Christopher Erhard and Tobias Keiling (Eds): The Routledge Handbook of Phenomenology of Agency

The Routledge Handbook of Phenomenology of Agency Book Cover The Routledge Handbook of Phenomenology of Agency
Routledge Handbooks in Philosophy
Edited By Christopher Erhard, Tobias Keiling
Routledge
2020
Hardback £133.00 eBook £27.99
436

Reviewed by: Florian Markus Bednarski (PhD researcher at Leipzig University and The Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences)

The topic of this new Routledge Handbook is Phenomenology of agency. It is a very well selected topic and a nicely edited volume. The aim of a handbook should be to provide the reader with a selection of essays that cover the most important aspects of a given research focus. The editors must choose contributions carefully to achieve this goal. Before describing the structure and content of this volume in greater detail, some words about the subject of the book will be helpful to better understand the editors’ aim.

Very briefly, Phenomenology of agency is any kind of theorizing about and reflecting on agents’ experiences while performing actions. This theorizing and reflecting, or more generally philosophizing, can be either an attempt at achieving a better understanding of what actions are, or one might be interested in how it feels to act. Contemplating phenomenology of agency can thus lead to manifold findings for the interested reader. Further, the topic of this handbook has several anchor points in different areas of philosophy, among which philosophy of mind and philosophy of action feature most prominently, as well as being of interest for other research fields such as psychology, sociology, political science, cognitive and neuroscience.

Two aims of the handbook are specified by the editors (2). The first is to highlight writings of phenomenologists such as Edith Stein, Hans Reiner and Alexander Pfänder. All belong to a first generation of Husserl followers and worked mainly before 1940. Contributions presenting their work are to highlight the continuity of the phenomenological tradition after Husserl.  The second aim is to increase awareness of how significant phenomenology of agency is for any philosophical account of action. Several contributions discuss phenomenological influences on debates about intentionality, freedom, rationality and morality.

In the introduction, Christopher Erhard and Tobias Keiling not only provide an overview of the book but they also explicate some considerations behind the selection of the contributions. They describe three notions of the term phenomenology. First, the historical tradition founded by Edmund Husserl, second the philosophical method to prefer the “first-person-perspective” in the analysis of philosophical problems, and third the “what-it-is-like” notion of phenomenology. The editors admit that those differentiations might not be accepted without restrictions by every philosopher; however, the selected contributions are to include any of the three notions of the term phenomenology (2). And so, the reader will find chapters describing the work of Husserl and his companions, for example by Karl Mertens, who provides a good overview of Husserl and Pfänder’s writing on action theory (15-28). Besides the historic route, readers can explore methodological points of view on agency in several chapters, for example by Tobias Keiling on László Tengelyi’s discussions of first-person experience of action (235-259). A few chapters further widen the scope of this handbook to the experiential “what-it-is-like” notion of phenomenology, for example Shaun Gallagher’s contribution on phenomenological perspectives in cognitive science (336-350). Although the better part of contributions is concerned with historical or methodological rather than experiential notions of phenomenology, which is most widely spread in interdisciplinary research areas, the handbook does integrate all three perspectives.

Hence, in 27 Chapters and over more than 400 pages this handbook provides an overview of important figures, systematic disputes, and further aspects of the phenomenology of agency. The editors, Christopher Erhard and Tobias Keiling, both mainly interested in the philosophical tradition of phenomenology founded by Edmund Husserl, attempted to select authors and topics from a wide range of relevant areas in philosophy. The handbook is divided into two parts. Part I (5-259) introduces important figures and follows a mainly historical route through the landscape beginning with Franz Brentano. Part II is itself divided into two sections. The first (264-350) dealing with more general systematic questions and the second (352-413) highlighting further aspects such as freedom, morality, and rational action. The handbook also includes an index (415-424) of used terminology, which will be much appreciated by experienced users searching for specific references.

In the following, some chapters of each part will be reviewed to give the reader an impression of what to expect from this volume, beginning with the first chapter “Franz Brentano’s critique of free will” by Denis Seron (7-14). Franz Brentano never provided a full account of action, nor did he discuss the phenomenology of agency in greater detail. Phenomenology of agency is only mentioned in reference to how Brentano grounds his determinism in his radical empiricism. This is so because radical empiricism does not accept an ability to perceive possibilities. According to radical empiricism we can only perceive what is actual and not what is possible. This premise renders indeterminism necessarily false because indeterminism is based on the principle of alternative possibilities, which states that we can at least want to act otherwise. If the reader is interested in how this argument unfolds, chapter one of this volume is a well-crafted starting point.

Denis Seron contributed a short but concise chapter on Brentano’s critique of free will. For the reader it might be of great interest to learn more about Brentano’s radical empiricism. In particular, how he understands immediate consciousness and why he thinks that empirical arguments can only be given based on experience. Brentano’s assumption that one cannot perceive oneself doing otherwise opens up many questions about phenomenology of agency. How can humans be curious and creative in performing bodily movements (e.g. in dancing) if one is only able to perceive oneself doing what one is determined to do?

