An advanced topics in mind, language and embodied cognition blog

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Haugeland on Biological and Social Conceptions of Intentionality

by thebestialfloor

I hope you are all having a great time spreading your selves around the globe.

I have found this very nice paper. It helps me to understand his critique of biological normativity and what´s wrong with it. I hope I could have read it while I was writting the essay.



Haugeland and the extended mind

by daaavve

Hi folks,

In case any of you are still having sleepless nights wondering whether Haugeland’s stuff about responsibility as the mark of the cognitive might be used productively in some debates about the extended mind, here’s a nice paper I came across the other day that argues that it can and should be:

Adams and Maher – Haugeland and Clark

An afterthought

by frankvancaspel

Would anyone be up for one final meeting in which we discuss the final contents of our essays? I’d be up for it, and would be interested to read some of your work. I’m leaving on the 31st of May, so it would have to be before then…

Inquiry and Cognition Workshop

by daaavve

Hi folks, 

Got your essays today, looking forward to reading them!

Allan Hazlett is looking for philosophy of mind-y postgrad speakers for a workshop he’s organising on May 24th, on ‘Inquiry and Cognition’. He says you can construe this topic as broadly as you like, but for some idea of what he’s interested in, take a look at the description of the conference to which the workshop is a precursor, here.

If any of you have work that you’d like to present that you think might be relevant, then email me or Allan about getting a spot on the workshop. I imagine it’ll be a pretty informal affair, with half hour talks and 15mins for questions, so talking at it shouldn’t be too much of a scary ordeal.

By the way, I hope you all enjoyed thinking about J-Hog and the topics he touches on for the course. If you have any JH-related musings that you’d like to get off your chest in future, feel free to post them to the blog!

AMLEC Week 12!

by daaavve

Hello folks,

Hope all your essay writing endeavours are going well! Just a wee reminder that:

  • You should confirm your essay topic with me before you write it
  • I’ll be in my office (6.05 DSB) from 2 til 4 tomorrow in case anyone wants to drop by and chat about their essay, or Haugeland, or anything that has come up on the course

Good luck!

On Truth and Rule-Following

by joshuahodges

Hello everyone,

Here is the link to my presentation from Tuesday:  On Truth and Rule-Following

I will provide a rough summary of my own talking points, followed by a recap of our discussion.

  • My Primary Goal:  to show that Haugeland can still preserve a sense of epistemic privilege for scientific knowledge.
  • The material on Brandom and Rorty is brief in order to keep my analysis manageable.  I am doing some research on Rorty now for my essay and would be willing to discuss this further in the event that anyone’s interested.
  • I argue that the phrase “Letting Be” (at least with regard to Heidegger and Haugeland) is unclear and potentially misleading unless you already know what he’s talking about.  I prefer to view it as a slogan and encourage the reader to tread carefully around this idea.  Although it wasn’t mentioned on Tuesday, I should note here that I have found some of the arguments in Brian Cantwell Smith’s “On the Origin of Objects” to work harmoniously with Haugeland’s conclusions on the nature of objects, and I think the two texts pair admirably (just as Dennett says in his review).
  • I emphasize the importance of finding “basic norms” which ground the possibility for objective truth-telling.

The initial class discussion focused on the relation between constitutive regulations and constitutive standards.  Can they be viewed as a hierarchy?  In the text, Haugeland separates the two after dealing with similar concepts in Rawls and Searle–I suggested that Haugeland’s conception is superior because it doesn’t lead us into making “Cartesian” errors about the nature of cognition and therefore keeps the pitcher from throwing us back to first base (see footnote 1 below).

Our talk then shifted into a critique of Haugeland’s stance on animals.  The question of existential commitment being essentially human (as per page 2) was raised by Alfredo.  I argued that this illustrates a potential problem for Haugeland; as best I can see, this is something he inherits needlessly from the existentialist tradition before him.  I discussed research from cognitive ethology and I brought up a few findings on insect minds, and concluded that Haugeland would be far better off to remain silent on this issue.  He notes at several points that his comments on animal minds are tangential to his main points and have little bearing on his core claims.  For what it’s worth, I actually think that some of the animal minds research plays very well with Haugeland’s ideas (see footnote 2 below).

