and the world. In particular, this seminar series focuses on the nature of cognition, metacognition and social cognition. We’ll be tackling questions such as, what does it mean to think? What does it mean to think about thinking? And, what does it mean to think about one’s own thinking versus thinking about the thinking of other people? Please come along!

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Contact details

David Ward

Mar 08 2023 -

PPIG: Philosophy, Psychology, and Informatics Group

2023-03-08: Control is not the goal: Biological Autonomy & Intentionality

Room G159 (MacLaren Stuart Room), Old College, South Bridge, Edinburgh, EH8 9YL