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Thomas Metzinger & Jennifer M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND.

Thomas Metzinger & Jennifer M. Windt (Eds).


Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group

To our partners, Stefan Pitz and Anja Krug-Metzinger,

and to all the students and scholars of philosophy and cognitive science

who do not have easy access to scientific literature.


© 2015 by MIND Group, Frankfurt am Main

Philosophisches Seminar / Gutenberg Research College

Jakob Welder-Weg, 18
Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz
D-55099 Mainz

Production: Print Web Software GmbH, Saarbrücken

ISBN: 978-3-95857-102-0

All rights reserved.

Table of Contents

About this Collection – A Short Introspection and Intuition - A Reply

Introduction to the Open MIND Project to Maximilian H. Engel
Thomas Metzinger Tim Bayne

General Introduction: What Does it 4 Meaning, Context, and Background

Mean to Have an Open Mind? Christian Beyer
Thomas Metzinger & Jennifer M. Windt
Grasping Meaning - A Commentary on
Target Papers, Commentaries, Christian Beyer
and Replies Anita Pacholik-Żuromska

1 Beyond Componential Constitution in Self-identification, Intersubjectivity,

the Brain: Starburst Amacrine Cells and the Background of Intentionality -
and Enabling Constraints A Reply to Anita Pacholik-Żuromska
Michael L. Anderson Christian Beyer

Carving the Brain at its Joints - A 5 The Puzzle of Perceptual Precision

Commentary on Michael L. Anderson Ned Block
Axel Kohler
Phenomenal Precision and Some Possible
Functional Attributions and Pitfalls - A Commentary on Ned Block
Functional Architecture - A Reply to Sascha Benjamin Fink
Axel Kohler
Michael L. Anderson Solely Generic Phenomenology –
A Reply to Sascha Benjamin Fink
2 What a Theory of Knowledge-How Ned Block
Should Explain – A Framework for
Practical Knowledge beyond Intellectualism 6 Rules: The Basis of Morality… ?
and Anti-Intellectualism Paul M. Churchland
Andreas Bartels & Mark May
Applied Metascience of Neuroethics -
The Semantic Reading of A Commentary on Paul M. Churchland
Propositionality and Its Relation to Hannes Boelsen
Explanations - A Commentary on A Skeptical Note on Bibliometrics -
Andreas Bartels & Mark May A Reply to Hannes Boelsen
Ramiro Glauer Paul M. Churchland

Preparing the Ground for an 7 Embodied Prediction

Empirical Theory of Knowing-How - A Andy Clark
Reply to Ramiro Glauer
Andreas Bartels & Mark May Extending the Explanandum for
Predictive Processing - A Commentary
3 Introspective Insecurity on Andy Clark
Tim Bayne Michael Madary

“I just knew that!”: Intuitions as Predicting Peace: The End of the

Scaffolded or Freestanding Representation Wars - A Reply to
Judgements - A Commentary on Tim Michael Madary
Bayne Andy Clark
Maximilian H. Engel

8 Levels The Importance of Being Neutral:

Carl F. Craver More on the Phenomenology and
Metaphysics of Imagination - A Reply to
Mechanistic Emergence: Different Anne-Sophie Brüggen
Properties, Different Levels, Same Jérôme Dokic & Margherita Arcangeli
Thing! A Commentary on Carl F. Craver
Denis C. Martin 12 On the Eve of Artificial Minds
Chris Eliasmith
Mechanisms and Emergence - A Reply
to Denis C. Martin Future Games - A Commentary on Chris
Carl F. Craver Eliasmith
Daniela Hill
9 Mental States as Emergent Properties:
From Walking to Consciousness Mind Games - A Reply to Daniela Hill
Holk Cruse & Malte Schilling Chris Eliasmith

The “Bottom-Up” Approach to 13 Can We Be Epigenetically Proactive?

Mental Life - A Commentary on Holk Kathinka Evers
Cruse & Malte Schilling
Aaron Gutknecht Should We Be Epigenetically
Proactive? A Commentary on Kathinka
The Bottom-Up Approach: Benefits Evers
and Limits - A Reply to Aaron Gutknecht Stephan Schleim
Holk Cruse & Malte Schilling
Understanding Epigenetic Proaction -
10 Why and How Does Consciousness A Reply to Stephan Schleim
Seem the Way it Seems? Kathinka Evers
Daniel C. Dennett
14 The Paradigmatic Body: Embodied
Qualia Explained Away - A Commentary Simulation, Intersubjectivity, the Bodily
on Daniel C. Dennett Self, and Language
David H. Baßler Vittorio Gallese & Valentina Cuccio

How our Belief in Qualia Evolved, and Multisensory Spatial Mechanisms of

Why We Care so much - A Reply to the Bodily Self and Social Cognition -
David H. Baßler A Commentary on Vittorio Gallese &
Daniel C. Dennett Valentina Cuccio
Christian Pfeiffer
11 The Heterogeneity of Experiential
Imagination Embodied Simulation: A Paradigm for
Jérôme Dokic & Margherita Arcangeli the Constitution of Self and Others -
A Reply to Christian Pfeiffer
Imagination and Experience - A Vittorio Gallese & Valentina Cuccio
Commentary on Jérôme Dokic &
Margherita Arcangeli 15 All the Self We Need
Anne-Sophie Brüggen Philip Gerrans

Memory for Prediction Error Manifest Illusions - A Reply to Axel

Minimization: From Depersonalization Kohler
to the Delusion of Non-Existence - A Heiko Hecht
Commentary on Philip Gerrans
Ying-Tung Lin 19 The Neural Organ Explains the Mind
Jakob Hohwy
Metamisery and Bodily Inexistence -
A Reply to Ying-Tung Lin From Explanatory Ambition to
Philip Gerrans Explanatory Power - A Commentary on
Jakob Hohwy
16 Visual Adaptation to a Remapped Dominic L. Harkness
Spectrum: Lessons for Enactive Theories
of Color Perception and Constancy, the The Diversity of Bayesian Explanation
Effect of Color on Aesthetic Judgments, - A Reply to Dominic L. Harkness
and the Memory Color Effect Jakob Hohwy
Rick Grush, Liberty Jaswal, Justin Knoepfler
& Amanda Brovold 20 Millikan’s Teleosemantics and
Communicative Agency
What Can Sensorimotor Enactivism Pierre Jacob
Learn from Studies on Phenomenal
Adaptation in Atypical Perceptual Communicative Agency and ad
Conditions? A Commentary on Rick hominem Arguments in Social
Grush and Colleagues Epistemology - A Commentary on Pierre
Aleksandra Mroczko-Wąsowicz Jacob
Marius F. Jung
Phenomenology, Methodology, and
Advancing the Debate - A Reply to Assessing a Speaker's Reliability Falls
Aleksandra Mroczko-Wasowicz Short of Providing an Argument - A
Rick Grush Reply to Marius F. Jung
Pierre Jacob
17 An Information-Based Approach to
Consciousness: Mental State Decoding 21 Wild Systems Theory as a 21st
John-Dylan Haynes Century Coherence Framework for
Cognitive Science
What’s up with Prefrontal Cortex? J. Scott Jordan & Brian Day
A Commentary on John-Dylan Haynes
Caspar M. Schwiedrzik Thickening Descriptions with Views
from Pragmatism and Anthropology - A
Can Synchronization Explain Commentary on J. Scott Jordan & Brian Day
Representational Content? A Reply to Saskia K. Nagel
Caspar M. Schwiedrzik
John-Dylan Haynes After Naturalism: Wild Systems
Theory and the Turn To Holism - A
18 Beyond Illusions: On the Limitations Reply to Saskia K. Nagel
of Perceiving Relational Properties J. Scott Jordan & Brian Day
Heiko Hecht
22 The Crack of Dawn: Perceptual
The Illusion of the Given and Its Role Functions and Neural Mechanisms that
in Vision Research - A Commentary on Mark the Transition from Unconscious
Heiko Hecht Processing to Conscious Vision
Axel Kohler Victor Lamme

Consciousness as Inference in Time - 26 Understanding Others: The Person

A Commentary on Victor Lamme Model Theory
Lucia Melloni Albert Newen

Predictive Coding Is Unconscious, so Multiplicity Needs Coherence –

that Consciousness Happens Now - A Towards a Unifying Framework for
Reply to Lucia Melloni Social Understanding - A Commentary
Victor Lamme on Albert Newen
Lisa Quadt
23 Vestibular Contributions to the Sense
of Body, Self, and Others A Multiplicity View for Social
Bigna Lenggenhager & Christophe Lopez Cognition: Defending a Coherent
Framework - A Reply to Lisa Quadt
Perspectival Structure and Vestibular Albert Newen
Processing - A Commentary on Bigna
Lenggenhager & Christophe Lopez 27 Concept Pluralism, Direct Perception,
Adrian Alsmith and the Fragility of Presence
Alva Noë
Vestibular Sense and Perspectival
Experience - A Reply to Adrian Alsmith The Fragile Nature of the Social Mind
Bigna Lenggenhager & Christophe Lopez - A Commentary on Alva Noë
Miriam Kyselo
24 Self-as-Subject and Experiential
Ownership Beyond Agency - A Reply to Miriam
Caleb Liang Kyselo
Alva Noë
Are there Counterexamples to the
Immunity Principle? Some 28 How Does Mind Matter? Solving the
Restrictions and Clarifications - A Content Causation Problem
Commentary on Caleb Liang Gerard O’Brien
Oliver Haug & Marius F. Jung
Does Resemblance Really Matter? A
Can Experiential Ownership Violate Commentary on Gerard O’Brien
the Immunity Principle? A Reply to Anne-Kathrin Koch
Oliver Haug & Marius F. Jung
Caleb Liang Rehabilitating Resemblance Redux -
A Reply to Anne-Kathrin Koch
25 Mathematical Cognition: A Case of Gerard O’Brien
Richard Menary 29 Conscious Intentions: The Social
Creation Myth
Enriching the Notion of Elisabeth Pacherie
Enculturation: Cognitive Integration,
Predictive Processing, and the Case of Conscious Intentions: Do We Need a
Reading Acquisition - A Commentary on Creation Myth? A Commentary on
Richard Menary Elisabeth Pacherie
Regina E. Fabry Andrea R. Dreßing

What? Now. Predictive Coding and The Causal Role(s) of Intentions - A

Enculturation - A Reply on Regina E. Fabry Reply to Andrea R. Dreßing
Richard Menary Elisabeth Pacherie

30 Naturalizing Metaethics Thought, Language, and Inner Speech

Jesse Prinz - A Reply to Ulrike Pompe-Alama
Adina Roskies
Conceptualizing Metaethics - A
Commentary on Prinz 34 Bridging the Objective/Subjective
Yann Wilhelm Divide: Towards a Meta-Perspective
of Science and Experience
Should Metaethical Naturalists Jonathan Schooler
Abandon de dicto Internalism and
Cognitivism? A Reply to Yann Wilhelm Bridging the Gap - A Commentary on
Jesse Prinz Jonathan Schooler
Verena Gottschling
31 The Representational Structure of
Feelings Stepping Back and Adding
Joëlle Proust Perspective - Reply to Gottschling
Jonathan Schooler
The Extension of the Indicator-
Function of Feelings - A Commentary on 35 The Cybernetic Bayesian Brain: From
Joëlle Proust Interoceptive Inference to
Iuliia Pliushch Sensorimotor Contingencies
Anil K. Seth
Feelings as Evaluative Indicators - A
Reply to Iuliia Pliushch Perceptual Presence in the Kuhnian-
Joëlle Proust Popperian Bayesian Brain - A
Commentary on Anil K. Seth
32 The Avatars in the Machine: Wanja Wiese
Dreaming as a Simulation of Social
Reality Inference to the Best Prediction - A
Antti Revonsuo, Jarno Tuominen & Katja Reply to Wanja Wiese
Valli Anil K. Seth

The Multifunctionality of Dreaming and 36 The Ongoing Search for the Neuronal
the Oblivious Avatar - A Commentary on Correlate of Consciousness
Antti Revonsuo and Colleagues Wolf Singer
Martin Dresler
It’s Not Just About the Contents:
The Simulation Theories of Dreaming: Searching for a Neural Correlate of a
How to Make Theoretical Progress in State of Consciousness - A Commentary
Dream Science - A Reply to Martin Dresler on Wolf Singer
Antti Revonsuo, Jarno Tuominen & Katja Valdas Noreika
State or Content of Consciousness?
33 Davidson on Believers: Can Non- A Reply to Valdas Noreika
Linguistic Creatures Have Wolf Singer
Propositional Attitudes?
Adina Roskies 37 Dreamless Sleep, the Embodied Mind,
and Consciousness
Crediting Animals with the Ability to Evan Thompson
Think: On the Role of Language in
Cognition - A Commentary on Adina Roskies
Ulrike Pompe-Alama

Just in Time—Dreamless Sleep

Experience as Pure Subjective
Temporality - A Commentary on Evan
Jennifer M. Windt

Steps Toward a Neurophenomenology

of Conscious Sleep – A Reply to Jennifer
M. Windt
Evan Thompson

38 What is the State-of-the-Art on Lucid

Dreaming? Recent Advances and
Questions for Future Research
Ursula Voss & Allan Hobson

Insight—What Is It, Exactly? A

Commentary on Ursula Voss & Allan
Lana Kühle

Reflections on Insight - A Reply to Lana

Ursula Voss

39 Representationalisms, Subjective
Character, and Self-Acquaintance
Kenneth Williford

Explaining Subjective Character:

Representation, Reflexivity, or
Integration? A Commentary on Kenneth
Tobias Schlicht

Individuation, Integration, and the

Phenomenological Subject - A Reply to
Tobias Schlicht
Kenneth Williford
About this Collection
A Short Introduction to the Open MIND Project