The conversation shifted to an interrogation of Haugeland’s statement that “we should, however, be very hesitant to identify chess pieces with things.” (280)  As I recall, the following question was posed:  why doesn’t Haugeland just divide up his ontology into objects (such as water bottles) and their functions?  I want to (disclaimer) speculate that he avoids this because of his undergraduate degree in physics (see footnote 3).  Frank mentioned that a more explicit analysis of functions would strengthen Haugeland’s argument.

If I left out anything important, please feel free to post it as a comment below.  My footnotes follow.


1:  With regard to my March 5th post on Carruthers and the later comments made on the Pattern and Being post, I would like to now suggest that this is the key reason Carruthers’ arguments on internal norms fail to strike home against Haugeland.  I can explain my reasoning if anyone is curious or disagrees.

2:  A similar sentiment is put forth by Stephen Stich in The Fragmentation of Reason.  He makes the following comment while chastising some of the earlier work done by Davidson and Dennett.  “Philosophy has a long history of trying to issue a priori ultimatums to science, decreeing what must be the case or what could not possibly be the case.  Pace Kant, space is not Euclidean, nor are the laws of physics Newtonian.  Pace Hegel, there are nine planets, not seven.  But underlying my distrust of the a priori arguments against the possibility of systematically defective reasoning, there was more than a general skepticism about philosophy’s attempts to constrain science.”  (page 11)  This is just a nicer version of the same argument that Carruthers uses later on in his defense of belief/desire architectures in animal minds.

3:  On page 106, he openly mentions some of his uncertainty (haha) on how to integrate particle physics.  He explains that there is a tension between his understanding of micr0-physics and his desire to avoid eliminative materialism about wave-hits (mentioned in footnote 3).   And of course there is the 1997 appendix in which he says another argument is needed against the causal principle.  This is why I suspect that he avoids a simple account of object + function, because functions require an account of causality that he hasn’t yet formulated.  I’ll end my disclaimer here and invite someone with a better understanding of Haugeland’s ontology to weigh in.  Maybe if I get the chance to reread “Weak Supervenience” in a few days I can say more.  For what’s it worth, I’ve included a bit of analysis on this issue in my revised version of the handout:  keeping in mind that Haugeland is focused on the norms which are most “basic” for objective truth-telling, it seems to me that it won’t be enough for him to endorse just object + function.

Handout (Revised)

     “Even the most rudimentary (perhaps prelinguistic) truth-telling presupposes an integrated structure of rules of several different and interdependent sorts.” (305)

          This chapter of Having Thought is focused on the sorts of rule-following that are “most fundamental to our telling what’s what about worldly entities.” (305)  In the handout, I included a table matching Haugeland’s exhibited rules/governing rules distinction with Searle’s terminology and the direction of fit.

Failure #1:  Biologically Evolved Normativity

  • Biologically evolved normativity answers to natural selection.  Normal operations enable the organism to function successfully in reproductive or evolutionary terms.
  • Key Point:  This basic-rule following can also be reductively understood in biological terms.  This is OKAY for Haugeland. (see page 309, paragraph three)
  • Biological systems can also carry information.
  • But biologically evolved normativity fails because it cannot distinguish between functioning properly and getting things right.
  • So long as it’s ensuring reproductive success, it’s as right as it can be.
  • See the bird and butterfly example on page 310.

Failure #2:  Socially Instituted Normativity

  • Steer between the Scylla of infinite regress (all things are normative) and the Charybdis of non-normative basic levels (which would probably fall victim to the same critiques leveled at Davidson in the “Weak Supervenience” chapter).
  • Social norms are distinguished by the way in which they create compliance.
  • Social norms can also carry information, but they still cannot distinguish between functioning properly and getting things right.
  • So long as it conforms, it’s as right as it can be.  (This is another reason why a simplistic account of object + function probably isn’t enough — the function can vary dramatically!  Example:  sometimes I use a button to stand in for a chess piece that I’ve lost, but sometimes I also use it to fasten clothing.  In this regard, the button answers in many different ways to normativity, and offers remarkably different affordances.  See the first bullet point on what happens if you try to dodge this by saying the basic level is non-normative.  But perhaps I am attacking a straw man and have misunderstood the critique of Haugeland.)