In a short and fast flowing chapter, Michael L. Morgan describes Levinas’ perspective on agency and ethics (147-157). Morgan’s central aim is to try and explain to the reader what Levinas meant when he wrote “to be a ‘self’ is to be responsible before having done anything” (as cited in Morgan, 2021, 148). In the course of the text, Morgan cleverly uses descriptive stories, such as the one of a judge in court, to clarify how Levinas understands freedom as given to the subject. Especially the notions of responsibility-for-the-other and radical disinterestedness are important to understand Levinas’ profoundly ordinary story about freedom of agency.

Michael L. Morgan delivers a precise text full of intuitively accessible argument. This chapter is especially interesting for readers interested in a perspective on phenomenology of agency that is not inherently fused with a subjective self. Levinas’ writing about agency is interested in the role of interpersonal responsibility and a societal dimension as opposed to viewing agency from a capacities and abilities of agents’ point of view. This chapter adds a further dimension to the topic of phenomenology of agency, highlighting once more the diversity of approaches to the debate.

In chapter fourteen, Thomas Baldwin provides a well-structured overview of Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s writings about agency (175-188). The significance of phenomenology of agency for any account of action in general becomes stringently clear in this chapter. Baldwin first summarizes Merleau-Ponty’s critique of traditional dualism, the body viewed as an independent physical entity which is moved by a will, which surmounts to a differentiation between an objective body and a phenomenal body. In what follows, Baldwin describes how this ambiguous view of the body helps Merleau-Ponty give an embodied account of agency: “Hence we should replace the conception of agency as the control of a physical body by an abstract mind, and view it instead as the interplay between the pre-personal being in the world of our organism and a personal self which uses this being in the world to understand and change it.” (181)

The next two paragraphs on agency and the will are intended to connect this embodied account to further issues, for example intentionality and rationality. In this context, it is useful that Baldwin directs us to further literature related to these questions, such as Davidson, O’Shaughnessy and McDowell.

In general, this chapter fits well into the context of this volume, and Merleau-Ponty is an important Philosopher whose work bridges some wider gaps between philosophical traditions. His thinking certainly originates in Husserl’s idea of phenomenology but never became a one-sided affair. His writing contains many references to empirical science and Philosophers from the analytic tradition. Finally, it is beneficial for the reader to gain insights not only into Merleau-Pontys main work ‘Phenomenolgy of Perception’ but also some rather unknown texts such as ‘The Structure of Behavior’.

This written dialogue between Martine Nida-Rümelin and Terry Horgan is a well-structured text in which two philosophers discover the precise details about their disagreement on satisfaction conditions of agentive phenomenology (264-299). The central debate between both concerns whether satisfaction conditions of agentive phenomenology can be formulated in alignment with a materialist metaphysics of mind. However, a rather intriguing aspect of this chapter is Nida-Rümelin and Horgans’ discussion about the precise understanding of each other’s view. It is a delight to read an argument in which participants consistently reflect on their opponent’s point-of-view and attempt to represent this viewpoint as accurately as possible before formulating any critique.

Henceforth, it is not surprising that Nida-Rümelin and Horgan discover that their main disagreement covers conflicting background assumptions. This chapter thus provides the reader with two learning possibilities. First, a densely packed debate about two opposing accounts of phenomenology of agency. Second, an expert lesson in how to take part in a philosophical debate.

Chapter twenty-one discusses how the will, the body and action are connected (314-335). Robert Hanna guides the reader through his own work while highlighting influential work by O’Shaughnessy, Frankfurt and Kant. Brian O’Shaughnessy explicated one of the most detailed embodied theories of the will and Robert Hanna is one of only a few philosophers’ who have extended their views on this foundation. He starts by introducing trying theories of action and shows how those theories can establish free agency as a natural fact of life. After having considered other options for theories of agency, for example causal theories, Hanna moves on to introduce his own account of the veridical phenomenology of essentially embodied free agency. One aspect of this account is that it entails that “we must not only have veridical psychological freedom, but also be at least fully disposed to believe, or actually believe, ourselves to have an unfettered, non-epiphenomenal, real causally spontaneous will.” (329) In fact, a central aspect of Robert Hanna’s theory about free agency is that phenomenology of agency is essentially an experience of free agency. The remainder of the chapter is committed to debunking strategies from defenders of hard determinism by showing that they themselves will not experience their actions as not-free, because if they did it would most likely cause them to lose their mind.

Hanna tells one of the most interesting stories of the whole volume. For beginners, it might be hard to follow parts of the argument because Hanna presupposes some basic philosophical knowledge. Nevertheless, this chapter is a well-chosen addition to the mostly Husserl influenced texts of the first part of this handbook.

The underlying structure of mechanisms and functions involved in bringing about the sense of agency has been the topic of cognitive science. Shaun Gallagher has greatly influenced this research in recent years. In chapter twenty-two of this volume, he takes stock of what has been achieved and where the research needs refinement and a new direction (336-350).