Thomas Metzinger


Thomas Metzinger
metzinger @
Johannes Gutenberg-Universität
Mainz, Germany

1 What is this?

This is an edited collection of 39 original papers cognition. They come from various disciplines
and as many commentaries and replies. The tar- such as philosophy, psychology, cognitive science,
get papers and replies were written by senior and neuroscience.
members of the MIND Group, while all comment- Over the past decade, the MIND Group has
aries were written by junior group members. All cooperated with a number of institutions, such as
papers and commentaries have undergone a rigor- the Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Studies, the
ous process of anonymous peer review, during Meditationszentrum Beatenberg, the Wis-
which the junior members of the MIND Group senschaftskolleg zu Berlin, and the ICI Kultur-
acted as reviewers. The final versions of all the labor Berlin. I first founded the group at the Jo-
target articles, commentaries and replies have un- hannes Gutenberg-Universität in Mainz in 2003,
dergone additional editorial review. but soon had to relocate it to Frankfurt am Main,
Besides offering a cross-section of ongoing, where we meet twice a year. Meetings typically
cutting-edge research in philosophy and cognitive involve two or three public lectures at the Johann
science, this collection is also intended to be a free Wolfgang Goethe-Universität, delivered by highly
electronic resource for teaching. It therefore also prominent guests, most of whom are now authors
contains a selection of online supporting materi- of the target papers in this collection and senior
als, pointers to video and audio files and to addi- members of the group. In addition, our invited
tional free material supplied by the 92 authors speakers offer extended, closed workshops, where
represented in this volume. We will add more advanced students have the opportunity to give
multimedia material, a searchable literature data- short mock-lectures in English.
base, and tools to work with the online version in This format was inspired by a question
the future. All contributions to this collection are which kept confronting me in my teaching:
strictly open access. They can be downloaded, namely why are there so many excellent, smart
printed, and reproduced by anyone. young philosophers in Germany, who nevertheless
are—and often remain—almost completely invis-
2 What is the MIND Group? ible on the international stage? More than half a
century after World War II, only three or four
The MIND Group is an independent, interna- German universities rank among the top 100. The
tional body of early-stage researchers, which I established philosophical community is still
founded in 2003. It is formed of young philosoph- largely disconnected from many of the latest and
ers and scientists with a strong interest in ques- most exciting developments in modern philosophy
tions concerning the mind, consciousness, and of mind. One result of my thinking about this
Metzinger, T. (2015). About this collection - A Short Introduction to the Open MIND Project.
In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 0(I). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958571037 1|3

problem was that this lack of integration into the only from textbooks, university classes, and re-
global research context was caused, in part, by search articles. For this reason, the MIND Group
the language barrier. The biggest psychological meetings have provided a protected space for pro-
obstacles for many young German philosophers moting supportive and collegial interactions
seem to be, quite simply, to prepare a talk in between senior and junior group members. In par-
English; find the courage to travel to an interna- ticular, the meetings of the MIND Group have
tional conference in another country; and actually helped establish and cement collaborations both
present their work there. One of the things we among junior members and between junior and
practice at MIND Group meetings is to prepare senior members. In some cases this has led to re-
them for this. search visits, joint research projects, or long-term
The MIND Group sees itself as part of a mentoring relationships. One motivation for
larger process of exploring and developing new founding the group, after all, was to smooth the
formats for promoting junior researchers in philo- path from university studies to being a profes-
sophy of mind and cognitive science. One of the sional academic for advanced students and young
basic ideas behind the formation of the group was researchers.
to create a platform for people with one system-
atic focus in philosophy (typically analytic philo- 3 Why did we do this?
sophy of mind or ethics) and another in empirical
research (typically cognitive science or neuros- We wanted to make a contribution by offering a
cience). One of our aims has been to build an freely available resource to others. When we first
evolving network of researchers. By incorporating started thinking about what to do for the 20th
most recent empirical findings as well as sophist- meeting of the MIND Group, we knew we wanted
icated conceptual work, we seek to integrate these it to be something special, some way of sharing
different approaches in order to foster the devel- with the interested academic public some of the
opment of more advanced theories of the mind. expertise and collegial atmosphere we had built
One major purpose of the group is to help bridge up over more than 10 years of working together.
the gap between the sciences and the humanities. Initially we considered inviting everyone to a big
This not only includes going beyond old-school four-day conference at an attractive location. But
analytic philosophy or pure armchair phenomeno- then we decided that we would do something
logy by cultivating a new, type of interdisciplinar- more substantial and innovative - rather than cre-
ity, which is “dyed-in-the-wool” in a positive ating a transient event and an enormous CO 2
sense. It also involves experimenting with new footprint. We wanted to create a resource of last-
formats for doing research, for example, by parti- ing value that will subsist for years to come, and
cipating in silent meditation retreats and trying most importantly something that really is access-
to combine a systematic, formal practice of in- ible for everybody—not only for people in affluent
vestigating the structure of our own minds from parts of the world, like ourselves. There seemed
the first-person perspective with proper scientific no better way to do this than by providing a
meetings, during which we discuss third-person large, open-access collected edition showcasing the
criteria for ascribing mental states to a given type work of our senior and junior members.
of system. It quickly became clear that because of the
In addition to bridging geographical and scope of the project, and also because we had spe-
disciplinary gaps, the MIND Group also aims to cific ideas about how it should be realized, this
bridge conventional gaps produced by institution- was going to be an experiment in autonomous
alized hierarchies in academia. If you will, this is open-access publishing. The MIND Group is an
simply the academic variant of the generation independent body, and apart from evening lec-
gap: Few things are more intimidating to young tures by our invited speakers, its meetings are not
researchers than being confronted, at a confer- open to the public. One goal of the Open MIND
ence, with criticism from a researcher who has project was to first publish our scientific work
long been one of their intellectual heroes, known without the support of a publisher, who would
Metzinger, T. (2015). About this collection - A Short Introduction to the Open MIND Project.
In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 0(I). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958571037 2|3

eventually sell our own intellectual property back itorial (through implementing a common publica-
to us and our peers and simultaneously make it tion project), and philosophical and scientific
inaccessible to students in Brazil, India or China (through writing commentaries and replies).
by locking it behind a paywall. We wanted to see Throughout this process, we were often surprised
if we could successfully establish a professional and impressed by the results—and we hope that
form of quality control via a systematic, journal- you will be, too.
independent peer review process—and also if we
could make it happen faster than existing and es- 4 Who did this?
tablished institutions of academic publishing. We
gave authors a deadline of 1st March 2014, and Many people have made this contribution possible
planned to publish the entire collection (including and many hours of unpaid work have gone into it.
commentaries and replies) on January 15th 2015. Here are the most important supporters.
We knew that these two pillars—speed and qual-
ity control—would be crucial to the success of the 4.1 The editors
project. Academics are sometimes reluctant to
publish their work in edited collections that often As founder and director of the MIND group, I
only appear years after the manuscripts have consider myself to be neither a junior nor a senior
been submitted. We suspected that we would member. Therefore, I have not contributed a tar-
only succeed in obtaining state-of-the-art research get paper or a commentary. If anything, my con-
papers if we could guarantee that the research tribution lies in the choice and selection of au-
discussed within them would not be out-of-date thors and in the work, together with my collabor-
by the time the collection went online. ator Jennifer Windt, of bringing this project to
This publication format is also novel in an- completion.
other sense. Because a selected subset of junior
group members acted as reviewers and comment- 4.2 Financial funding
ators, the whole publication project is itself an at-
tempt to develop a new format for promoting ju- All in all it has cost about € 241.000, to realize
nior researchers, for developing their academic this project. First and foremost, the Barbara
skills, and for creating a new type of interaction Wengeler-Stiftung needs to be mentioned: not
between senior and junior group members. Many only has it supported the current project with €
of the reviewers and commentators in this edited 80,000, but over the years it has enabled the
volume have never actively participated in any MIND Group to stay independent, and to realize
scientific review process before, and, for many a long series of fruitful meetings, during times
their commentary is their first ever publication. when it was difficult to get support elsewhere. It
Throughout the project, all junior members were has also supported some members by providing
able to play different roles: they acted as review- PhD and travel grants and by offering the annual
ers, trying to improve and constructively criticize € 10,000 Barbara Wengeler-Prize, awarded at our
the target articles submitted by senior group meetings in Frankfurt. The Gutenberg Research
members and commentaries submitted by their College and the Vokswagen-Stiftung have gener-
peers. Sometimes, reviewers were asked to go ously supported the project by providing two ed-
back and revise their reviews—and sometimes itorial staff positions for David Baßler, Daniela
their reviews also led to the rejection of target pa- Hill, and Dr. Ying-Tung Lin, and by awarding a
pers altogether. They also acted as authors; and five-year Research Fellowship, beginning in April
because their commentaries also went through a 2014, to me, Thomas Metzinger. This work was
review process, they got to experience the review also partly supported by the European FP7 col-
process from the other side as well. laborative project VERE (contract no. 257695).
This collection, therefore, is the result of a
three-layered interaction between junior and
senior members: personal (through meetings), ed-
Metzinger, T. (2015). About this collection - A Short Introduction to the Open MIND Project.
In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 0(I). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958571037 3|3
What Does it Mean to Have an
Open MIND?
Thomas Metzinger & Jennifer M. Windt


Thomas Metzinger
metzinger @
Johannes Gutenberg-Universität
Mainz, Germany

Jennifer M. Windt
jennifer.windt @
Monash University
Melbourne, Australia

1 Instead of an introduction

In our discussions leading up to the Open ites seemed to write itself naturally during the
MIND collection’s going online, we thought long editing process, this strategy quickly struck us
and hard about how exactly to showcase the as being at odds with our motivation for creat-
vast material in this collection and the ideas ing the collection in the first place. Using the
and motivations behind the project in our edit- editors’ introduction to create a personal best-of
ors’ introduction. We first thought about using list would have been highly selective and biased
the introduction to briefly summarize the take- by our own personal research interests and
home message of every single target article, styles in a way that we felt would have contra-
commentary, and reply, as is customary in in- dicted our own ideal of open mindedness. In
troductions to edited collections. This struck us, fact, for this reason, we decided to omit any ref-
however, as being both unwieldy and redund- erences to the contributions to Open MIND in
ant: it would have entailed summarizing and this introduction.
commenting on a total of 117 texts. More im- These considerations naturally gave rise to a
portantly, due to the online format of the collec- more difficult and more profound question: What
tion (including in-text search functions) and the exactly do we mean by “open mindedness,” not
inclusion of abstracts and keywords in the pa- just in general, but in the context of interdiscip-
pers themselves, the authors have already linary research on the mind? The strategy of us-
provided concise introductions to their own ing the contributions to the Open MIND collec-
texts. Retracing their steps in an editorial intro- tion as a foil for this more general academic vari-
duction would not have added anything to the ant of open mindedness was tempting. But again,
value and usability of the collection. we quickly realized that this approach would
We then considered using the introduction strike many readers (as well as, perhaps, some of
to create our own personal best-of-Open-MIND our own authors) as highly idiosyncratic, arbit-
list, discussing what we take to be the most rary, or self-important.1
valuable insights in every single article, or per- 1 This is not, of course, to deny that we take “Open MINDedness” (as
haps even focusing on the contributions that we broadly practiced in the context of this collection) to be an example of
personally take to be the most theoretically im- “open mindedness” as a more general epistemic stance. And we are
certainly proud enough of what we like to think of as our little star-
portant. Though our own list of personal favor- collection to allow ourselves at least a few words on why we think this

Metzinger, T. & Windt, J. M. (2015). What Does it Mean to Have an Open MIND?
In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 0(GI). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958571044 1 | 28

So we decided to use our editors’ introduc- sion as well: it implies sensitivity to normative
tion to briefly address a difficult, somewhat issues, including issues of an anthropological,
deeper, and in some ways more classical prob- sociocultural, and political kind. By bringing
lem: that of what genuine open mindedness these different strands of ideas together and cre-
really is and how it can contribute to the Mind ating a bigger (and admittedly still sketchy)
Sciences. The material in the collection speaks picture of what “open mindedness” might mean
for itself. Here, and in contrast to the vast col- in the interdisciplinary Mind Sciences, we hope
lection that is Open MIND, we want to be con- to start a conversation about how an open-
cise. We want to point to the broader context of minded attitude and a charitable culture of col-
a particular way of thinking about the mind. laboration can be cultivated in the future. This
And we want to propose an account of what is very much intended as an invitation to fur-
open mindedness could mean in the context of ther think about and develop this topic. We
the contemporary, interdisciplinary Mind Sci- hope our readers will join us in this endeavor.
ences. This variant of open mindedness is char-
acterized by epistemic humility, intellectual hon- 2 Open mindedness as an epistemic
esty, and a new culture of charity. It also has a stance
pragmatic dimension: open mindedness of this
kind is research generating and fosters an envir- Open mindedness is not a theoretical position,
onment of sincere and constructive interdiscip- but an epistemic practice. Clearly, there are
linary collaboration. And it is profoundly in- many different kinds of open mindedness, and
spired by the classical ideals of philosophy as a the precise way of characterizing the relevant
pursuit of genuine insight and rational inquiry, kind will depend on the subject matter in ques-
the importance of a critical and in a certain tion, or, more simply, on what it is that one is
sense non-judgmental attitude, and the deep re- open minded about. As a first pass at a defini-
lationship between wisdom and skepticism as an tion, we might say that open mindedness, in its
epistemic practice. Finally, and again very clas- most general sense, is characterized by epi-
sically, open mindedness has an ethical dimen- stemic humility and adherence to a general ideal
of intellectual honesty. This is true for open
is the case. To begin with, many of the papers published here explore mindedness in general, but also for the specific
new ways of thinking, in the broadest sense, about the mind and new
and innovative ways of driving research forward. In addition and per- variants we are interested in here, namely open
haps most importantly, our choice of the title Open MIND reflects the mindedness in academic research, including in-
idea that by introducing a two-way interaction between senior target
authors and junior commentators through the review process, the com-
terdisciplinary scientific discourse on the mind.
mentaries and replies, we wanted to give our commentators the oppor- Whatever else it may be, open mindedness
tunity to enter into a discussion with more senior and prominent rep-
resentatives of the field. Relatedly, the availability of the online version
is also an attitude that is now shared by a grow-
of the Open MIND collection to students and researchers from any- ing number of researchers in philosophy of
where in the world, free of charge exemplifies theoretical and practical mind, cognitive science, neuroscience, and artifi-
dimensions of what we consider to be academic open mindedness. And
finally, on many levels, Open MIND was an exercise in editorial open cial intelligence (AI). We are all interested in
mindedness. The authors and commentators asked to contribute to the deep structure of the human mind and of
this collection were explicitly encouraged to discuss any topic they
themselves thought relevant. The only restriction was that the target conscious experience, but we also recognize how
articles fall within the scope of the Mind Sciences. We also tried to far away we still are from a unified theoretical
foster a particular type of intellectual atmosphere by encouraging au-
thors, commentators, and reviewers to be consistently constructive and
model that could satisfy philosophers and sci-
charitable. Our hope was that this approach would bring out the best entists alike, a model that is conceptually con-
in our contributors in the different stages of the project. In many cases, vincing, able to integrate all existing data and
we explicitly encouraged our authors to write in a way that would be
accessible to readers from different academic backgrounds and to take make use of different methods at the same time.
different disciplinary perspectives into account. Generally, the publica- We do not want to fool ourselves. Although
tion of academic articles always involves a process of give and take
between authors, editors, and reviewers. And we strongly felt that it great progress has been made during the last
would be a good indicator of the success of our collection if, at the end five decades, it is not at all clear which combin-
of the day, our authors were themselves happy and proud of their con-
tributions. This entailed carefully calibrating our own roles as editors
ation of methods and which type of theoretical
and in many cases leaving the final decision to our authors. approach will generate the final breakthrough
Metzinger, T. & Windt, J. M. (2015). What Does it Mean to Have an Open MIND?
In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 0(GI). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958571044 2 | 28