  • Constitution is neither creating nor counting as, but rather letting be.  (352)
  • Actual phenomena are *known* when they are recognized via mundane skills.
  • Phenomena are *understood* when they are recognized as possible via constitutive skills.

Two Philosophers One Concept: Post-Presentation Discussion

by daaavve

Hello folks,

If you’d like to see Andrew Buskell’s presentation again, then here it is!

The password is ‘Haugedegger’ (of course). Here are the questions/comments/topics that I scribbled down from the discussion. I have doubtless mangled some of them, so if you recognise an issue you raised, and would like to say more about it, then sound off in comments! If you fail to recognise an issue that you raised, then you should also stick it in the comment thread.

  • What is the relationship between JH’s constitutive standards and Kant’s categories? If they’re supposed to be playing the same role, then how does this mesh with Heidegger, and the things that he thinks about Kant’s categories?
  • Can/should we give a functional specification of JH’s constitutive standards?
  • Is the ‘letting be’ stuff supposed to help us see how the tension between realism and interpretationalism, with regard to that which constitutive standards demarcate, should be resolved? Aren’t we still too far from realism?
  • Why think this tells us about ontology, rather than epistemology? (Or: how do we decide which one it tells us about?)
  • Are dinosaurs Dasein?
  • Surely good science really does carve nature’s joints, independently of all this funny constitutive standards/letting be stuff?
  • There are interesting parallels between the idea that we set standards for objects, and the notion of (self-)legislation in Kant’s practical philosophy.
  • Interpretations are constraints on representation but not on existence (I remember minuting this, but can’t remember if it was supposed to be a friendly endorsement or a deadly torpedoing of the relevant bit of the presentation…)

Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Buskell!

Truth and Rule-following Open Thread

by daaavve

For anyone who doesn’t have a copy of ‘Having Thought’ – Truth and Rule-following is now up on WebCT. Leave yourself plenty of time to read this beast, and try to think about what questions are still left dangling from JH’s book at the end of it. Good luck, and post your reading experiences to comments!

ARE YOU YOUR BODY, YOUR MIND, BOTH (to the same extent?), OR SOME KIND OF MERGER (IDENTITY?) OF THEM? (please, add other options in the comments section) [About the discussion on Dreyfus´ paper and extended mind]

by alfredoms

Although my example wasn´t the best one (improvisation better for jazz), I think that my description of Clark´s extended functionalism was essentially right. I will write down some quotation from Supersizing the Mind to support that description.

But before some minor words about the (indeed poor) example: from a functionalist standpoint the object of my example (chair) is a chair due to its functional features, so considering a chair as a chair in this sense is quite obvious that I cannot say that what is functionally a chair is functionally something distinct from a chair (that is, if something is essentially and functionally defined as a chair cannot be essentially and functionally a humanlike mind –so, I did not mean that–). However, according to some strong functionalism, deeply committed to multiple realizability, an intelligent (even human-like intelligence) being from a possible world could have the appearance of a chair; that is, to look like a chair without being a chair (but perhaps a living being –taking “living” in a very broad sense–). In the case of extended functionalism (see the quotations below) such a system-being-creature (in particular her body) would be, in fact, part (“participant machinery” in Clark´s terms) of a larger system: the humanlike (extended) mind at issue would be, then, a property of the larger system, which is the material supervenience base of it. This was the point of the example, although I recognize that it is possible to think of better illustrations.

Nevertheless, the example was just a peripheral, improvised, and rather dramatic illustration, the main point of my worry was this: from the standpoint of extended functionalism what makes us humans? Does it make sense to say “I am my body”? Would a radically different creature from us in terms of body, but with a humanlike mind, be human in some respect?  (I leave the Cartesian part for another occasion to not make this to long, but I suggest thinking in the consequences of the two possible answers to the last question: If yes…/If not…).

Quotations (I will just focus on the notion of Distributed Functional Descomposition I mentioned in class):

-“The use of the term functional in distributed functional descomposition is meant to remind us that even in these larger systems, it is the roles played by various elements, and not the specific ways those elements are realized, that do the explanatory work” (14).