Three main areas of theoretical debate can be identified. First, defining phenomenology of agency in terms suitable for empirical investigation. Distinguishing between a sense of agency, the feeling of doing something and a sense of ownership, the feeling of owning a body has turned out to be useful but not uncontested. Second, identifying cognitive mechanisms responsible for the sense of agency and ownership. Empirical investigations have since provided extensive grounds for the assumption that some form of comparator mechanism gives rise to both senses. Third, the role of intentions for agency and the relation of both. This turns out to be the most slippery debate as several researchers still contest different notions of intention as well as agency.

Gallagher has an in-depth knowledge of the field and draws a well-structured picture of the status quo. Readers will find a surprisingly inspiring perspective in the last paragraph of the chapter. Here Gallagher points out some of the main challenges of empirical research on the phenomenology of agency. WEIRED (White, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic) samples and few interdisciplinary exchanges have led to a one-sided picture painted by cognitive sciences so far. This might seem like a straightforward critique of the field, but Gallagher rather wants to point to a new direction for the years to come.

This chapter is a delight for the interdisciplinary motivated reader and one of the few outlining future directions for researchers to explore.

Galen Strawson explains in a dense and fast flowing chapter how the experience of freedom relates to the experience of responsibility (352-361). The reader might be surprised to see an author who himself defends a strict determinism point of view about agency write about the experience of the exact opposite. As it turns out, Galen Strawson believes that everything we do is determined and nevertheless we feel as if we are free to act otherwise.

The chapter follows a clear structure. First Strawson discusses whether experience of freedom involves only sense-feeling phenomenology or if it goes further and involves cognitive phenomenology as well. In the next part, he introduces his own notions of radical freedom and ultimate responsibility and shows how those terms help to clarify relations between experience of freedom and questions for responsibility. Finally, Strawson outlines how experience of freedom is included in compatibilist and incompatibilist positions. Most refreshingly, this chapter analyses one of the oldest philosophical questions in relation to illustrative content. Strawson adequately uses thought experiments, pathological case studies and empirical experiments to strengthen the expressiveness of his text.

Constructing large handbooks is a generally challenging undertaking. In the present case, Christopher Erhard and Tobias Keiling committed to an especially complex project, editing a handbook about a yet to be clearly defined research topic. Phenomenology of agency turns out to be a topic of great variety and yet the editors of this volume managed to select interesting contributions. The first part of the volume provides the reader with an overview of influential writers from the past, beginning with Franz Brentano. In the second part of the volume, the reader will find informative links between phenomenology of agency and action theory in general.

Overall, readers will discover well written essays from experts on specific topics related to a common theme. Given that the target group for handbooks is mostly students of philosophy and related fields, some critical aspects need to be mentioned.

Although all contributions included in these twenty-seven chapters have some connection to the topic ‘Phenomenology of Agency’, the novice reader might be surprised by the variety of perspectives represented here. Erhard and Keiling describe three notions of the term phenomenology in their introduction to this handbook. Both conclude that concerning this terminological query they “expect this volume to stir rather than settle a discussion of that question.” (2) Some contributors included a paragraph about their own position on the dispute in the beginning of their essays. This manifold of opinions about the topic ‘Phenomenology of Agency’ of this handbook makes it hard to find a larger common ground between the individual texts. For the reader it will be helpful to have a specific question or viewpoint of interest in mind when using this handbook. Thus, rather than introducing a research topic, the volume is a reference book for either historically interested readers or students with already formulated research questions.

While the contributions present a wide range of views on agency, one aspect that is essentially neglected throughout the volume is the close connection of agency and development. This aspect is probably one of the most overlooked perspectives in Philosophy and it has been missed by the editors of this volume as well. Developmental aspects of psychological phenomena are rarely given much attention in philosophical projects. This is the case for the 27 chapters of this handbook. Furthermore, the development of phenomenology of agency in infancy is neither mentioned nor discussed in any detail. Despite recent debates in developmental psychology and cognitive sciences (Jacquey et al., 2020; Sen & Gredebäck, 2021), developmental aspects are rarely recognized in philosophical debates today. Philosophers tend to disregard how fascinating questions about phenomenology of agency are inherently linked to early cognitive development. Including a chapter about the current states of these discussions would have increased the value of this book for students and experienced readers alike.

While reviewing this volume, a further aspect of the editing process became obvious: The selection of contributors for the individual chapters. The handbook has 27 chapters, of which twenty-two were written by male contributors and four by women. Chapter nineteen is a collaboration between Martine Nida-Rümelin and Terry Horgan. Further, the better part of contributors work in the Western Scientific Hemisphere. Only Genki Uemure from Okayama University in Japan stands out. This leads to a biased representation of views on the topic of this volume. Perspectives from researchers from South America, Africa and Asia would have been a valuable and unique addition to this book. The reader might be interested in learning about views of Buddhist Philosophers on the relation between agency, phenomenology, and non-self. Selecting contributors and topics with a more diverse background would display the debate taking place on a global stage.

The editors stated that Terry Horgan, John Tienson and George Grahams’ assessment of the neglect of phenomenology of agency in philosophy of mind (2003) encouraged them to take on the project of producing this handbook (1). The result of their efforts is a textbook that will encourage many discussions about a fascinating topic.

 

Acknowledgements

I thank Elizabeth Kelly for her careful comments and suggestions about the manuscript.