or even facilitate epistemic progress. We, mean- prior commitments. It will be inherently critical
ing researchers of different stripes and from dif- (cf. Lambie 2014). And it will, perhaps, have
ferent disciplines comprising the Mind Sciences, more to do with striving for genuine under-
including the authors contributing to this col- standing than with the search for truth and
lection, are all in the same boat: we share a knowledge (Taylor 2014). One core idea of the
common epistemic goal, and we find ourselves great philosopher of science Karl Popper, which
working in a period of major historical trans- is now reappearing in the latest mathematical
ition. Progress in the empirical sciences of the theories of brain functioning, was that we are
human mind is certainly impressive and con- always in contact with reality at exactly the
tinuously gaining momentum, generating large moment at which we falsify a hypothesis: the
amounts of new and sometimes surprising data. moment of failure is exactly the moment at
At the same time, exciting new approaches in which we touch the world.2 Similarly, the best
formal modeling and philosophical meta-theory scientific theories will be those that most easily
are increasingly opening up new perspectives. lend themselves to falsification. For this reason,
Yet it is not at all clear that we are already ask- open mindedness involves, among other things,
ing the right kinds of questions or exactly which endorsing very specific theoretical positions
combination of conceptual and empirical tools purely for the sake of epistemic progress, rather
will do the trick. Seeing this fact clearly has than for the sake of being right, advancing one’s
already begun to change our attitude. Research- career, publishing in high-impact journals, and
ers from different disciplines are listening and so on. Open mindedness is not so much about
talking to each other in new ways. Developing the specific content of a belief, be it personal or
news forms of inter- (and intra-)disciplinary col- theoretical, but about the way in which it is
laboration is an integral part of this process. held.
“Having an open mind” also refers to a kind of Searching for the right kinds of questions
scientific practice that involves honestly listen- without considering the specific answers they
ing to representatives of exactly those ap- are likely to generate or their immediate prac-
proaches and academic disciplines that you may tical implications is a good first-order approx-
not have expected to make a contribution. imation to the specific type of attitude we are
At the same time, open mindedness, un- trying to describe. Another is to consider it as
derstood as a fruitful and research-generating an interdisciplinary variant of the principle of
epistemic practice, should be clearly distin- charity. Our point is not just that philosophers
guished from arbitrariness, indecisiveness, lack should be empirically informed or that neuros-
of specificity, and, especially in the context of cientists should listen carefully to constructive
philosophy, lack of conceptual precision. Open attempts at conceptual or methodological clari-
mindedness is not just any kind of openness, fication. We need to develop a new culture of
and it is different from simply being non-com- scientific investigation, and this will require new
mittal or hedging. The challenge is to develop and sustainable forms of interdisciplinary col-
an understanding of open mindedness that is laboration. In philosophy, the “principle of char-
guided by theoretical considerations and empir- ity” has long been recognized and pursued in
ical research findings alike. Ideally, this account the form of reading others’ statements accord-
should suggest specific strategies for cultivating ing to the best, strongest possible interpretation
forms of sincere interdisciplinary collaboration,
sharpening the underlying conceptual issues, 2 Here is what he said about the fundamental principle of any ideolo -
gical form of rationalism turned weltanschauung: “Uncritical or com-
and developing precise predictions for future re- prehensive rationalism can be described as the attitude of the person
search. Open mindedness of this epistemically who says ‘I am not prepared to accept anything that cannot be de-
fended by means of argument or experience’. […] Now it is easy to see
fruitful type will often be more about asking that this principle of an uncritical rationalism is inconsistent; for
better questions than about committing to spe- since it cannot, in its turn, be supported by argument or by experi-
cific answers. It will involve an attitude of will- ence, it implies that it should itself be discarded” (cited from Popper
2013, p. 435; originally in Popper & Kiesewetter 1945/2003; see Met-
ingness to question or even reject one’s own zinger 2013c for a popular discussion).

Metzinger, T. & Windt, J. M. (2015). What Does it Mean to Have an Open MIND?
In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 0(GI). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958571044 3 | 28

—that is, to never attribute irrationality, false- as actually desirable, as a source of progress.
hoods, or fallacies to another if alternative and Again, the challenge will be to distinguish pro-
more charitable readings exist. But we also all ductive types of ambiguity from those that are
know how hard this can be. Still, the point is to overly cautious or vague, hampering real pro-
not gratuitously maximize disagreement with gress. The same is true, of course, within aca-
the aim of showcasing the novelty or import- demic disciplines themselves. Academic discip-
ance of one’s own arguments. Agreement should lines are not natural kinds. Contrary to what
be optimized and as each other’s interpreters, some might think, there may be no single au-
we should always, whenever possible, prefer the thoritative or right way of doing philosophy,
most coherent reading in order to maximize the and there may be no clean way to distinguish
truth or rationality of what another philosopher philosophy from the empirical sciences. Open
says. We now need an interdisciplinary variant mindedness of the constructive kind will not
of this principle, and not only in bridging the waste time worrying too much about disciplin-
gap between the humanities and the so-called ary demarcation criteria or labels, but will be
hard sciences of the mind, but also in organiz- open to different methods and approaches both
ing novel and more efficient forms of coopera- between and within individual disciplines. Put
tion. This point applies not only to the relation- differently, it may turn out to be less important
ship between disciplines, but also to that whether a given question or position is philo-
between different generations of researchers. An sophical (in the sense of being of a purely con-
optimization problem has to be solved: What is ceptual nature) or empirical than whether it
the best way of pooling intellectual resources genuinely helps advance the overall debate.
and of efficiently structuring research? There- Open mindedness clearly also has an inherently
fore, a second step toward approximating an pragmatic dimension. When this kind of toler-
undogmatic attitude of open mindedness is to ance of ambiguity, for instance towards discip-
characterize it as an openness to the possibility linary borders, but also towards different (and
that, for mind and consciousness, there may be ideally complementary) research methods is
no such thing as a single leading or dominating paired with conceptual clarity and precision, it
discipline, no Leitwissenschaft, as we say in Ger- becomes a driving force for research. This bal-
man. Rather, not only does the connectivity ancing act is what academic open mindedness is
between already-existing research programs all about.
have to be strengthened, the overall pattern of
scientific practice also requires a new internal 3 Open mindedness and the
structure. What is needed is a new and as we phenomenology of (un)certainty
will argue genuinely philosophical way of think-
ing. Having an open mind involves, among other
A genuine receptiveness to unexpected things, a specific way of being noncommittal
ideas and different disciplinary perspectives also with respect to the truth of a theoretical claim
presupposes a certain set of abilities and differ- or proposition. As pointed out earlier, this is
ent types of epistemic virtues. Some of these not the same as hedging: one can investigate
may lie in the field of what is commonly, if and even defend the truth of a proposition or
somewhat vaguely, called “first-person meth- the adequacy of a given theoretical-conceptual
ods”, for instance in the systematic cultivation or empirical model while at the same time ac-
of contemplative practice (i.e., the philosophic- knowledging that it might be false. This contin-
ally motivated development of non-cognitive ued openness to the falsifiability of scientific hy-
and non-intellectual epistemic abilities). An- potheses, often associated with attempts to
other is tolerance of ambiguity: to not only tol- bring about specific ways of establishing and
erate transient cognitive, conceptual and theor- testing their falsity, is commonly regarded as a
etical inconsistencies between disciplines or gen- marker of good scientific practice. It is also the
erations, but to view certain kinds of ambiguity core of intellectual honesty. As Russell tells us,
Metzinger, T. & Windt, J. M. (2015). What Does it Mean to Have an Open MIND?
In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 0(GI). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958571044 4 | 28

“intellectual integrity [is] the habit of deciding gress in interdisciplinary research on the mind—
vexed questions in accordance with the evid- this would be a valuable insight. But this in-
ence, or of leaving them undecided where the sight about the value of open mindedness in sci-
evidence is inconclusive” (2009, p. 579). The entific discourse itself depends on an initial will-
moment at which we give up this openness is ingness to cultivate exactly the kind of epi-
the moment at which we lapse into dogmatism. stemic practice in question.
The real danger, says Russell, is never the con- If this is right, there is another reason to
tent of a doctrine, be it religious or political, be interested in open mindedness in the present
but always “the way in which the doctrine is context. This is that open mindedness, as an
held” (Russell 2009, p. 582). Of course, this in- epistemic practice and mental attitude, is itself
trinsic connection between wisdom and not- a potential target for interdisciplinary con-
knowing has long been recognized (Ryan 2014). sciousness research. Philosophy of mind in par-
In the Gorgias, Socrates explicitly claims that ticular can contribute by laying the theoretical–
he is happy to be refuted if he is wrong. In fact, conceptual groundwork for the further empirical
he claims he would rather be refuted than to re- investigation of open mindedness in academic
fute someone else because it is better to be de- life and proposing points of contact with psy-
livered from harm oneself than to deliver chology and cognitive neuroscience. To make
someone else from harm. And in the Apology this inner connection more clearly visible, we
(21d), after being accused of blasphemy and of will now briefly sketch the outlines of such an
corrupting the youths of Athens, Socrates fam- account.
ously states, before the tribunal of 501 Atheni- Where might one begin investigating open
ans, “I neither know nor think that I know”. mindedness as a mental state? At the outset, it
Both in Western and in Eastern philosophy, the stands to reason that the relevant form of open
acknowledgment of not-knowing has long been mindedness has precursors in the history of
regarded as an antidote to epistemic harm. philosophy and might also be interestingly re-
This is not the place to enter into a dis- lated to current debates on philosophical meth-
cussion of open mindedness in the context of odology. After all, the principles of epistemic
the philosophy of science or to trace the history humility, intellectual honesty, charitability, and
of philosophical theorizing about the concept of searching for more accurate questions while cul-
“wisdom”. We do, however, want to draw atten- tivating a productive form of tolerance of ambi-
tion an important point: open mindedness as an guity are deeply rooted in the history of philo-
epistemic practice involves a specific kind of sophy. On a systematic and more general level,
mental attitude and is closely related to certain one would expect philosophy, as the discipline
kinds of phenomenal states. Cultivating the rel- traditionally most concerned with the status of
evant kinds of conscious states and epistemic at- knowledge and truth and the practice of inquiry
titudes makes a real difference, or so we sus- itself, to be able contribute to an analysis of
pect, by facilitating the development of a re- what open mindedness really is. Based on these
search climate that is conducive to constructive considerations, four questions seem particularly
and genuinely fruitful discourse and new forms relevant: one, what is the relationship between
of collaboration. This is an empirical prediction, open mindedness, intuitions, and philosophical
and it could turn out to be false. For now, our methodology? Two, what is the relationship
claim is that the kind of open mindedness we between open mindedness and the tradition of
describe here is needed if we are even to begin philosophical skepticism? Three, what would
investigating the truth of this prediction. If, at answers to the first two questions tell us about
the end of the day, this strategy should fail — the relationship between open mindedness and
that is, if there turn out to be good empirical the allegedly most pressing problem for interdis-
reasons for rejecting the claim that there actu- ciplinary consciousness research, the subjectiv-
ally are specific phenomenological profiles and ity of phenomenal mental states? Might we even
mental attitudes that decisively facilitate pro- use the analysis of open mindedness to formu-
Metzinger, T. & Windt, J. M. (2015). What Does it Mean to Have an Open MIND?
In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 0(GI). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958571044 5 | 28

late principles for the investigation of phenom- confrontation between classical and allegedly in-
enal states and the status of first-person data? tuition-based conceptual analysis conducted in
And four, how is open mindedness as an epi- the proverbial philosophical armchair (for crit-
stemic stance related to ethical and practical ical discussion, see Cappelen 2012) and recent
questions? For instance, how can the analysis of claims from experimental philosophy. Experi-
open mindedness contribute to normative issues mental philosophy typically involves collecting
related to neurotechnological interventions in laypersons’ responses to vignettes inspired by
the human brain? And does it lead to any spe- well-known philosophical thought experiments
cific suggestions on how to cultivate new forms (for discussion, see Knobe & Nichols 2008; Alex-
of interdisciplinarity? ander 2012; for a general introduction to intu-
itions in philosophy, see Pust 2014). These ques-
3.1 Intuitions and the phenomenology of tionnaires are supposed to offer a new, empiric-
certainty ally-based method for investigating intuitions
and the underlying cognitive mechanisms. Ac-
The concept of intuition has a long philosoph- cording to some experimental philosophers (for
ical history and is also firmly rooted in every- discussion and further references, see Alexander
day language and folk psychology.3 Intuition, in & Weinberg 2007), the results of these types of
everyday language, refers to immediate and dir- studies cast doubt on the reliability of intuitions
ect insight, independent of reflection, to in- as a mark of philosophical expertise. Intuitions,
stinctively grasping or sensing a matter of fact. in this view, are simply too variable and con-
In the history of philosophy, the concept of in- text-dependent to count as insights in any deep,
tuition often has dual epistemic and experiential epistemologically interesting sense.
readings, and this is true for the traditions of Here, we would like to propose a definition
rationalism and empiricism alike. In the Rules of intuitions that is compatible with the histor-
for the Direction of the Mind (Rule 3), ical literature as well as being phenomenologic-
Descartes describes intuitions as an immediate, ally and empirically plausible. Departing from
effortless, and indubitable kind of seeing with our brief remarks on the history of intuitions in
the mind, which is even more reliable than de- philosophy, we suggest that intuitions are the
duction. In his Essay Concerning Human Un- “phenomenal signature of knowing”, a seem-
derstanding (IV.II.I), Locke tells us that intu- ingly direct and effortless way of perceiving or
ition involves a direct perception of ideas that seeing with one’s mind arising independently of
is, once more, the basis of all forms of know- a prior process of reflection. The analogy
ledge. The close relationship between intuitions between intuiting and perceiving provides an
and sensory perception, and especially seeing, is entry point for a naturalized concept of intu-
already evident in the Latin verb intueri, which ition. But it also suggests a potentially danger-
means to look and observe, but also to examine ous equivocation between phenomenological and
or consider. The central underlying element is epistemological readings of the concept of intu-
the immediacy and directness of perception, ition. If the phenomenology of intuiting is in-
which is imported into the concept of intuition deed similar to that of perceiving in virtue of its
via an implicit analogy between the phenomeno- effortless and seemingly direct experiential qual-
logy of sensory perception and genuine insight ity, then this immediately poses the problem
in an epistemic sense. that the phenomenology of intuiting and per-
The epistemic status of intuitions, as well ceiving can be deceptive: what seems, subject-
as different ways of defining the concept of intu- ively, to be a case of veridical perception can al-
ition, are a matter of controversy in the current ways turn out to be a hallucination or an illu-
debate on philosophical methodology. The de- sion (for an introduction to the problem of per-
bate on intuitions stands at the center of the ception, see Crane 2014), or a nocturnal dream
3 This section draws on arguments first presented in Metzinger &
(see Windt & Metzinger 2007; Metzinger 2013a;
Windt (2014). Windt 2015). Similarly, what seems to bear the
Metzinger, T. & Windt, J. M. (2015). What Does it Mean to Have an Open MIND?
In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 0(GI). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958571044 6 | 28