-Take the case of “a snakelike creature lying on top of an advanced touch-screenlike environment […]”. “The snake being (call it Adder) uses this setup, let us suppose, to carry out the same complex accounting as the standard, pen-and-paper accountant Ada”. “As far as the distributed functional descomposition (DFD) goes, there is no reason to suppose […] that the accounting-relevant states of Ada and Adder need differ in any respect” (203).

-“DFD-style work in embodied, embedded cognition thus lends no support to the idea that minds like ours require bodies like our […]. Creatures with radically different bodies, brains, and worlds from us might thus contrive to use their varying resources to implement many of the very same cognitive and information-processing routines” (203-204).

Pattern and Being (part 1/intentionality), post-discussion

by jomahr

Hey everybody,

on Tuesday, I presented some findings by Gergely and Csibra suggesting that 1 year-old infants may be able to attribute goals to agents and assessing the rationality (i.e. efficiency) of their actions without interpreting them as fully intentional beings. Gergely and Csibra argue that this points to the existence of a “teleological stance” emerging prior to the full-blown Denettian “intentional stance”. The question that I posed to the group then was, how that fits in with Haugenett’s ideas of the intentional stance being constitutively governed by a commitment to interpreting actions as rational. There seem to be two possibilities to cope with these results from Haugenett’s point of view: One posibility would be to argue that there is something additional to commitment to rationality going on that we need to take the intentional stance (i.e.: you can’t have inentionality without rationality but you can have rationality without intentionality). A second possibility would be to criticise Gergely’s and Csibra’s interpretation of their data and claim that what children actually do in these experiments is to take the intentional stance.

Regarding the first possibility:

In the discussion, it was repeatedly pointed out that Haugeland understands pattern recognition as a skill, which would therefore also apply to recognising patterns in other people’s behaviors that afford interpretation of these people as intentional agents. However, I pointed out that a simple hand-wave to skillood in this context seems unsatisfactory as what we really would like to know is how this skill is actually possible and what we need over and above a commtiment to the constitutive standards of rationality to execute it. On this point, Haugeland has a short passage, which I also read in class but which is still entirely mysterious to me:

“The constitutive standards for a given domain – the rules of chess, for instance – set conditions jointly on a range of responsive dispositions and a range of phenomena: if they are both such that the former consistently find the latter to accord with the standards, then the former are recognition skills and the latter are objects in the domain. But such eventual concord is anything but vacuous: it is rare and, in general, a considerable achievement.” (p. 279)

That recognition is an achievement doesn’t add much to the general picture, however, and thus I am still left to wonder what actually goes on when we take the intentional stance over and above committing to a constitutive standard of rationaliy. It was also pointed out in discussion that we should take Haugeland to refer to the Dreyfusian notion of “skill” when he uses the term. That may be true, but in this it would still be desirable to have an account of how this applies to the case of social cognition.

Regarding the second possibility:

This was not discussed in class, but I think it would be fair to argue that the abilities observed in 1 year olds may actually be just a reflection of their more general ability to take the intentional stance already at that age. The paper I presented was of 2003. In 2005 Onishi and Baillargeon showed that children in a similiar age range were able to pass implicit (non-verbal) false-belief tasks. This is exactily what one would expect if one views the attribution of intentionality and rationality as inextricably linked.

All of this aside, I wanted to share another challenge to the viewpoint of Haugenett with you. In his The Architecture of the Mind, Peter Carruthers ( 2006, see p. 262/263) claims that it is a mistake to view norms of rationality as cosntitutive for thinking and for the attribution of thought. On Carruthers view, it is beliefs about norms rather than the norms themselves that do the work. Viewing norms themselves as constitutive for thought-ascripition and thinking makes it impossible, Carruthers claims, to naturalise thought in the first place. That is why Dennett can’t help himselv but to turn away from full-blown realism about intentional states (or so Carruthers claims). Do you agree that viewing norms of reasoning as constitutive for thinking/thought ascripition makes a naturalistic account of these thoughts  impossible? I find myself agreeing with Carruthers that it seems strange to think of norms of reasoning as somehow constituting thought-processes rather than being constituted by them. Discuss!