References

Horgan, T., Tienson, J. and Graham, G. 2003. “The Phenomenology of First-Person Agency.” In S. Walter and H.-D. Heckmann (eds.), Physicalism and Mental Causation: The Metaphysics of Mind and Action. Exeter: Imprint Academic, 323–340.

Jacquey, L., Fagard, J., O’Regan, K., & Esseily, R. 2020. “Development of body know-how during the infant’s first year of life.” Enfance (2): 175-192.

Sen, U., & Gredebäck, G. 2021. “Making the World Behave: A New Embodied Account on Mobile Paradigm.” Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience, Mar 1, 15:643526. doi: 10.3389/fnsys.2021.643526.

James Jardine: Empathy, Embodiment, and the Person, Springer, 2021

Empathy, Embodiment, and the Person: Husserlian Investigations of Social Experience and the Self Book Cover Empathy, Embodiment, and the Person: Husserlian Investigations of Social Experience and the Self
Phaenomenologica, Vol. 233
James Jardine
Springer
2021
Hardback 103,99 €
XIV, 282

Shaun Gallagher: Action and Interaction

Action and Interaction Book Cover Action and Interaction
Shaun Gallagher
Oxford University Press
2020
Hardback £30.00
320

Reviewed by: Horacio M. R. Banega (FFyL UBA / UNQuilmes / UNLitoral, Argentina)

Action and Interaction is divided into three parts. The first is composed of three chapters that analyze action. The second’s four chapters address interaction. Part three discusses the critical turn in the cognitive sciences in three chapters. The book is strikingly exhaustive. Its positions are revisionist and its implications contentious and challenging for the cognitive sciences. While Gallagher’s  Enactivist Interventions (2017) provides an overview of his thinking,  in Action and Interaction he fine tunes that stance for the sake of an interdisciplinary project that incorporates social philosophy and, to a lesser degree, the social sciences. Gallagher is startling concise in his account of different disciplines’ explanations and descriptions of social interaction and the development of the abilities and skills we bring to bear in our engagement with the natural-social-cultural environment. The contributions of the philosophy of mind, the philosophy of psychology, the ontology of action, the neurosciences, social psychology, the psychology of development, and of other areas of study work both in Gallagher’s favor and against him. His project is comparable to Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s: assault on all fronts the reigning and hegemonic Cartesianism in the ontology, methodology, and epistemology of social cognition. But Cartesianism has endured, and continues to endure, in what Thomas Kuhn calls the normal cognitive sciences. In what follows, I will first offer a brief review of the various chapters in the book and then outline what I deem its most important aspects.

In chapter 1, Gallagher states that “action” must be understood in terms of the movements and intentions of an agent. “The concept of affordance and a pragmatic concept of situation [must be understood] as relational” (7). “Action,” then, is what we call the situation in which motor, pragmatic, contextual, social, and other aspects are arranged to produce a particular affordance. In this book, Gallagher bases his concept of situation on John Dewey’s philosophy (1938).[1] He calls the situation of which the agent forms part the agentive situation. Looking to empirical studies of impaired agents, he indicates that action is structured into three dimensions: a basic motor level; a semantic or pragmatic level, where the intentions of each agent are formed; and a social level, or the level of cultural meaning. These three empirically justified levels configure a first holistic approach to the individualization of action (there is no action without context or agent). A holistic view of action means that action cannot be partitioned without altering its nature. That is why Gallagher does not affirm the existence of basic action but rather the existence of basic activity to account for the beginning of an action. This means that action is a continuous process.

In chapter 2, Gallagher analyzes the temporal structure of action to justify the assertion that basic activity is intentional and to claim that action entails an intrinsic temporality. The enactivist perspective comes into focus at this juncture, with the affirmation that perception of the environment and action are organized to allow for enactive processes that ground the agents’ intentional existences (25). Empirical research in development psychology shows that even primary motor coordination—hand to mouth, for instance—implies an internal temporality. The aim of explicitly addressing the internal temporality of action is to show the double nature of its operationality, first as duration and second as organization of the coordination of the sensorimotor process. The assertion that the organization of the process’s coordination is temporal means that, to be performed, the movement requires present-moment anticipations related to past movements of that sensorimotor coordination. This problem is so complex it demands considering not only time as seen by phenomenological philosophy, but also—and more crucially—the temporal organization intrinsic to the corporal scheme of a baby from the time she appears in the world. Francisco Varela (1999) is one of the scientists who first used dynamic systems theory to formalize Husserl’s notion of the constitution of immanent temporality with its instances of retention, protention, and proto-impression. Varela thus applied his models to the functioning of the different levels of the enactive agent to show the integration of those different levels with their also different durations, and to spell out the dynamic coupling between brain, body, and environment. That dynamic coupling is geared to action; it is not representational but pragmatic—and therein lies the basic unit of enactivism, which radically defies normal cognitive science and its Cartesian basis. Gallagher coins the term “primal enaction” to refer to the initial moment of basic activity, which—because of its fluid structure—is not only momentary. Hence, “anticipatory intentionality is not an apprehension of an absence […] it is […] an apprehension of the possibilities or the affordances in the present” (36). Temporality plays a structuring role in narrative practices as well. With narrative, temporality is double: an internal temporality is at play in the articulation of a story while the narrator has a temporality of her own. There is a strong claim here that the structure of the action precedes the narrative structure, hence demonstrating that the action does not need a narrative configuration to produce meaning. That does not, however, deny the fact that narration adds or complements meanings of actions in specific situations. All these questions lead to the problem of autonomy and agency—topics addressed in chapter 3.