marks of genuine insight can always turn out to plausibility is that, because of their phenomenal
be an epistemic illusion.4 character, they prevent open-minded inquiry.
If intuitions are indeed mental states char- Intuitions turn us into inner dogmatists. And
acterized by a specific phenomenology, this sug- this is true not only for individual propositions
gests that the attempt to simultaneously char- held to be intuitively true, but also for contin-
acterize them both as involving genuine insight ued adherence to theoretical claims about the
and as the basis of knowledge rests on what status of intuitions as a guide to or even as the
elsewhere we call the “E-error”: a category mis- basis of knowledge and genuine insight. The
take in which epistemic properties are ascribed phenomenal character of intuitions even predis-
to something that does not intrinsically possess poses us towards certain meta-theoretical intu-
them (Metzinger & Windt 2014, p. 287). If our itions about the general epistemic status of in-
account of intuitions is on the right track, then tuitions, and we can see the marks of this
intuitions are potentially dangerous, because in throughout the history of philosophy as well as
virtue of their phenomenology and their pos- in contemporary debate (e.g., Bealer 1998;
sessing an occurrent conscious character of “in- Chudnoff 2013). The analysis of intuition
sight”, they predispose us to believe certain pro- clearly should not itself be driven by intuitions.
positions merely on the basis of seemingly “un- Instead, this is a prime example of where an
derstanding” them. The phenomenology of intu- open mind is needed.
itions is such that it immediately and effort- Our own account starts out from the as-
lessly creates a bias towards accepting the truth sumption that intuitions are a specific class of
of propositions that, subjectively, we simply phenomenal states. Human beings can direct
know or feel to be true, while simultaneously their introspective attention toward the content
preventing us from seeking further justification, of the relevant states and, at least partly and
because these truths also seem unconstructed, under certain conditions, report on it. Many
indubitable, and self-evident. In this view, one higher animals very likely also possess intuitions
of the factors underlying intuitions and intuitive even if they are not able to directly attend to or
4 For a striking case study of two patients who experienced strong feel-
verbally report on their intentional contents.
ings of subjective certainty, including religious beliefs, during epi- Before the evolution of biological nervous sys-
leptic seizures, see Picard (2013). These cases are particularly inter- tems and before the emergence of phenomenal
esting as these beliefs seemed entirely convincing during the seizures,
even though they contradicted the patients’ longstanding convic- consciousness, no intuitions existed on our
tions. It is interesting to see the connection to what earlier, we called planet. Patients in coma or human beings in un-
the “ability to tolerate ambiguity”: While conceptually, “certainty”
involves “knowing that one knows” (or maximal epistemic precision),
conscious, dreamless sleep have no intuitions in
on a purely formal level describing the underlying brain dynamics, the sense intended here. At the same time, intu-
epistemic precision is the inverse of variability, or the “confidence”
the system places in a source of sensory information about the ex-
itions probably have a long evolutionary his-
ternal world (Picard & Friston 2014). Empirical research suggests tory: there must have been a point in time at
that it is the functional role of the anterior insula to signal uncer- which the first intuition appeared in the mind
tainty, the fact “that there is something we do not understand” (Pi-
card 2013, p. 2497). The representation of uncertainty and ambigu- of some conscious organism and this specific
ity, in turn, causes an aversive affective state, often involving feelings type of inner state then propagated itself across
of discomfort and anxiety of the type we continuously try to minim-
ize. By contrast, direct electrical stimulation of a small area in the thousands of generations while its functional
anterior-dorsal insula causes intense feelings of bliss (Picard et al. profile became ever more differentiated. Plaus-
2013), and it has been suggested that such blissful states, if occur-
ring in the context of epileptic seizures, are associated with maxim -
ibly, one could describe the having of intuitions
ized coherence of the phenomenal self-model (PSM; Metzinger 2003). as an ability—a mental ability that was adapt-
Subjectively, this coherence is expressed by a dramatically ive and that was acquired gradually.
heightened sense of self, by an intense phenomenal experience of
presence, integratedness, harmony with the world, plus intense posit- If one takes the phenomenal character of
ive affect (for five case reports, see Picard & Craig 2009). For human intuitions seriously, this ability clearly seems to
beings, ambiguity is not easy to tolerate, because it presents a con-
stant threat to the coherence of our PSM, and cultivating such toler- be an epistemic ability: prima facie, to have an
ance requires developing the functional ability to de-identify from the intuition means to have the subjective experi-
aversive affective states and the “epistemic anxiety” that automatic-
ally accompanies them. Tolerance of ambiguity, it seems, demands
ence of knowing something, directly and imme-
courage and a specific form of choiceless awareness. diately, without necessarily being able to ex-
Metzinger, T. & Windt, J. M. (2015). What Does it Mean to Have an Open MIND?
In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 0(GI). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958571044 7 | 28

press this knowledge linguistically or to provide knowing does not only refer to the content of
an epistemic justification. Typically, inner ex- what is seemingly known in a direct, and non-
perience seems to present knowledge to the sub- inferential manner, but to our higher-order,
ject of experience, even if one does not know subjectively-experienced knowledge itself. This
how and why one possesses this knowledge. In- means that the phenomenal character of ”epi-
tuitions are the phenomenal signature of know- stemicity” that accompanies and tags the re-
ing, a seemingly direct form of “seeing” the spective mental content as an instance of know-
truth. As soon as we ascribe epistemic status to ing has itself become transparent. Its represent-
intuitions on the basis of their phenomenology ational character is not introspectively available
alone, however, we commit the E-error. “Epi- anymore: the fact that epistemicity is itself the
stemicity”, the phenomenal quality of “insight” content of a non-conceptual mental representa-
and “comprehension”, or the feeling of being a tion, that it is internally constructed and always
knowing self, as such is only a phenomenal qual- contains the possibility of misrepresentation, is
ity, just as redness, greenness, and sweetness veiled by an experience of immediacy. Transpar-
are. One well-known philosophical problem is ency is a special form of darkness. Something
that the phenomenological and epistemological constructed is experienced as a datum, as some-
readings can always come apart, because what thing given. Therefore, in stable intuition states
phenomenologically appears as a kind of percep- we not only experience the first-order content as
tion could really be a hallucination or an illu- directly given, but the epistemicity of the state
sion. Subjectively indistinguishable mental itself. Let us call such states intuitions of cer-
states do not necessarily have the same epi- tainty. Referring to G. E. Moore5 one might say
stemic status. Trivially, the difference between that the phenomenal signature of knowing has
veridical perception and hallucination (in the itself become diaphanous or transparent: ac-
philosophical sense; see Macpherson 2013; cording to my own subjective experience, I
Crane 2014) is not available on the level of sub- simply know that I know, and the possibility of
jective experience itself, and therefore the con- error and falsehood is not given on the level of
fusion between phenomenal character and epi- conscious experience itself. From the fact that a
stemic content is naturally grounded in the conscious perception instantiates the phenom-
transparent phenomenology, the seeming direct- enal quality of “greenness” it does not follow
ness and immediacy of the relevant kinds of that the underlying process or even the percep-
phenomenal states. The same is true for the tual object are green. The same is true for the
phenomenology of intuition. Conflating epi- “phenomenal signature of knowing” that charac-
stemic status and phenomenal character be- terizes intuitions.
comes particularly dangerous if it is imported Intuitiveness is a property of theoretical
into theoretical debates, and if the phenomenal claims or arguments, relative to a class of rep-
quality in question is that of “epistemicity”, of resentational systems exhibiting a specific func-
direct and non-inferential knowing itself. The tional architecture. Conscious human beings are
important lesson is that as phenomenal states, one example of such a class. The brains of hu-
such states are neither necessarily veridical nor man beings are naturally evolved information-
necessarily non-veridical. Experience as such is processing systems, and when engaging in expli-
not knowledge. As subjective experiences, these cit, high-level cognition they use specific repres-
states possess no intentional properties and can- entational formats and employ characteristic
not be semantically evaluated by concepts like
5 In The Refutation of Idealism, G. E. Moore wrote: “The term ‘blue’
“truth” or “reference”. Phenomenal transpar- is easy enough to distinguish, but the other element which I have
ency is not epistemic transparency. called ‘consciousness’—that which a sensation of blue has in common
with a sensation of green—is extremely difficult to fix. […] And in
Many, but not all, of our philosophically general, that which makes the sensation of blue a mental fact seems
relevant intuitions are characterized by an addi- to escape us; it seems, if I may use a metaphor, to be transparent—
tional element of certainty, of just knowing that we look through it and see nothing but the blue; we may be con-
vinced that there is something, but what it is no philosopher, I
one knows. Here, the phenomenal signature of think, has yet clearly recognized” (1903, p. 446).

Metzinger, T. & Windt, J. M. (2015). What Does it Mean to Have an Open MIND?
In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 0(GI). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958571044 8 | 28

styles of processing. Whenever we try to com- beings, and there are different levels of embodi-
prehend a certain theory, an argument or a spe- ment (Metzinger 2014). Computational, but
cific philosophical claim, our brains construct also thermodynamical imperatives guide the
an internal model of this theory, argument, or self-organization of representational states in
claim (Johnson-Laird 1983, 2008; Knauff 2009). our brains. One major causal factor underlying
This mostly automatic process of constructing the conscious experience of “intuitive sound-
mental models of theories possesses a phe- ness“ might simply be the amount of energy it
nomenology of its own: some theories just “feel takes to activate and sustain a mental model of
right” because they elicit subtle visceral and a given theory, plus the amount of energy it
emotional responses, some claims “come easily”, would take to permanently integrate this theory
they are experienced as sound and healthy, and into our pre-existing model of reality. Our men-
some arguments (including the implicit assump- tal space of intuitive plausibility can in principle
tions upon which they rely) seem “just plain be described as an energy landscape: claims
natural”. Some forms of skepticism appear that “come easily” do so because they allow us
“healthy” to us, while others do not—there to reach a stable state quickly and easily, theor-
seems to be a deep connection between sanity ies that “feel good” are theories that can be ap-
and reason. propriated without a high demand of energy.
There may be two overarching reasons for Theories that don’t feel good have the opposite
this well-known fact. First, theories that are in- characteristics: they “don’t add up”, they “just
tuitively plausible exhibit a high degree of don’t compute”, because they endanger our in-
“goodness of fit” in regard to our network of ex- ternal harmony and functional coherence, and it
plicit prior convictions. More generally, they op- would take a lot of energy to permanently integ-
timally satisfy the constraints provided by our rate them into our overall mental model of real-
conscious and unconscious models of reality as a ity. They are costly. In a biophysical system like
whole. These microfunctional constraints impli- the human brain there may well be a direct con-
citly represent both the totality of the know- nection between thermodynamic efficiency and
ledge we have acquired during our lifetime and reduction of complexity on the level of informa-
certain assumptions about the deep causal tion processing. If biological self-organization in-
structure of the world that proved functionally volves continuously minimizing the prediction
adequate for our biological ancestors. Theories errors generated by the flow of “hypotheses”
that immediately feel good because they are originating in the brain’s current model of real-
characterized by a high degree of intuitiveness ity, then the process that creates what today we
maximize a specific kind of internal harmony. call our deepest “theoretical intuitions” may
What we introspectively detect is a high degree also be described as such an attempt to reduce
of consistency, but in a non-linguistic, subsym- variational free energy. While on a more ab-
bolic medium. Therefore we could also replace stract level this process can be said to minimize
the term “intuitiveness” with a notion like “in- representational complexity while simultan-
tuitive soundness” or “introspectively detected eously maximizing the evidence for the overall
consistency or goodness of fit” (relative to a model, it is also a physical process that is not
preexisting model of reality). In principle it guided by abstract rationality constraints, but
should be possible to spell out this point on a simply one that optimizes metabolic and statist-
mathematical level, by describing the underly- ical efficiency at the same time (Sengupta et al.
ing neural computations and their properties in 2013; Friston 2010; Hohwy 2013).
a connectionist framework, or by utilizing the We need an open mind, because many of
conceptual tools provided by dynamical systems the best future theories about the human mind
theory or predictive coding. and conscious experience may just “not com-
A second perspective might be to look at pute” for beings like us. However, what does or
intuitions not from a representationalist, but does not compute is, in part, a contingent fact
from biophysical perspective. We are embodied determined by the functional architecture of our
Metzinger, T. & Windt, J. M. (2015). What Does it Mean to Have an Open MIND?
In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 0(GI). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958571044 9 | 28

brain, shaped by millions of years of biological 3.2 Suspending judgment, inner quietude,
evolution on this planet, as well as—to a much and the phenomenology of uncertainty
lesser degree—by our individual cognitive his-
tory and a given cultural/linguistic context. The If intuitions can be described as creating a
phenomenology of intuitive soundness—the fact transparent inner bias and perhaps even as in-
that some arguments seem “just natural”—is a volving an inner form of dogmatism, then we
biological phenomenon that is additionally sup- might, it would seem, make progress in under-
ported by a short cultural history of cognitive standing open mindedness as a mental state by
niche construction. In this framework, the space looking to cases characterized by the phenom-
of intuitive plausibility reflects exactly those as- enal signature of not knowing and of uncer-
pects of our evolutionary history and of our tainty. The philosophical tradition of skepticism
more recent cognitive niche that have become seems to be a promising place to look. Skepti-
transparent—that we have long ceased to exper- cism comes in many different strengths and fla-
ience as evolved and culturally driven, but re- vors (see Landesman 2002 for a comprehensive
gard as unconstructed, immediate, and even in- introduction), but what is distinctive about
dubitable. Importantly, the inner landscape of philosophical skepticism is perhaps best cap-
our space of intuitive plausibility is not simply tured by the meaning of the original Greek
contingent on our evolutionary history and on term, where skeptic (related to the Greek verb
certain physical and functional properties of our sképtomai) refers, quite simply, “to one who in-
brains—it was optimized for functional ad- quires into the truth of things or wishes to gain
equacy only. This process of optimization serves knowledge about some subject matter” (Landes-
to maximize reproductive success and to sustain man & Meeks 2003, p. 1). Skeptical inquiry, in
an organism’s coherence and physical existence, the philosophical sense, is not so much con-
but this does not mean that the content of intu- cerned with the truth of particular beliefs or
itions is epistemically justified in any way. This theoretical claims as with the possibility of
is especially true because the evolved functional knowledge and certainty in a more fundamental
adequacy of intuitions applies to everyday ac- sense. It also does not always aim at denying
tion in practical contexts and ancestral environ- the truth of our most basic beliefs by construing
ments—not to abstract reflection in theoretical outlandish skeptical hypotheses such as the
contexts or cognitive environments. This is why Cartesian evil genius. Generally, skeptical argu-
searching for a comprehensive theory of the con- ments cast doubt on commonly (and often im-
scious mind presents such a major challenge to plicitly and unreflectively) accepted means for
our intellectual honesty: it demands that we in- attaining knowledge—and in so doing frequently
vestigate a claim even if it contradicts our deep- give rise to new and fruitful discussions on how
est intuitions, even if it cries out for a more our epistemic practices might be improved.
moderate, weaker version because it just Throughout the history of philosophy, skepti-
“doesn’t compute” and somehow seems “just cism, at its best, has often been deeply con-
too radical”, costly, painful or even self-dam- structive and has enabled genuine progress.
aging. In this view, any philosophical methodo- The philosophical tradition that has per-
logy that just tries to make our “deepest intu- haps been most concerned with cultivating a
itions” explicit in a conceptually coherent man- skeptical attitude and with uncertainty and not-
ner appears to be a rather trivial enterprise. If knowing as a mental state, at least in Western
our claims here are correct, then intuition-mon- philosophy, is Pyrrhonian skepticism, which was
gering may even border on intellectual dishon- one of the two major schools of skepticism in
esty. At best, it just charts our intuition space; antiquity. Here, we want to tentatively suggest
at worst, it confuses failures of imagination with that it could be instructive to trace many of the
insights into conceptual necessity (“philo- aspects that we claim characterize open
sopher’s syndrome”, according to Dennett 1991, mindedness all the way back to the Pyrrhonian
p. 401). skeptics. This claim might strike some as sur-
Metzinger, T. & Windt, J. M. (2015). What Does it Mean to Have an Open MIND?
In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 0(GI). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958571044 10 | 28

