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Is it possible to experimentally determine the extension of cognition?

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Various analytical tools originally developed for theories of mechanistic explanation have recently been imported into the ongoing debate on the hypothesis of (extracerebrally) extended cognition (HEC). One such tool that appears particularly relevant to that debate is Craver’s mutual manipulability account of constitution (MM), most of all because it promises to settle the debate on experimental grounds. This paper investigates whether it is possible to deliver on that promise. We first find that, far from grounding an experimental evaluation of HEC, MM is conceptually incompatible with both internalist and externalist accounts of cognition. Next, we propose a suitable modification of MM, MM*, but it turns out that MM* presupposes rather than produces clarity on the extension of cognition. Moreover, subject to MM* the inference to constitution is radically empirically underdetermined. Finally, we argue that our results can be generalized and conclude that, for principled reasons, it is impossible to experimentally determine whether cognitive processes have extracerebral constituents. Determining the extension of cognition is an inherently pragmatic matter.
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Keywords: Constitution; extended cognition; extended mind; mechanistic explanation; mutual manipulability

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Philosophy, University of Geneva, Geneva, Switzerland 2: Department of Cognitive Science, University of Osnabrück, Osnabrück, Germany

Publication date: 17 November 2017

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