It is in this chapter that Interaction Theory (IT) first makes its appearance, with the affirmation that action emerges out of “our early interactions with others” (42). From there, “the phenomenological sense of agency” leads us to the assertion that action is the integrated form of “intention, sense of agency, and meaning which generally goes beyond the agent´s intention” (43). Those phenomenological components cannot be reduced to purely causal, mechanical, or neural processes.  First off, because they involve intentional bodily processes that are used to distinguish the sense of agency from the sense of ownership—which, in the case of voluntary and intentional movement, are not readily distinguishable. The way to draw that difference is to consider involuntary and unintentional movement, where it is indeed possible to discriminate between sense of ownership and sense of agency. In the case of involuntary and unintentional movement, there is no sense of agency, since I am not the one who causes the movement. At stake in voluntary and intentional movement are motor-control processes along with perceived modifications in the environment pursuant to my action to evidence the configuration of a pre-reflexive sense of agency. Intentions take shape on the basis of those sensorimotor and perceptive processes that allow us to monitor aspects of our actions. Those intentions also help form a sense of agency. A difference is drawn between distal intentions—future-oriented deliberate processes—and proximate intentions—motor intentions connected to the present and to the processes of control at play in an action underway. Gallagher analyzes the relations between those two and then assesses attributions of agency and ownership in relation to one’s own agency and ownership. The sense of agency might be reinforced by an attribution of agency, but that attribution is not necessary to the constitution of that sense. The combination of those relations evidences different degrees of agency.

It is in relation to Gallagher’s engagement with Pacherie that something I want to underscore arises, namely where to place the limits between the experiential dimension and the functional dimension of action. Pacherie argues that there can be “naked intentions” that are neutral in relation to the agent. That is a scandal for a phenomenological understanding of the experiential dimension. Gallagher affirms:

Pacherie is right to note that a conceptual analysis cannot “preempt the question of whether these various aspects are dissociable or not […]” (2007 7). What can decide the issue, however, is agreement on where to draw the lines between phenomenological analysis (i.e., of what we actually experience), neuroscientific analysis […] and conceptual analysis (which may introduce distinctions that are in neither the phenomenology nor the neurology, but may have a productive role to play in constructing cognitive models or, in regard to the individual, explaining psychological motivations, or forming personal narratives, etc.).” (58-59).

The end of that passage makes it clear that actions and their intentions, motives, and aims are not mental states; they need others to take shape and advance beyond the singular individual. At stake, then, is a dynamic constitution of the causal and reciprocal brain-body-environment coupling that is the unit of analysis of Enactivism and of Interaction Theory—Gallagher’s topic in Part II of the book.

In chapter 4, Gallagher critiques the Theories of Mind (ToM) called Theory Theory and Simulation Theory in eight condensed arguments or problems he finds in that Cartesian representationalist perspective. What Gallagher term the Starting Problem is crucial to chapter 7. In ToM, a rule of inference must be applied on the basis of our mental states: we must infer a state other than the one we find ourselves in, a state we can imagine the other agent to be in. Nonetheless, “Neither theory has a good explanation of how the process gets off the ground—or more precisely, what ground we stand on as we engage in the process” (Gallagher 2011: 2).

Gallagher lays out his Interaction Theory in chapter 5. That theory holds that intersubjective understanding takes place through embodied practices. Since intersubjetive understanding involves social cognition, it is where the problems social psychology deals with arise, among them bias in the perception of members who do not belong to our group of reference. In this chapter, Gallagher clears up misunderstandings regarding his critique of mindreading and the nature of mental states. His target is the classic notion that mental states are private internal events that others have no access to, or that the only access possible is through inference or simulation on the basis of our own mental states. If that is the basis for the theory of mindreading, Gallagher affirms that it is rarely needed in our daily interactions. The notion of the mind Gallagher defends is the notion of an embodied mind geared to action and enactively contextualized. This conceptualization is “non-orthodox” (99) and difficult to reconcile with the notion of mental states as private events. Gallagher affirms:

Interaction: a mutually engaged co-regulated coupling between at least two autonomous agents, where (a) the co-regulation and the coupling mutually affect each other, and constitute a self-sustaining organization in the domain of relational dynamics, and (b) the autonomy of the agents involved is not destroyed, although its scope may be augmented or reduced. (Based on De Jaegher, Di Paolo, & Gallagher 2010). (99).

