Deakin University

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Revaluing the behaviorist ghost in enactivism and embodied cognition

journal contribution
posted on 2021-06-01, 00:00 authored by N Alksnis, Jack ReynoldsJack Reynolds
Despite its short historical moment in the sun, behaviorism has become something akin to a theoria non grata, a position that dare not be explicitly endorsed. The reasons for this are complex, of course, and they include sociological factors which we cannot consider here, but to put it briefly: many have doubted the ambition to establish law-like relationships between mental states and behavior that dispense with any sort of mentalistic or intentional idiom, judging that explanations of intelligent behavior require reference to qualia and/or mental events. Today, when behaviorism is discussed at all, it is usually in a negative manner, either as an attempt to discredit an opponent’s view via a reductio, or by enabling a position to distinguish its identity and positive claims by reference to what it is (allegedly) not. In this paper, however, we argue that the ghost of behaviorism is present in influential, contemporary work in the field of embodied and enactive cognition, and even in aspects of the phenomenological tradition that these theorists draw on. Rather than take this to be a problem for these views as some have (e.g. Block, J Philos 102:259–272, 2005; Jacob, Rev Philos Psychol 2(3):519–540, 2011; O’Brien and Opie, Philos 43:723–729, 2015), we argue that once the behaviorist dimensions are clarified and distinguished from the straw-man version of the view, it is in fact an asset, one which will help with task of setting forth a scientifically reputable version of enactivism and/or philosophical behaviorism that is nonetheless not brain-centric but behavior-centric. While this is a bit like “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” strategy, as Shaun Gallagher notes (in Philos Stud 176(3):839–8512019), with the shared enemy of behaviorism and enactivism being classical Cartesian views and/or orthodox cognitivism in its various guises, the task of this paper is to render this alliance philosophically plausible.









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Publication classification

C1 Refereed article in a scholarly journal