prising, because Pyrrhonian skepticism is often Clearly, there is at least a superficial similarity
seen as a particularly radical and excessive kind between Sextus’s claim that skepticism is an
of skepticism (Hume’s Enquiry Concerning Hu- ability and our description of open mindedness
man Understanding is a classical example of as an epistemic practice. Here, we briefly review
this). It is fair to say that in contemporary the most important characteristics of
philosophy, Pyrrhonian skeptics are an en- Pyrrhonian skepticism and argue that there in-
dangered species (for an introduction, see Fo- deed exist a number of insightful parallels to
gelin 1994; Sinnott-Armstrong 2004; especially open mindedness as an epistemic practice.
Stroud 2004; Fogelin 2004), with the tradition A first point is that from the perspective
often being regarded as a bit of a historical of Pyrrhonian skepticism, dogmatism is the end
oddity. This is fueled by what little is known of of reasoning and the opposite of philosophical
its founding father, Pyrrho of Elis (c. 360 to c. reflection. At the same time, the anti-dogmat-
270 BCE). Most of this is anecdotal, as Pyrrho ism of the Pyrrhonian skeptics did not prevent
wrote nothing himself (Bett 2014). Diogenes, for them from giving “assent to the feelings which
instance, tells us that Pyrrho: are the necessary results of sense-impressions”
(1987, 7.13). The Pyrrhonian skeptics merely
led a life consistent with this doctrine, going withheld assent to “the non-evident objects of
out of his way for nothing, taking no pre- scientific inquiry” (ibid., 7.13). As an early form
caution, but facing all risks as they came, of what we call academic open mindedness,
whether carts, precipices, dogs, or what not, Pyrrhonian skepticism was directed, first and
and, generally, leaving nothing to the arbit- foremost, “against the dogmas of ‘Professors’—
rage of his sense; but he was kept out of not the beliefs of common people pursuing the
harm’s way by his friends, who […] used to honest (or, for that matter, not so honest) busi-
follow close after him. (1943, 9.62) ness of daily life. The Pyrrhonian skeptic leaves
common beliefs, unpretentiously held, alone.”
Pyrrho did not return the favor, reportedly (Fogelin 2004, p. 163)
passing by an acquaintance who had fallen into This suggests that if we want to contrast
a slough without offering him any help (ibid., the cultivation of an anti-dogmatic mindset
9.63). Clearly, this is a far cry from the con- with intuitions, this point should be applied not
structive and research-generating type of open to intuitions and feelings of certainty in general,
mindedness we hope to promote here. but to philosophical intuitions in particular.
A more thoughtful and differentiated ac- Philosophical intuitions, in virtue of their dis-
count can be found in Sextus Empiricus’s tinctive phenomenal character, involve a specific
(1987) treatment of skepticism, where he refers and often highly-specialized form of inner dog-
solely to Pyrrhonian skepticism.6 According to matism: they quickly and effortlessly create an
Sextus: inner bias towards a given theoretical position,
while at the same time making it seem so in-
Skepticism is an ability, or mental atti- dubitable and certain as to prevent further crit-
tude, which opposes appearances to judg- ical inquiry. Even though the terminology is, of
ments in any way whatsoever, with the course, different, the Pyrrhonian attitude of
result that, owing to the equipollence of anti-dogmatism presents itself as an antidote to
the objects and reasons thus opposed, we exactly the type of uncritical, judgmental atti-
are brought firstly to a state of mental tude that is the hallmark of intuitions.
suspense and next to a state of ‘unper- Second, the Pyrrhonian skeptic, in his
turbedness’ or quietude. (1987, Chapter 4) quest for “quietude in respect of matters of
opinion and moderate feeling in respect of
6 Sextus distinguishes three types of philosophers by their adherence things unavoidable” (Sextus 1987, 12.25), makes
to different types of systems: dogmatists, or those who claim to have
discovered the truth; academics, who deny that the truth can be ap-
use of stereotyped tropes or modes of argument.
prehended; and skeptics, who continue to inquire. The tropes are all very similar in structure, in-
Metzinger, T. & Windt, J. M. (2015). What Does it Mean to Have an Open MIND?
In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 0(GI). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958571044 11 | 28

volving a series of contrasts between opposing those only to which, at present, no definite
statements, with the aim of leading to irresolv- answer can be given, remain to form the
able disagreement and inducing a suspension of residue which is called philosophy. (Russell
judgment. True to the characterization of the 1912/1999, p. 112)
Pyrrhonian skeptic as one who inquires, “the
modes […] were not designed to inhibit reason- Following Russell, philosophy itself is a specific
ing. Rather, they were designed to assist the variant of cultivating what, earlier, we called a
Pyrrhonian in continuing to inquire by shielding tolerance of ambiguity, and its value is “to be
her from the disquieting state of dogmatism” sought largely in its very uncertainty” (1912,
(Klein 2014). As Sextus (1987, 7.13) tells us, 113). The Pyrrhonian tropes are just one ex-
the Pyrrhonian, when entering into a debate ample from the history of philosophy of how a
with the dogmatist, does not assert his argu- particular style of argumentation can be used
ments in the manner of claiming their truth; in- not just to generate particular insights but also
stead, he asserts them only provisionally and to promote a particular style of thinking. Ana-
purely for the sake of argument, enabling him logously, one of the reasons why interdisciplin-
to practice epoché, or to bracket his assump- ary collaboration and data-driven arguments in
tions about the truth of the relevant proposi- philosophy are valuable may be that they are a
tions. The tropes, then, are not just a strategy way of practicing and cultivating open minded-
for convincing one’s opponent, but a specific ness. Interdisciplinary research projects don’t
way of cultivating this more general kind of epi- just produce new data, but leave their marks on
stemic attitude: the minds of the researchers involved as well.
Third, the suspension of judgment, which
Like piano exercises for the fingers that is the outcome and in some sense the aim of the
would result in semi-automatic responses modes, is described by Sextus as a state of men-
to the printed notes on a sheet of music, tal rest and as an “untroubled and tranquil con-
the modes were mental exercises that dition of the soul” (1987, 4. 10). It also, how-
would result in semi-automatic responses ever, has a normative dimension, involving the
to claims being made by the dogmatists— claim that if there is irresolvable disagreement
those who assented to the non-evident. between two opposing positions, one should re-
(Klein 2014) frain from adopting either of them.
In the ambiguity between these two read-
We certainly do not mean to suggest that we ings, there is a nice point of contact between
should all become Pyrrhonian skeptics by for- open mindedness as a mental state and some-
mulating modernized versions of the tropes. We thing that today one might call the ethics of be-
only want to point out that the naturalistic lief (Clifford 1877/1999; Chignell 2010) and of
strategy of preparing and then handing over belief formation. There is clearly a social (Gold-
questions to scientific research can be viewed as man 2010) and perhaps even an interdisciplin-
fulfilling a similar function, namely as cultivat- ary dimension of epistemology, both in a theor-
ing the epistemic virtues and abilities associated etical and in practical sense. As is the case for
with open mindedness. This in itself, of course, the dialectical confrontation between the
is nothing new. A similar idea can be found, for Pyrrhonian and the dogmatist, progress (in the
example, in Russell’s claim that, sense of suspension of judgment) will often res-
ult from confronting one’s own convictions with
as soon as definite knowledge concerning those held by others, as well as from confronting
any subject becomes possible, this subject them with real-world counterexamples.7 By con-
ceases to be called philosophy, and be- trast, accumulating evidence suggests that
comes a separate science. […] those ques-
tions which are already capable of definite 7 This reliance on actual cases of disagreement, rather than on hypo-
thetical scenarios and thought experiments, is also one of the differ-
answers are placed in the sciences, while ences between Pyrrhonian and Cartesian skepticism.

Metzinger, T. & Windt, J. M. (2015). What Does it Mean to Have an Open MIND?
In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 0(GI). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958571044 12 | 28

merely simulating this process by charting one’s ance of ambiguity; and it may be intimately re-
own intuitive responses to carefully calibrated lated to the ability to formulate a question or
thought experiments is not nearly as effective, identify a problem while refraining from giving
and is actually often quite misleading (Gendler a solution.
& Hawthorne 2010; Alexander 2012; Dennett What we can see now, especially by con-
2013). Doing, as the Pyrrhonian skeptics real- trasting this point with what we said about in-
ized, is better than merely imagining. tuitions earlier, is how mental quietude might
Indeed, empirical evidence suggests that be turned into a target for consciousness re-
our natural confidence in naïve realism is so search in its own right, perhaps even forming a
strong that it remains largely unscathed by the- new branch of the psychology or cognitive neur-
oretical evidence to the contrary. In one study, oscience of interdisciplinarity. In particular, the
when participants read a text about cognitive mental state cultivated by the Pyrrhonian skep-
limitations and biases, this did not affect their tics is diametrically opposed to that involved in
confidence in their own social judgments. Con- intuitions. Both are phenomenal states only,
fidence levels were only significantly reduced and as such have no intrinsic epistemic warrant.
when theoretical challenges to naïve realism However, where intuitions block further inquiry,
were presented alongside specific examples, such mental quietude and the phenomenology of un-
as visual illusions. As the authors put it, “ac- certainty promote it. The skeptic aims, in a
knowledging susceptibility to bias […] may not sense, at a state in which inquiry has become
always translate to actually tempering one’s permanent.
confidence or expressing an openness to change. But there is also an important difference.
Instead, experiencing unconscious cognition and Whereas intuitions and intuitive plausibility
bias was required to reduce confidence and come to us naturally and effortlessly, open
closed-mindedness” (Hart et al. 2015, 6). This mindedness, the suspension of judgment and the
acknowledgment of the value of the practical tolerance of ambiguity are the result of careful
and experiential dimensions of suspending judg- cultivation, long-term practice, and sustained
ment is implicit in the Pyrrhonian tropes. effort. From a purely evolutionary perspective,
Fourth, ataraxia, or quietude, according to uncertainty and a non-judgmental attitude are
Sextus, automatically and effortlessly follows on costly and perhaps even dangerous, because
the heels of the suspense of judgment. This un- they do not motivate action in the same imme-
intentional character of quietude is important, diate, quick, and unreflected way as intuitions. 8
because it means not only that quietude cannot 8 In fact, if doubt has an evolutionary function, it might be to prohibit
be actively brought about, but also that it is activity and induce rest in situations in which the benefits of phys-
found in a place quite different from that in ical activity are outweighed by its risks, for instance in illness. Doubt
and certainty of the theoretical sort may have more distinctly bodily
which one was looking: precursors; they may be different ways of regulating how we relate to
our own bodies and gauge our own level of physical ability. Carel
(2013) describes bodily certainty as involving a tacit confidence
the Skeptics were in hopes of gaining “that our bodies will continue to function in a similar fashion to the
quietude by means of a decision regarding way they have functioned in the past: we expect our stomachs to di -
gest the lunch we have just eaten, our brains to continue to process
the disparity of the objects of sense and of information, our eyes to continue to see, and so on” (ibid. p. 4). By
thought, and being unable to effect this contrast, bodily doubt involves a breakdown of our beliefs about our
they suspended judgment; and they found own bodily capacities, but also a disruption on the level of subjective
experience. “Bodily doubt is a physical sensation of doubt and hesit-
that quietude, as if by chance, followed ation arising in one’s body. It is not solely cognitive, although it can
upon their suspense, even as a shadow fol- be expressed in propositions. […] Bodily doubt not only changes the
content of experience, it also pierces the normal sense of bodily con-
lows its substance. (Sextus Empiricus trol, continuity, and transparency in a way that reveals their contin-
1987, 12.29) gency. It shows our tacit faith in our own bodies to be a complex
structure that becomes visible when it is disturbed. It changes the
normal experience of continuity, transparency, and trust that charac-
This mental quietude may well be the phenom- terize this structure” (ibid. p. 11). Bodily doubt is often associated
enal signature of not-knowing and of uncer- with physical illness and depression, and in some cases, it seems this
form of experiencing our own physical vulnerability may have a pro-
tainty, coupled with a highly developed toler- tective function. But according to Carel, the analysis of bodily doubt

Metzinger, T. & Windt, J. M. (2015). What Does it Mean to Have an Open MIND?
In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 0(GI). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958571044 13 | 28

If on encountering a bear in the wilderness you good examples of high-level theoretical issues
take too much time to contemplate the nature that require the epistemic virtues associated
of the threat (or to question your intuitive as- with an open mind. Even the editors of this col-
sessment that the bear is indeed a threat), you lection have a tendency to disagree on this
might be eaten before you come to a conclusion. question—and we hope that this disagreement
Cleary, introducing the Pyrrhonian spirit to is of a constructive sort.
such practical, everyday situations is absurd One of us (TM) thinks that a greater
and perhaps even unhealthy. However, in the practical openness to so-called “first-person
context of philosophical and scientific inquiry, methods” on the part of researchers in philo-
cultivating vulnerability of the epistemic type sophy and cognitive science alike might lead to
(cf. Chinnery 2014) might be a strength and great heuristic fecundity and would, perhaps
might help prepare the ground for genuine col- dramatically, improve the quality and efficiency
laboration and fruitful discourse. But we can of research. Many such methods can be seen as
now also understand why, even in science, open the cultivation of a set of abilities that increase
mindedness is so frustratingly difficult to sus- mental autonomy (M-autonomy; Metzinger
tain: mental quietude is not a state of passivity 2013b, 2013d) and establish the inner precondi-
or mental inertia. It is a mental ability that re- tions for critical, rational thought: by stabilizing
quires constant alertness and a lifetime of prac- the first-person perspective, they create a more
tice. robust “epistemic agent model” (EAM; Met-
zinger 2013a, Box 1; Metzinger 2013d), or the
3.3 Acknowledging the problem of experience of being a knowing self. At the same
subjectivity time he holds that there simply are no “first-
person data” in any strict or conceptually more
If open mindedness indeed draws from the same rigorous sense. Seriously assuming the existence
ideals as are rooted in Pyrrhonian skepticism, of such data rests on an extended usage of a
how can we put these insights to work in invest- concept that is only well-defined in another
igating phenomenal states and tackling the (namely, scientific) context. First, the whole
problem of subjectivity? In contemporary philo- concept of a “first-person perspective” is just a
sophy of mind, the problem of subjectivity is of- visuo-grammatical metaphor, without a theory
ten taken to be the main conceptual and meth- to back it up—and currently we simply don’t
odological obstacle for a true science of the know what that could be, namely what “a”
mind. Can the first-person perspective be nat- first-person perspective would look like (for a
uralized? What, exactly, is the place of sub- first conceptual differentiation, see Metzinger
jectivity in the scientific world-view? And is 2003, 2004; Blanke & Metzinger 2009). Second,
there really something like “first-person data” “data” are extracted from the physical world by
that can—and perhaps must—enter the process technical measuring devices, in a public proced-
of constructing a truly comprehensive theory of ure that is well-defined and well-understood,
the conscious mind? Questions of this kind are replicable, and improvable; and which is neces-
also illuminates the extent to which we are normally guided by a ta- sarily intersubjective. But in introspecting our
cit and unshakeable kind of bodily certainty that typically cannot be own minds we never have any truly direct or
rejected or rationally justified and that forms part of our brute an-
imal nature. If this is right, then it might also explain why even the
immediate access to a mysterious class of “sub-
more abstract and theoretical variants of certainty continue to be as- jective facts”—all we have are neural correlates
sociated with health and strength on the level of subjective experi- and publicly observable reports (which need not
ence—even though this confidence can be epistemically misleading.
This also fits in nicely with the claim, elaborated in footnote 4, that be verbal). Speaking of “first-person data” rests
ambiguity threatens the perceived coherence of the phenomenal self- on an extended usage of a concept that is only
model, whereas certainty, on the level of subjective experience, ap-
pears to be associated with heightened self-awareness. We might now well-defined in another context of application,
say that doubt and the tolerance of ambiguity are an acquired taste: rhetorically exploiting a fallacy of equivocation.
while in their early stages, they are often associated with discomfort
or even anxiety, their cultivation may also be the key to genuine
“Data” are typically (though not always)
peace of mind. gathered with the help of technical measuring
Metzinger, T. & Windt, J. M. (2015). What Does it Mean to Have an Open MIND?
In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 0(GI). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958571044 14 | 28