It is difficult to determine the scope of that definition because of its theoretical and practical, and multidisciplinary, potential. The primacy of interaction is based on processes of primary intersubjectivity, secondary intersubjectivity, and communicative and narrative competencies, which in turn form the basis for three points that challenge ToM specifically: 1. “Other minds are not hidden away and inaccessible,” 2. “Our normal everyday stance toward the other person is not third-person, observational; it is second-person interaction,” and 3. “Our primary and pervasive way of understanding others does not involve mentalizing or mindreading” (100). Primary intersubjectivity is tied to the development of the innate or early sensorimotor skills required to make contact with others, specifically the caregiver. What matters here is that in second-person interactions the “mind” of the other is manifested in its embodied behavior. That interaction depends on the self/non-self distinction and the proprioceptive development of our own body. Contemporary scientific evidence supports Merleau-Ponty’s thesis on a shared affective intentionality: intercorporeality. Interaction thus contributes to social cognition insofar as it understands it as the joint dynamic constitution of meaning through reciprocal exchanges between agents and environments. Child-development studies show that an understanding that is not theoretical, but rather pragmatic and affective is developed. Neither that understanding nor primary intersubjectivity as embodied practice disappears with development, IT argues. On the contrary, along with secondary intersubjectivity and communicative and narrative practices, it forms the basis for understanding others. The mind is a second-person phenomenon and understanding the other means being bodily available to respond in interaction. This implies personal and subpersonal processes that cannot be so clearly distinguished as a mental state encapsulated in a mind that operates propositionally and modularly with representations and other tools but that is not here in the world. These processes are embodied and affective, pragmatic and intersubjective. On that basis, Gallagher proceeds to work through the eight problems of ToM formulated in chapter 3. [2]

In chapter 6, Gallagher states that interaction assumes direct perception of others, of their emotions and intentions in particular—that because this type of perception (which Gallagher terms “smart” perception) is always contextualized. As we interact with others, we perceive their motor intentions and proximate intentions in their gestures, bodily stances, movements, and in what they are looking at and doing in relation to the context of their daily praxis. There is no need for us to commit to the existence of or to have access to the internal mental states of others to perceive them directly. Significantly, for Gallagher “there are good reasons […] to view beliefs as dispositions that are sometimes ambiguous even from the perspective of the believer” (2005: 214). This pragmatist-like approach enables Gallagher to work through the problem of access to the beliefs of other agents insofar as those dispositions are dispositions to act in a certain way. It is on the basis of the contributions of social psychology and its experiments on bias in perceptive recognition of the color of human faces that Gallagher begins to introduce questions of social conflict into the cognitive sciences.

In chapter 7, Gallagher addresses the communicative actions and narrative practices that broadened the scope of IT to bring to a close its dispute with simulation theorists and sympathizers. That means dealing with the role of the acquisition and exercise of language in social interaction and cognition as pragmatic tools that enable a refusal to commit to propositional attitudes, mental states, and so forth. Both language and narrative practices are grounded on contextualized embodied interaction. The development of linguistic capacity depends on the ability to move vocal cords, tongue, lips, and hands in gestures. It is based on three indications of Merleau-Ponty’s that converge in contemporary analysis. First, “we are born into a ‘whirlwind of language’” (156). Second, language accomplishes thought. Third, language transcends the body. Insofar as meaning is generated in the body and in language, that third point means that meaning outlives its origin. Linguistic pragmatics can broaden the resolutions of the problems raised by theorists of the mind insofar as embodied action is what does something between the speakers in the contextual medium of conversation. Narrative practices’ role in child development is understood to be central, and there is ample empirical evidence that it is based on pre-linguistic, proto-narrative practices. Narration articulates an order based on the temporal structure of social agents’ actions and interactions that both enable that interaction and feed back to it. That order is normative, and it is through narrations that the child begins learning norms while also becoming familiar with the core structure of folk psychology and delving into the Massive Hermeneutical Background (MHB). At the same time, understanding someone means formulating a narrative that, whether explicitly or implicitly, makes it possible to reconstruct their motives and aims, what makes them act in a certain way. It is in this chapter that Gallagher introduces the topic of MHB, which TT and ST look to to resolve the Starting Problem, though without specifying MHB’s nature or functioning in singular cases.  The MHB cannot, as John Searle would have it (1992), be reduced to cerebral processes; it is shaped by acquired dispositions (habits and schemes) of perception, action, and evaluation. “The background, having its effects through an individual habitus, is a normative force that plays an essential role in regulating social practices, and contributing to social reproduction” (2011: 7). Gallagher uses that concept of habitus, devised by Pierre Bourdieu (1980), to exemplify MHB, and that leads us to the question of empathy. Our author also takes issue with the various versions of empathy defended by champions of mindreading.

In my view, the book’s third section, which the author calls A Critical Turn, is the most contentious and challenging because it ventures into the terrain of practical philosophy in general and social philosophy in particular. One could well ask what this turn critiques. The answer may be twofold. First, it critiques mainstream cognitive sciences from within (Gallagher and Gallese have discussed issues of cognitive science, see note 16, page 97). But it also critiques the social state of things in late capitalism, and of the many critiques of the reigning state of things Gallagher chooses Axel Honneth’s. The path that takes Honneth from developmental psychology to recognition theory is paved by Trevarthen’s research (2008) on primary intersubjectivity. Gallagher does not fully embrace Honneth’s theses; he posits notions of recognition that do not necessarily imply conflict or revenge, but rather forgiveness and gift.

In chapter 9, Gallagher analyzes the topic of the extended mind, that is, institutions and collective agency. Insofar as those questions involve group identity, they also imply critical narratives: “The cognition involved is distributed,” (214) Gallagher asserts. The distribution of social knowledge is addressed at the level of institutions, bearing in mind narratives’ power to transform situations that distort the communicative practices of institutions. Gallagher acknowledges that a change in narrative may not be enough to effect a change in a situation. To address that question, he looks to debates on cognitive institutions, which affords him a more subtle approach to the question of autonomous agents’ participation and involvement in institutions, which—to put it bluntly—can range from maximum creativity to maximum alienation.  As Gallagher puts it:

First, that the cognitive-science informed analyses of interaction theory and socially extended cognition which offer insight into these processes and how they operate in institutional practices and procedures can inform critical theory. Second, since the cognitive science of such phenomena focuses on narrow questions about how such things work rather than on the broader consequences of such practices, we need to give cognitive science a critical twist.” (227).

Finally, in chapter 10 Gallagher lays out his theory of the practice of justice at play in the social interaction embodied in everyday life. He critiques basic tenets of John Rawl’s Theory of Justice and considers the ethological analyses of cooperative behavior in chimpanzees. He is in favor of an imperfect consensus and, like Honneth, insists on not reducing distributive justice to the distribution of economic goods, though he recognizes that, “in the final instance,” you cannot live without money anywhere in the social world.

Gallagher’s book is so stimulating and far-reaching that all the questions and reflections it occasions cannot be tackled in the little space I have left. The most pressing question, for me, is if it is possible to connect, combine, and harness sociological research and social theory to complement social cognition and embodied cognition. Gallagher begins to build that bridge. In the part of chapter 7 where he analyzes MHB, he adopts sociologist Pierre Bourdieu’s thesis on the social world.  I would like to point to two questions along these lines. The first, and critical, question is that for Bourdieu those “acquired dispositions” are actually imposed by a dominant and hegemonic social class. Gallagher’s watering down of Bourdieu’s critical theory seems to take place in part III of the book, where Gallagher privileges hermeneutic positions over critical ones. The positive question can be explained in terms of the practical turn in social sciences, a recent research paradigm[3] of which Stephen Turner (1994) voices a powerful critique. In 2007, he affirms that “Social Theory cannot get very far without making generous use of mentalistic or cognitive concepts” (357). Some of the enactivist theses Gallagher posits are very adept at capturing what is actually happening with social agents in the practical turn and, hence, they enable a double feedback loop: first, from embodied cognition and enactivism to the social sciences, which more robustly justifies the practical turn (against Turner); and second, from the social sciences to social cognition, where the former contributes its research on social ties, group belonging, class conflict, race, gender, practical knowledge, etc.

The relation with sociology makes itself felt at the beginning of the book as well, when a difference is drawn between the process-action of the completed action and a posteriori attribution of meaning. Alfred Schutz distinguishes between action as process and act as completed action. He uses Husserl’s concept of temporality to capture the constitution of the subjective meaning of social action—Max Weber considered this a requisite to differentiate meaningful action from mere movement in space.[4]

It is my sense that, in part III, Gallagher takes on a wide range of topics, though his approach is not without problems. He is too quick to establish a relation between lab experiments with animals and embodied practices of social agents in a social space in conflict. Centuries of reflection on the possibility—or impossibility—of living together complicate a facile combination disciplines like political philosophy, ethics, meta-ethics, the philosophy of law, and experimental research on normative learning. At the same time, Gallagher looks, albeit obliquely, to Aristotle’s notion of phronesis that Gadamer uses in Truth and  Method (1950). It would seem that Richard Bernstein (1986: 155) was right when he affirmed that Aristoteles had at least one universally accepted norm to use as parameter for the application of other, narrower rules to each specific controversy, thus justifying the practical possibility of phronesis. There is a need, however, for discussion of the historical distance and different conditions of application of norms—or of one norm—in our globalized pandemic-ridden present and ancient Athens.  It is because we no longer have such an efficacious norm that Bernstein states that hermeneutics as practical wisdom must move to the sphere of politics.

I also have the sense that the book lacks an analysis of the philosophy of science. It seems to be there on a conceptual level, but it is never fleshed out. The representatives of mainstream cognitive sciences appear, in their scientific contributions, to be ontological and epistemic realists, and that, it appears, is the first thing to reconstruct in an attempt to reshape their discipline. The use of dynamic systems theory clearly points in that direction, but I still have the sense that the models are mistaken with what lies outside of them, without pausing to question the theoretical weight of theoretical terms like distal intention, proximate intention, motor intention, mirror neurons, and so on. In any case, it seems that a similar analysis, but now regarding the empirical content, is necessary in the phenomenology used in scientific research and in its disputes with representationalist cognitive sciences.[5] Both of those questions are related to the naturalization of phenomenology, a project that has been underway for some time and that merits a comprehensive assessment other than the one performed by Gallagher and Dan Zahavi in The Phenomenological Mind (2012).