devices (and not individual brains) and by evant information about a specific experience.
groups of people who mutually control and cri- They are not mere opinions about what it is
ticize each other’s methods of data-gathering typically like for oneself to have a certain kind
(namely, by large scientific communities). In of experience. They also should not be confused
particular, data are gathered in the context of with attempts to generalize from one’s own case
rational theories aiming at ever better predic- to what it is typically like for other people to
tions, theories that—as opposed to phenomeno- undergo a given type of experience, or with the
logical reports—are open to falsification. practice, occasionally found in academic philo-
To be sure, autophenomenological reports, sophy of mind, of relying on intuitive judgments
theory-contaminated as they may be, are them- or thought experiments to reach general conclu-
selves highly valuable and can certainly be sions about the necessary or even typical char-
treated as data. But the experience “itself” can- acteristics of given types of experience.
not. However, even if one presupposes this First-person reports, construed as sincere
rather straightforward view, having an open descriptions of specific and individual experi-
mind certainly also means acknowledging the ences, form the data-base of scientific conscious-
additional fact that, for various reasons, this ness research. They can be gathered with the
cannot be the whole story. It would be intellec- help of public methods such as standardized in-
tually dishonest to deny without argument that terview techniques or questionnaires, and the
what is sometimes called “first-person methods” data obtained from these reports are open to in-
could have enormous potential in our quest for tersubjective validation (e.g., by using inde-
a rigorous, empirically based theory of the hu- pendent raters, different methods of statistical
man mind. The question rather is: What ex- analysis and of scoring the content of reports,
actly is it about these methods that generates and so on). At the same time, this strategy
the extra epistemic value, if there really is one? works only against a background of trust that
It seems clear that not all epistemic virtues are first-person reports can, when gathered under
intellectual virtues, and it is striking to note sufficiently ideal reporting conditions, be re-
how such methods have played a central role in garded as trustworthy with respect to the spe-
all cultures and in almost all ancient philosoph- cific experiences they purport to describe. In-
ical traditions of humankind. This is not only deed, assuming at least a subgroup of first-per-
true for Asian systems of philosophy. At the son reports to be trustworthy is a necessary
very beginning of Western philosophy, Cicero condition of possibility for scientific conscious-
(1971), in the Tusculanae disputationes (II 5), ness research, for methodological reasons (see
defined philosophy itself as cultura animi, as a Windt 2013, 2015).9
way of caring for and cultivating the soul. Much of the serious work, in this view,
The other (JW) thinks that first-person will consist in identifying and improving the ap-
data exist, and that for a true science of the propriate conditions under which maximally ac-
mind, of consciousness and of subjectivity, it is curate experience reports can be obtained. Seen
important to acknowledge their existence. First- in this manner, the trustworthiness of first-per-
person data are not, however, to be found in 9 Clearly, this is not to say that such reports, or the data obtained
the direct observation of conscious experience— from their analysis, are trustworthy with respect, for instance, to the
thus far JW and TM are in perfect agreement— neural underpinnings of the respective experiences, and we should
not expect them to be. First-person reports, when gathered under
but in describing and more properly in report- ideal reporting conditions, are trustworthy with respect to the phe-
ing it. A first step towards seeing why this is nomenal character of experience only. Moreover, because this type of
phenomenological information cannot be gleaned, for instance, from
the case is to clearly distinguish first-person re- neuroimaging data, first-person data obtained from the analysis of
ports from general opinions, convictions, or even experience reports necessarily complement third-person data. As
dream researchers Tore Nielsen & Philippe Stenstrom (2005, p. 1289)
intuitions about experience. First-person re- put it, “[i]n an era of high-resolution brain imaging, similarly high-
ports, in this view, are the product of (verbal or resolution reports of dream imagery may be needed”. A true science
non-verbal) behaviors conducted with the sin- of consciousness will draw from different methodologies and different
ways of measuring experience, and it will strive to integrate different
cere intent of conveying or recording certain rel- types of data and different levels of description.

Metzinger, T. & Windt, J. M. (2015). What Does it Mean to Have an Open MIND?
In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 0(GI). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958571044 15 | 28

son reports becomes, to a considerable degree, a A similar tolerance of ambiguity is at play

methodological problem for empirical research, in the attitude of lending equal credence to re-
not a principled philosophical or conceptual ports from different subjects, acknowledging
one, and the contribution of philosophy consists, inter- and intrasubjective variation in experi-
at best, in showing why this is the case (again, ence, and, ultimately, trying to integrate these
see Windt 2013; for critical discussion, see So- reports into a maximally large data-base, while
lomonova et al. 2014). By contrast, principled resisting the pull of generalizing from one’s own
distrust in first-person reports, or even the at- case or engaging in armchair phenomenology
tempt to investigate the phenomenology of ex- (where this involves pumping intuitions about
perience independently of first-person reports, is experience rather than carefully observing and
an obstacle to a true science of consciousness. describing what it is like to have particular ex-
While we, the editors, may disagree on periences). We might even say that this strategy
the trustworthiness and epistemic status of of stepping back from one’s own convictions
first-person reports or even on the existence of about experience and formulating questions
first-person data in a strict sense, we certainly about the phenomenal character or the sub-
agree about the need to take our own subject- jectivity of experience is in keeping with the
ive experience seriously, and we also agree Pyrrhonian spirit: both are directed at academic
that the epistemic stance we call “open disputes and assume commonplace experience
mindedness” may well include a need to cultiv- or individual experience reports to be trust-
ate familiarity with our own subjective experi- worthy, and both strive towards a confrontation
ence. In this respect, our accounts may well be of theoretical statements with real-world
complementary. Readers familiar with contem- counterexamples, with the aim of ultimately
plative traditions may also have noted that giving rise to more sophisticated theories.
there is a surprisingly direct and often quite The issue of subjectivity is an excellent ex-
literal correspondence between many classical ample of a persevering problem that comes in
notions such as “withholding judgment”, many different guises and reappears on many
“mental quietude”, or “ataraxia”, and the different levels. Perhaps there really is some-
practical instructions given by meditation thing about the conscious mind that cannot be
teachers around the world, from different peri- explained reductively, even in principle. But
ods and different non-Western systems of searching for a maximally parsimonious sci-
philosophy. These notions are not only theor- entific explanation is a rational research heur-
etical concepts—they draw our attention to istic, not an ideology. It should never be a sub-
the fact that there is more than one type of stitute for religion, and as such it carries it with
epistemic practice, and that open mindedness it no immediate metaphysical commitments. To
may in part be constituted by the set of abilit- have an open mind is an epistemic stance,
ies that connects them (Metzinger 2013c). On which means that epistemic progress is what
a more theoretical level, to have an open mind counts in the end. Many of the authors in this
again means to acknowledge (and not repress) collection, including the editors, are staunch
the fact that there may actually be a deep, methodological naturalists, because they view
unresolved ambiguity here, between the need philosophy and science as engaged in essentially
to take subjective experience seriously and the the same enterprise, pursuing similar ends and
suspension of judgment. In fact, bracketing using similar methods. If it could be shown,
one’s own folk-psychological or intuitive judg- however, more precisely than ever before in the
ments about experience is part of what it history of philosophy and science, that there are
takes to move towards a truly scientific ap- strictly irreducible aspects of the human mind,
proach to subjective experience. For this then most of the authors in this collection, and
reason, open mindedness involves cultivating indeed most researchers in this field, would be
not only a particular attitude towards one’s satisfied with this result. They would have what
beliefs, but also towards oneself as a believer. they wanted all along: epistemic progress.
Metzinger, T. & Windt, J. M. (2015). What Does it Mean to Have an Open MIND?
In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 0(GI). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958571044 16 | 28

4 The wider context assessment. For example, modern virtual reality

technology not only enables the concrete realiz-
Having an open mind means never losing sight of ation of a large number of new experimental
the bigger picture and being continuously aware paradigms, but has also provided us with many
that scientific research, including research on the novel and philosophically relevant insights into
mind, is embedded in a wider context. In what the multimodal bodily foundations of selfhood
follows, we will very briefly draw attention to and subjectivity (Blanke 2012; Blanke & Met-
three examples of what we mean by the “bigger zinger 2009; Metzinger 2014). In combination
picture” and the “wider context”: ethical, anthro- with constantly improving brain-computer in-
pological, and sociocultural issues; globalization terfaces, virtual reality technology also possesses
and transcultural philosophy; and what we provi- the potential for military applications, for ex-
sionally call “the sapiential dimension”—getting ample via virtual or robotic re-embodiment.
philosophy back into philosophy.10 Let us begin New ways of causally coupling the human-self-
with the ethical ramifications of the type of work model with avatars and surrogate bodies in vir-
presented in this collection. tual reality will have clinical benefits in the
New theories lead to new technologies and medical treatment of patients and, perhaps, in
new potentials for action. Gradually, they also rehabilitation programs for prisoners. But it
change the image of humankind, a fact that may also opens the door to new forms of consumer
in turn have major social and cultural con- manipulation and potentially unexpected psy-
sequences. Having an open mind means being chological side-effects (e.g., Blascovich & Bai-
sensitive to normative issues and ethical aspects lenson 2011).
of research in philosophy of mind and cognitive A second example of the social and polit-
science. It also means acknowledging the fact that ical dimension of new action potentials, in
the human mind is a culturally embedded phe- terms of how they might intervene in the brain,
nomenon and that what we come to believe about is provided by new developments in pharma-
it will eventually change not only sociocultural ceutical cognitive enhancement (Merkel et al.
practice, but our own minds as well. Such “soft is- 2007; Metzinger & Hildt 2011). Cognitive en-
sues” are not empirically tractable, at least not in hancement is a molecular-level technology,
any direct manner (Metzinger 2000, pp. 6–10; which aims to optimize a specific class of in-
Metzinger 2009). Here, perhaps even more so formation-processing functions: cognitive func-
than elsewhere, the challenge is to formulate the tions, physically realized by the human brain.
right kinds of questions in a rigorous, precise, and The human brain, however, is also embodied as
fully intelligible manner. These questions are cer- well as embedded in a dense network of environ-
tainly difficult, but they are also clearly relevant. mental interactions, many of which are of a dis-
tinctly cultural and social nature. And it not
4.1 Sensitivity to ethical issues only possesses a long evolutionary history, but
also changes over an individual’s lifespan. Here,
Theoretical innovation leads to technological in- the central philosophical problem is that norm-
novation, necessitating careful and reflected risk ative elements are already built into the concept
itself. In bioethics, the term “enhancement” is
10 Again, this comes back to the classical idea of wisdom as not only know-
ing how to live well, but also succeeding at doing so (Ryan 2014). There
“usually used […] to characterize interventions
is also a clear connection between open mindedness as an epistemic prac- designed to improve human form or functioning
tice and its ethical dimension. As Russell (1912/1999, p. 116) puts it, beyond what is necessary to sustain or restore
“[t]he mind which has become accustomed to the freedom and impartial-
ity of philosophic contemplation will preserve something of the same free- good health” (Juengst 1998, p. 29). As opposed
dom and impartiality in the world of action and emotion. […] The impar- to medical treatments or therapies, enhance-
tiality which, in contemplation, is the unalloyed desire for truth, is the
very same quality of mind which, in action, is justice, and in emotion is ments modify physical or mental characteristics
that universal love which can be given to all, and not only to those who in healthy individuals, just like cosmetic sur-
are judged useful or admirable”. The true value of philosophy lies not
just in its effects on our thoughts, but on our lives, on our actions; “it
gery. In psychopharmacological enhancement,
makes us citizens of the universe” (ibid., p. 116). psychoactive drugs originally devised as therapy
Metzinger, T. & Windt, J. M. (2015). What Does it Mean to Have an Open MIND?
In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 0(GI). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958571044 17 | 28