This is a book necessary for these times. It provides a number of insights for further scientific and philosophical research into our nature.

Bibliography

Balmaceda, T. 2017. “Apuntes acerca de la hipótesis de la percepción directa de los estamos mentales.” In Pérez, D. and Lawler, D. (Eds.), La segunda persona y las emociones, 249-274. Buenos Aires: SADAF.

Banega, H. 2016. “Husserl’s Diagrams and Models of Immanent Temporality.” Quaestiones Disputatae, Vol. 7 (1): 47-73.

Bourdieu, P. 1980. Le sens pratique. Paris: Minuit.

Reckwitz. A. 2002. “Towards a Theory of Social Practices: A Development in Cultural Theorizing.” European Journal of Social Theory, 5 (2): 243-263.

Bernstein, R. J. 1986. “From Hermeneutics to Praxis.” In Philosophical Profiles. Essays in a Pragmatic Mode. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

De Jaegher, H., Di Paolo, E., and Gallagher, S. 2010. “Does social interaction constitute social cognition?” Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 14 (10): 441–7.

Dewey, J. 1938. The Theory of Inquiry. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Wiston.

Ihde,D. 2012. Experimental Phenomenology. Multistabilities, Second Edition.  Albany: SUNY Press.

Gadamer, H.G. 1989. Truth and Method. New York, NY: Continuum.

Gallagher, S., 2006. “Phenomenological contributions to a theory of social cognition.” Husserl Studies, 21 (2): 95–110

Gallagher, S., 2011. “Narrative competency and the massive hermeneutical background”. In Fairfield, P. (ed.), Hermeneutics in Education, 21-38. New York: Continuum.

Gallagher, S., 2017. Enactivist Interventions: Rethinking the Mind. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Gallagher, S. and Zahavi, D. 2012. The Phenomenological Mind. London: Routledge.

Gomila, A. y Pérez, D. 2017. “Lo que la segunda persona no es.” In Pérez, D. and Lawler, D. (eds.), La segunda persona y las emociones. Buenos Aires: SADAF.

Pacherie, E., 2007. “The sense of control and the sense of agency.” Psyche 13 (1): 1–30.

Schatzki, T., Knorr Cetina, K., y von Savigny, E. (Eds.). 2001. The Practice turn in Contemporary Theory. London and New York: Routledge.

Schutz, A. 1967. The Phenomenology of the Social World. Illinois: Northwestern University Press.

Searle, J. 1992. The Rediscovery of the Mind. Cambridge: The MIT Press.

Trevarthen, C. 2008. “Why Theories Will Differ.” In The Shared Mind: Perspectives on Intersubjectivity, J. Zlatev, T.P. Racine, C. Sinha, and E. Itkonen (Eds.), vii–xiii. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing.

Turner, S. 1994. The Social Theory of Practices. Tradition, Tacit Knowledge and  Presuppositions, Cambridge, The University of Chicago Press.

Turner, S. 2007. “Social Theory as a Cognitive Neuroscience.” European Journal of Social Theory, 10 (3): 357-374

Varela, F.J. 1999. “The Specious Present: A Neurophenomenology of Time  Consciousness”. In J. Petitot, F.J. Varela, B. Pachoud, and J.-M. Roy (Eds.), Naturalizing Phenomenology: Issues in Contemporary Phenomenology and  Cognitive Science, 266–314. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Weber, M. 1947. The Theory of Social and Economic Organization. Glencoe, Ill., The Free Press.


[1] As readers of this journal know, the concept of situation can also be grounded in Sartre and Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenologies, which explains the historical compatibility of pragmatist and phenomenological positions. To understand this compatibility or complementarity, see Don Ihde, Experimental Phenomenology. Multistabilities, Second Edition, Albany: SUNY Press, 2012, among others.

[2] For another consideration largely akin to Gallagher’s position though with some caveats, see Tomás Balmaceda, “Apuntes acerca de la hipótesis de la percepción directa de los estamos mentales” (249-274) and Antoni Gomila and Diana Pérez, “Lo  que la seguna persona no es” (275-297), plus other articles compiled in Diana Pérez and Diego Lawler (Eds.), La segunda persona y las emociones, Buenos Aires, SADAF, 2017.

[3] See Andreas Reckwitz. “Towards a Theory of Social Practices: A Development in Cultural Theorizing,” European Journal of Social Theory. 2002, 5 (2): 243-263 and Theodore Schatzki,  Karin Knorr Cetina  and Eike von Savigny, (Eds.), The Practice Turn in Contemporary Theory. London and New York: Routlege, 2001.

[4] See Alfred Schutz, The Phenomenology of the Social World, Illinois: Northwestern University Press, 1967 and Max Weber, The Theory of Social and Economic Organization, Glencoe, Ill.: The Free Press, 1947 (Talcott Parsons’s translation is the one cited by the translators of Schutz’s text).

[5] I humbly refer to Horacio Banega, “Husserl´s Diagrams and Models of Immanent Temporality”, Quaestiones Disputatae, Vol. 7 (1), Fall 2016, 47-73, for a revision of Husserlian methodology.

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