for specified diseases are typically used off-label sense). The theoretical and social dynamics
or illicitly by normal, healthy individuals in or- linking both concepts and their interpretation is
der to modify brain functioning. In the future, highly complex. It involves scientific theories (in
how exactly can we benefit from scientific pro- cognitive neuroscience, molecular neurobiology,
gress, for example by influencing and construct- and psychopharmacology), applied philosophical
ively interacting with the ever-developing neur- ethics, changing cultural contexts, globalization,
onal architecture of our brains on a molecular policy-making, as well as industrial lobbies try-
level, while not leaving the social context out of ing to influence the historical change of our very
consideration? own concepts and their meaning in order to
Who counts as a “healthy individual”? A market new products. Normalization is a com-
trivial but important point is that concepts like plex sociocultural process by which certain new
“normal mental functioning” or, say, “normal norms become accepted in societal practice. For
age-related cognitive decline” possess a statist- this reason, the scientific process, say, of optim-
ical and a normative reading. The semantics of izing textbook definitions, empirical predictions,
both types of concepts change over time. For and therapeutical success has a political dimen-
example, the statistical and descriptive features sion as well. It attempts to firmly ground theor-
of “normal mental functioning” or “normal age- etical entities such as “normal mental function-
related cognitive decline” change as science pro- ing” or “normal age-related cognitive decline” in
gresses, as the predictive success of our theories empirical data, but it is also driven by indi-
improves, and as textbook definitions are adap- vidual career interests, influenced by funding
ted. Our concepts become richer in content and agencies, the pharmaceutical industry, media
more differentiated. But if a specific society coverage, and so on.
suddenly has new tools and new potentials for A third important example of how new
action—say, to alter certain cognitive functions ethical issues emerge is presented by the ques-
in the elderly—then the statistical distribution tion of animal consciousness and animal suffer-
of even those objective properties underlying a ing. What is the ethics of creating suffering in
purely statistical notion of what is “normal” non-human species, for example in the scientific
may also change. Cognitive enhancement is a pursuit of uniquely human epistemic goals?
neurotechnology, and technologies change the Much recent research shows that many animals
objective world. However, objective changes are are very likely not only conscious, but also self-
also subjectively perceived and may lead to cor- conscious and able to suffer (Brown 2015; Boly
related shifts in value judgments. Concepts such et al. 2013; Edelman & Seth 2009; Seth et al.
as “healthy individual”, “normal mental func- 2005). They represent a frustration of their own
tioning”, or “normal age-related cognitive de- individual preferences on the level of their con-
cline” always have a descriptive as well as a sciously experienced self-model and thus own
normative reading, because they appear in their sensory pain. They are also very likely to
statements about what human beings should be be unable to distance themselves from negative
like. Is it really necessary to succumb to emotions such as fear, anxiety, or depression. In
memory loss or a decreasing attention span the light of new and better descriptive theories
after the age of 55? If other options are actually of consciousness, classical normative issues such
on the table, does this turn passively capitulat- as animal ethics reappear in a new guise and
ing to age-related cognitive decline or certain with increasing urgency.
individual limitations in the ability to engage in Philosophical questions such as “Who or
high-level, abstract thought into a cognitive what exactly should count as an object of eth-
form of unkemptness and dishevelment? ical consideration?” soon may also become rel-
In this example, the not-so-trivial chal- evant for the applied ethics of synthetic phe-
lenge lies in understanding the dynamic interac- nomenology, that is, for all research programs in
tion between “normality” (in the descriptive artificial intelligence that risk or even directly
sense) and “normalization” (in the normative intend the creation of phenomenal experience,
Metzinger, T. & Windt, J. M. (2015). What Does it Mean to Have an Open MIND?
In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 0(GI). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958571044 18 | 28

of truly subjective, conscious states in non-bio- even systematically cultivating our own minds
logical hardware. “Synthetic phenomenology” are constantly becoming better—and precisely
(SP) was first introduced by J. Scott Jordan in as a result of interdisciplinary, empirical work in
1998, explicitly paralleling the idea of “synthetic the Mind Sciences. If we arrive at a compre-
biology”.11 The possibility of machine conscious- hensive theory of consciousness, and if we de-
ness now is not only part of the bigger picture velop ever more sophisticated tools to alter the
and the wider context mentioned above, it also contents of subjective experience, we will have
illustrates how theoretical innovation may even- to think hard about what a good state of con-
tually lead to technological innovation and re- sciousness is. This again illustrates the point
quire a careful assessment of possible risks. For that as some parts of neurotechnology inevit-
example, the Principle of Negative Synthetic ably lead to consciousness technology, new
Phenomenology (Metzinger 2013b, pp. 2–8) is normative issues arise and classical philosoph-
an ethical norm that demands that, in artificial ical questions reappear in new guises (Metzinger
systems, we should not risk the unexpected 2009).
emergence of conscious states belonging to the As editors of this collection, we do not
phenomenological category of “suffering” or want to take a specific position on any of these
even aim at the direct creation of states that important and highly controversial issues. We
would increase the overall amount of suffering merely want to point out that having an open
in the universe. But how exactly are we to un- mind also means cultivating a specific kind of
pack the logical details of this normative pro- sensitivity: a sensitivity for the actual and po-
posal? How does one approach these new types tential suffering of other sentient beings, for
of questions in a rational and data-driven man- newly emerging ethical issues and for the obvi-
ner? Machine consciousness, just like VR-tech- ous fact that the kind of research we are devel-
nology, pharmaceutical enhancement, and an- oping together does not take place in a political,
imal suffering is another example of a topic social, or cultural vacuum. For example, open
where a lack of imagination might prove danger- mindedness also requires a self-critical sense of
ous and where an open-minded approach is per- responsibility to global society as a whole. It is
tinent. also in this context that new conceptual bridges
Perhaps one central aspect of this problem have to be built between artificial intelligence,
is that in an increasing number of cases we will cognitive neuroscience, philosophy of mind, and
not only have to ask, “What is a good action?” ethics. Once more, a first and important step
but also, “What is a good state of conscious- may be to carefully consider the questions
ness?” Opening, cultivating and further devel- themselves, rather than to rush into an answer
oping one’s own mind clearly is in the spirit of or attempt to quickly implement mere techno-
not only Cicero, Plato, and the ancients—sys- cratic solutions. Ultimately, all of these ques-
tematically increasing our own mental tions have a lot to do with the classical philo-
autonomy seems to be a common ideal shared sophical problem of what a good life actually is.
by many of humankind’s philosophical tradi-
tions. However, the boundary conditions for this 4.2 Globalization and intercultural philosophy
old philosophical project are beginning to
change because the tools for manipulating or There is not only an ethics of science, there is
also an ethics of globalization. It has to do with
11 See Chrisley 2009, p. 68 and Chrisley & Parthemore 2007, note 2. SP fairness and, for example, the willingness of the
encompasses a variety of different approaches, methodologies, and
disciplines, but what they all have in common is that they see SP as rich to relinquish some of their sovereignty for
the construction or guided dynamical self-organization of phenom- the benefits of cooperation. Of course, there are
enal states in artificial systems. They also share the deep-seated
methodological intuition that any scientific explanation of conscious- technical issues behind philosophical notions
ness necessarily involves a systematic re-construction of the target such as “global fairness”. But many would agree
phenomenon. See Gamez (2008, pp. 887–910); Holland & Goodman
(2003); Holland et al. (2007); Chrisley & Parthemore (2007);
that we should distribute resources in a way
Aleksander (2008) for a first overview. that helps the worst-off, and that the only way
Metzinger, T. & Windt, J. M. (2015). What Does it Mean to Have an Open MIND?
In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 0(GI). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958571044 19 | 28

of justifying giving more to those members of ers, members on editorial boards, editors, and
humanity who are already well-off is if it so on. Indeed, these types of participation are
demonstrably improves the position of those in awarded and often expected by hiring commit-
the poorest and most dangerous parts of the tees. Yet, despite all of the hours of free labor
world as well. The movement of effective altru- (from the perspective of the publishing houses),
ism uses scientific research to determine the op- the scientific publications that flow out of this
timal ways of distributing goods to the poorest process are often locked behind a paywall, giv-
regions of the world, with the goal of maximiz- ing authors only limited rights to distribute
ing the benefits and long-term efficiency for in- their own research. More innovative journals
stance of donations to charities (for general in- give authors the opportunity to publish their
formation, see http://www.effectivealtruis- papers open access—typically in return for a Such debates apply to the globaliza- hefty publication fee that, once more, is most
tion of science and philosophy as well. In this likely to be funded by rich universities in afflu-
context, it is interesting (and sobering) to note ent countries. Again, we can, and should, do
how in academic philosophy, the basic idea of much better.
making scholarly work available free of charge Through their work, scientists and philo-
and free of usage restrictions online is vastly un- sophers continuously produce knowledge and
derdeveloped in comparison to other fields of re- new intellectual property. However, there exists
search. It is also sobering to note that academic not only knowledge production, but also know-
philosophy, possibly more than other academic ledge consumption—and the overall process has
disciplines, continues to be dominated by white, an economical basis. How should such goods be
Western (and mostly Anglo-Saxon) males. This justly distributed? Who can participate in the
is not just reflected in philosophy departments process of producing and consuming them? The
themselves, but also in well-known and widely world continues to be divided into “haves” and
consulted ranking systems, which almost exclus- “have-nots” when it comes to accessing the
ively focus on Anglo-Saxon departments. We fruits of the intellectual labor of humankind.
could do much better here, in all of these re- The point is not only that taxpayers should
spects. Of course, many of us have long realized have access to the results of all publicly funded
this, and as editors of this collection, we are work. A more central point is that, given global-
preaching to the choir. What is needed now are ization, we now need a much more transcultural
viable ways of changing this situation. type of philosophy. In order to realize this goal,
Because of the open access format of the we urgently need to experiment with different
Open MIND collection, which was conceived of, formats of open access publishing, testing out
in part, as a donation of intellectual property, what works best. In this way, we could finally
we want to focus on one single aspect here. One create a unified public sphere for research—a
might argue that the current subscription-based “global workspace” for the science and philo-
publishing system, which comprises nearly all of sophy of all humankind. Clearly, this in itself is
the top-ranked journals that young researchers not sufficient, but is a very first, necessary
in particular strive to have on their CVs, is in- step.12 Still, the historical transition we are wit-
herently conservative, stabilizes the academic nessing is one where having an open mind also
status quo, and, given the context of academic 12 And new questions continuously arise. Is it, for instance, unethical to
globalization plus the urgent need to strengthen publish one’s research in scientific journals or books that are not open
deeper and not just intellectual forms of inter- access and which therefore systematically exclude a large majority of stu-
dents and researchers from the less affluent part of the world? If you an-
cultural exchange, potentially leads to a “global swer affirmatively to this question, would you also say that it is unethical
closed-mindedness”, to a narrowing of intellec- to consume research published in books or journals that are not open ac-
cess? And do you think, in terms of civil disobedience, that it is permiss-
tual and scholarly life. Typically, publically fun- ible to disregard copyrights (and authors’ rights to royalties) to make
ded academics will be involved on different such research, either your own or even that of others, openly available?
levels and in different stages of the publication This is just a small selection of the potentially difficult questions facing
today’s scholars and researchers. And people are already acting upon
process, not only as authors, but also as review- their answers (see, for instance, Ludlow 2013).

Metzinger, T. & Windt, J. M. (2015). What Does it Mean to Have an Open MIND?
In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 0(GI). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958571044 20 | 28

means publishing open access whenever possible been inspired by ideas with which he came into
—which in no way excludes additionally using, contact in India, but also that later, Sextus’s ver-
and paying for, traditional dissemination sion of Pyrrhonian skepticism might have shaped
formats as well. But in creating humanity’s Nagarjuna’s Middle Way (Dreyfus & Garfield
global workspace, as Steven Harnad (2007) puts 2010; Geldsetzer 2010; Kuzminski 2008). Having
it, it has now simply become “unethical for the an open mind, in this sense, involves not only
publishing tail to be allowed to continue to wag bridging disciplinary cultures, but also integrating
the research dog.” What is needed is an honest different research traditions from different cul-
and objective assessment of the most effective tures and different periods and looking for their
methods of scientific publishing—where effective common sources.
not only means cost-efficient from the perspect- Obviously, the open-minded “pooling of in-
ive of large publishing houses, but also ad- tellectual resources” that we mentioned above
dresses the dual challenges of optimizing the must increasingly also include philosophers not
quality of research and peer-review processes only from Europe or the Anglo-Saxon world.
while making scientific results available to all From a traditional Western perspective, epistemic
interested researchers and scholars. humility also means acknowledging that other
“Intercultural philosophy” may sound philosophical traditions may long ago have had
good—but what does it really mean? Philo- deep insights into theoretical problems that still
sophy was born at different places and at differ- puzzle us today, even if their knowledge is not
ent times, for example in India, in China, and presented in a format and terminology that we
in Europe. Philosophical thinking evolved in dif- are used to or can easily understand. It would be
ferent cultural contexts that were often quite in- intellectually dishonest to assume that the style of
dependent of each other and sometimes re- thought developed in Anglo-Saxon analytical
mained largely isolated for many centuries. philosophy is the only way of being intellectually
Globalization now forces us to face the need to honest. And obviously, if, as we do, one calls for
create novel forms of communication between an expansion of the principle of charity into inter-
philosophers as well as new forms of coopera- disciplinary discourse, then one should also accept
tion between different traditions and cultures. that the same principle applies to intercultural
Yet this development is also an opportunity. collaboration. If there is to be a culture of charity,
The idea of “intercultural philosophy” is cer- then it must be a global culture of charity—in-
tainly not new, and there are many different cluding open access publishing and global fairness
ways of spelling it out. Here, we want only to in the distribution of academic goods. Today,
point out that in our view, intercultural philo- even more than in the past, this is another read-
sophy should not be a new academic discipline, ing of what it means to have an open mind.
but that it is, again, an attitude, an increasingly
important form of epistemic practice. 4.3 The sapiential dimension
At the same time, not all philosophical re-
search contexts originally evolved in isolation, and Thanks to the internet and major technological
the globalization of wisdom may be older than we advances, modern academic life is unfolding at a
think. To give just one familiar example, it is greater pace than ever before. It has also become
noteworthy that Pyrrhonian skepticism plausibly more competitive than it ever was in the past.
has a strong (and entirely mutual) intercultural This development bears the promise of progress;
dimension as well. The practice of using standard- but it also poses a very real risk. As knowledge
ized arguments involving opposing statements to production becomes a commodity and academia
cultivate positionlessness, suspension of judgment, is increasingly reorganized based on economic
and epoché can be found in the Indian tradition principles of marketing and business administra-
as well, for instance in the Madhyamaka tradition tion, universities are replacing tenure-track lines
and in Nagarjuna’s writings. Textual evidence with adjunct teachers and a constantly growing
suggests that not only might Pyrrho himself have number of brilliant young academics are now
Metzinger, T. & Windt, J. M. (2015). What Does it Mean to Have an Open MIND?
In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 0(GI). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958571044 21 | 28

competing for scarce resources in a globalized aca- greatest scholar. The sheer number of publica-
demic environment. The acceleration of academic tions in any given, specialized area of research—
life as well as increased social pressure are begin- such as embodied cognition, self-consciousness,
ning to have psychological effects on individual or the evolution of culture and complex societ-
researchers as well. A recent surge in the detec- ies—has become so large that it is now ex-
tion of fraud and scientific misconduct may be a tremely difficult for any ambitious young philo-
sign of underlying counterproductive incentives sopher to even get an overview of the field. At
that have begun to influence scientists world- the research frontier, great progress has been
wide. According to a report in the journal Nature, made in the fine-grained differentiation of re-
published retractions in scientific journals have in- search questions, while conceptual precision, ar-
creased by around 1,200% over the past decade, gumentational density, and the general speed
even though the number of published papers grew with which technical debates are conducted is
only 44% in the same period (Van Noorden continuously rising. This historical shift has be-
2011). A detailed review of all 2,047 biomedical come particularly obvious in philosophy of
and life-science research articles indexed by mind. In the age of cognitive neuroscience and
PubMed as retracted by the 3rd of May, 2012 re- Bayesian modeling, “raising one’s own age to
vealed that only 21.3% of retractions were attrib- the level of thought”, as Hegel put it, has
utable to error (Fang et al. 2012). 67.4% of re- simply become an impossible task. On the other
tractions were attributable to misconduct, includ- hand, philosophers of mind are not embedded
ing fraud or suspected fraud (43.4%), duplicate journalists of the neuroscience industry. A
publication (14.2%), and plagiarism (9.8%). It is philosopher’s task today clearly goes far beyond
also possible, however, that the rising number of offering methodological criticism plus a bit of
retractions has been caused by a growing applied ethics. Philosophers should not confine
propensity to retract flawed and fraudulent pa- themselves to laying and clarifying some con-
pers and does not in fact involve a substantial in- ceptual foundations or just developing a local,
crease in the prevalence of misconduct (Fanelli domain-specific “conceptual commentary” on
2013). These numbers might therefore also sug- the general way in which the empirical Mind
gest an increasing willingness to retract faulty Sciences change our perspective on reality and
publications. They might also be artefacts of an the human mind’s position within it. In the fu-
increased availability of data on such retractions. ture, philosophers must more actively introduce
We do not know what the final interpretation of their own epistemic goals into the overall pro-
such data should be. But we do regard them as cess as well. Failure to do so is to exercise a
one potential indicator of overheated competition counterproductive sort of epistemic humility—
turned counterproductive. and runs the risk of letting academic philosophy
In philosophy, there is a high and continu- slip into irrelevance.
ously growing pressure for specialization, and Having an open mind also means that
this historical development presents a major there are no taboo topics. At the outset, philo-
problem. One classical model of what philo- sophy was the “love of wisdom” and, as every-
sophy is says that philosophers are “specialists body knows, knowledge and wisdom are not the
for the general”, who are concerned with integ- same thing. Knowledge is something that can
rating the knowledge of their time into an over- be accumulated in an incremental and system-
arching conceptual model. As one German atic way, but wisdom has to do with synthesiz-
idealist philosopher put it, philosophy “is its ing very different kinds of knowledge in ways
own time comprehended in thought”. 13 Today, that are practically relevant, for example with
the realization of this metaphilosophical vision respect to knowing what a good life is and, im-
has long become an impossible task for even the portantly, also with being successful at living a
good life (Ryan 2014). This in turn may include
13 Hegel, in his preface to the Elements of the Philosophy of Right, ed.
Allen W. Wood, trans. H. B. Nisbet, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge
actively minimizing the number of unjustified
University Press, 1991. beliefs one has and continuously maximizing the
Metzinger, T. & Windt, J. M. (2015). What Does it Mean to Have an Open MIND?
In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 0(GI). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958571044 22 | 28

dynamic coherence between one’s beliefs, one’s it is to lead a good life, nor do we always agree
values, and one’s actions. Perhaps wisdom can on these questions—but we are convinced that
also be characterized by a sustained striving for whatever the answer is, it is deeply connected
accuracy and for the possession of a wide vari- with a particular kind of attitude that reaches
ety of epistemically justified beliefs on a wide back all the way to the skeptical tradition, East
variety of relevant subjects—with one such sub- and West. Philosophy at its best is not just
ject being the deep structure of the human purely academic or technical: it is also a prac-
mind itself. In this case, knowledge will auto- tice, a way of life; and its theoretical and prac-
matically be self-knowledge, and the question tical dimensions should never be completely in-
now becomes on what level the relevant form of dependent of each other. This is what we mean
self-knowledge is to be found. Tackling this when we say that academic philosophy would
problem may involve a commitment to a deeper greatly profit from a sapiential dimension. And
form of rationality that includes not only epi- if we are right to say that philosophy is, among
stemic humility, but heightened sensitivity to- other things, an epistemic practice, a particular
wards moral issues and one’s limitations in both style of thinking resulting from the cultivation
fields. of an open-minded attitude (and one that is
It now has become dramatically obvious skeptical, we might add, in the most construct-
that something has been lost along the way. ive sense), then this may also suggest a new
Academic life has become distinctly unphilo- reading of what it means to say that philosophy
sophical. Professionalization, acceleration, and has an important role to play in the Mind Sci-
excessive competition have led us into a form of ences. Asking for an interaction between cognit-
academic life that can now very rarely be de- ive neuroscience and philosophy as academic
scribed as a good life. First, it seems safe to say disciplines is one thing—but asking for the in-
that many of the best and leading researchers troduction of a particular way of thinking and a
are not very successful at living a good life— particular type of collaborative practice—a
even if they are philosophers who, at least at more genuinely philosophical attitude—into sci-
the beginning of their careers, may have had a entific research is another. We hope that by
great interest in exactly what a “good” life in now it is clear that we think philosophy can
the philosophical sense might be. Second, over- contribute to the Mind Sciences in both re-
heated competition increasingly draws people spects, as an academic discipline and as an epi-
into the field who are predominantly interested stemic practice. Still, what we have been dis-
in competition and professional success per se, cussing here under the heading of open minded-
and not so much in the pursuit of knowledge, ness is first and foremost an example of philo-
let alone wisdom. But intellectual superiority sophy as an epistemic practice—and as such it
and insight are different things, just as know- can be quite independent of philosophy as an
ledge and wisdom are. There is no intrinsic link academic discipline. Indeed, this is why we
between striving for intellectual superiority and think that an important goal is to put philo-
being intellectually honest, practicing epistemic sophy, in this practical and classical sense, back
humility and cultivating an atmosphere of char- into philosophy in the academic sense as well.
itable collaboration. In academic philosophy, the We openly admit that we have no ready-
sapiential dimension, in which theoretical in- made answer to the question of how to re-intro-
sight and practical know-how are deeply inter- duce the sapiential dimension into modern aca-
woven, has now been lost almost completely, demic philosophy, in a way that is rational and
and one aspect of what it means to have an intellectually honest. In fact, we think this
open mind—as opposed to just being profes- might well be the biggest challenge for the fu-
sional, knowledgeable, and smart—is to be ture. Obviously, what we call the “sapiential di-
aware of this fact and to be ready to face it. mension” here has nothing to do with any kind
We, the editors, certainly do not claim to of theology or organized religion. And we sus-
know what exactly philosophy really is or what pect that the real value of what we called “first-
Metzinger, T. & Windt, J. M. (2015). What Does it Mean to Have an Open MIND?
In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 0(GI). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958571044 23 | 28

person methods” above may lie not in support- linary turn” in philosophy of mind, the real task
ing dubious metaphysical arguments, but lies, in consists in creatively testing out and developing
part, in their potential for reintroducing the entirely new types of interdisciplinary coopera-
sapiential dimension into academic philosophy. tion. For example, it is important to preserve a
But we also want to point out that this could critical spirit and an openly inquisitive mindset
simply be empirically false. Sometimes it is —interdisciplinarity must never be purely dec-
enough to remain with the question, to simply orative, a fashionable necessity, or reduced to a
see it for what it is and to face the facts. Some- rhetorical element in edifying Sunday speeches.
times things take care of themselves. As we said Along the way, we will also need a new under-
when sketching the problem of subjectivity, to standing of progress, of acceptable forms of in-
have an open mind means to acknowledge (and quiry and methods, as well as new measures of
not repress) the fact that there may actually be success, for instance concerning novel forms of
a set of deeper metatheoretical ambiguities collaboration and publication formats that are
here. Having an open mind can also consist in still under the radar of institutionalized impact
admitting the existence of a problem—and that factors.
is all we want to do here. To give a second example, the newly
emerged discipline of neuroethics is an import-
4.4 Developing new forms of interdiscplinarity ant and innovative form of interdisciplinary
philosophy, but it should never indirectly con-
Taking empirical constraints into account has tribute to moral hypocrisy, as a fig leaf ulti-
become absolutely central in current philosophy mately used by others to cover the failure to
of mind. However, there are different models of directly and open-mindedly address the political
what good interdisciplinary practice is and how issues involved. If interdisciplinarity becomes
empirical constraints are to be satisfied or integ- merely strategic (e.g., in dealing with funding
rated. Interdisciplinary philosophy of mind does agencies) or is really guided by off-topic
not simply consist in turning away from old- motives, then it loses its systematic force and
school armchair philosophy, which sometimes becomes counterproductive and stale. Interdis-
took intuitions as main input for philosophical ciplinary philosophy of mind is not simply
work. And it would be false to say that “pure” about being empirically informed, or about in-
philosophy has no place in the newly unfolding troducing strong and fine-grained “bottom-up
scheme of things—there is clearly relevant and constraints” in the formation of new theories
highly valuable work that has only a small em- about mind and consciousness. It may actually
pirical component, or perhaps even none at all. be about the emergence of a new type of re-
One aspect of the Open MIND approach is that searcher. We like the idea of “dyed-in-the-wool
young philosophers should increasingly become interdisciplinarity”, where “dyed-in-the-wool” is
active as experimenters themselves, for instance not used in a pejorative sense but indicates that
by proposing epistemic goals and novel experi- young philosophers have learned how to think in
mental designs to empirical researchers and a way that transgresses boundaries between dis-
even by joining their colleagues from different ciplines, naturally and effortlessly. The classical
disciplines to work on shared research projects. approaches were intuition-based, and they made
Another aspect of the approach, as we noted analytical philosophy one of the strongest intel-
earlier, is that the extended principle of charity lectual currents of the 20th century. But we are
applies not only to the relationship between dis- now slowly moving from a priori methods and
ciplines, but also to that between different gen- thought experiments to real experiments, and
erations of researchers. from abstract metaphysical questions about the
We are all learning as we go along. Per- relationship between mind and body to the in-
haps most centrally and most obviously, to have vestigation of specific aspects of cognition
an open mind means to acknowledge the fact (Knobe 2015). And while it is clear that an
that while there has long been an “interdiscip- open-minded philosophy of mind should not be
Metzinger, T. & Windt, J. M. (2015). What Does it Mean to Have an Open MIND?
In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 0(GI). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958571044 24 | 28

strictly or exclusively data-driven, it is equally reviews ever, but now, after the collection’s
true that it should be both empirically informed publication, can also see for themselves how
and informative, guided (but not completely their comments were implemented and whether
constrained) by empirical data and theoretical- this maybe even led to an improvement of the
conceptual considerations alike. target papers. But above all, it is important
In the end, there is also a sociological as- that young people from the same generation
pect to the current transition in our under- have the opportunity to meet each other and
standing of what good philosophy amounts to. form their own, autonomous networks based on
Max Planck, the German theoretical physicist shared interests and mutually shared (or ac-
who created quantum theory and won the No- quired) expertise. And this will require a radical
bel Prize for Physics in 1918, famously said: “A restructuring of research funding and of the uni-
new scientific truth does not triumph by con- versity system itself, as well as new subsidizing
vincing its opponents and making them see the schemes. The function of older, more mature re-
light, but rather because its opponents eventu- searchers may rather consist in creating and of-
ally die, and a new generation grows up that is fering such platforms, giving a better overview
familiar with it” (1948). As the editors of a col- of the intellectual landscape and offering insight
lection promoting, among other things, senior– into what is really relevant in a specific phase of
junior interaction, we think this may be a bit a young researcher’s academic life. Today, the
too pessimistic—and once more, we leave it to sociological aspect of what it means to have an
our readers to decide how successful this inter- open mind has an unprecedented global dimen-
action was here, in this project. Still, for now, a sion. In trying to promote young blood, mostly
careful suggestion is that possibly, the old in Germany, we found that language and cul-
should learn a little more from the young. tural barriers actually are often higher than we
One of our experiences with the MIND wanted to admit. If what we have said about
Group was that there was a difference between the ethics of globalization and intercultural
what one might call “junior mentoring” and philosophy here is correct, then we might not
“senior mentoring”. Junior researchers need only need new formats of interdisciplinary and
friends in neighboring disciplines whom they intragenerational collaboration, but also new
can trust and ask about literature, current types of intercultural mentoring as well.
trends, and technical issues that are hard to un-
derstand. Our experience is that interdisciplin- As we said at the outset, instead of an introduc-
ary exchange works best in excellent young tion we wanted to begin a new conversation by
people who are not yet on the job market, and offering some first starting points and perhaps
in non-competitive situations in which at best even first building blocks for a fresh under-
no holders of academic resources are present, standing of what, today, it could mean to have
such as senior researchers who have grants, an open mind. Once again, we openly admit
post-doc positions, etc. to give away. Good and that we have no ready-made answers. But we
established systems of senior–junior mentoring are convinced that it is important to ask these
already exist, but we believe that given the cur- questions. Somehow, we have to get philosophy
rent situation, junior–junior mentoring is an im- back into philosophy.
portant resource to be developed as well. For
this reason, in the Open MIND project, we in- Acknowledgements
stalled a form of junior–junior mentoring during
the anonymous peer-review process for com- We would like to thank Michael Madary, Nicole Os-
mentaries. And while replies can be seen as a borne, Marius Jung, and Daniela Hill for editorial
form of senior-junior mentoring, there was also, support and their helpful comments on an earlier
covertly in the form of target article reviews, a version of this manuscript. And, as always, we are
phase of junior–senior mentoring, in which some deeply indebted to Stefan Pitz, Anja Krug-Met-
of our junior members not only wrote their first zinger, and Janice Kaye Windt for their support.
Metzinger, T. & Windt, J. M. (2015). What Does it Mean to Have an Open MIND?
In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 0(GI). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958571044 25 | 28

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Metzinger, T. & Windt, J. M. (2015). What Does it Mean to Have an Open MIND?
In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 0(GI). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958571044 28 | 28
Beyond Componential Constitution in
the Brain
Starburst Amacrine Cells and Enabling Constraints

Michael L. Anderson

Componential mechanism (Craver 2008) is an increasingly influential framework Author

for understanding the norms of good explanation in neuroscience and beyond.
Componential mechanism “construes explanation as a matter of decomposing sys-
Michael L. Anderson
tems into their parts and showing how those parts are organized together in such
michael.anderson @
a way as to exhibit the explanandum phenomenon” (Craver 2008, p. 109). Al-
though this clearly describes some instances of successful explanation, I argue Franklin & Marshall College
here that as currently formulated the framework is too narrow to capture the full Lancaster, PA, U.S.A.
range of good mechanistic explanations in the neurosciences. The centerpiece of
this essay is a case study of Starburst Amacrine Cells—a type of motion-sensitive Commentator
cell in mammalian retina—for which function emerges from structure in a way that
appears to violate the conditions specified by componential mechanism as cur- Axel Kohler
rently conceived. I argue that the case of Starburst Amacrine Cells should move axelkohler @
us to replace the notion of mechanistic componential constitution with a more Universität Osnabrück
general notion of enabling constraint. Introducing enabling constraints as a con- Osnabrück, Germany
ceptual tool will allow us to capture and appropriately characterize a wider class
of structure-function relationships in the brain and elsewhere. Editors
Thomas Metzinger
Componential constitution | Constitution | Constraint | Enabling constraint | Ex-
metzinger @
planation | Functional levels | Levels | Mechanisms | Mechanistic explanation |
Neuroscientific explanation | Spatial levels | Starburst amacrine cells | Structure Johannes Gutenberg-Universität
function mapping Mainz, Germany

Jennifer M. Windt
jennifer.windt @
Monash University
Melbourne, Australia

1 Introduction

How, in the brain or any other system, does and showing how those parts are organized to-
specific function arise from underlying struc- gether in such a way as to exhibit the explanan-
ture? The question is a general one, and also in dum phenomenon” (Craver 2008, p. 109; see
some sense a vague one, for it asks simultan- also Craver this collection). This is an attractive
eously about how structures shape events—gen- idea as it is expressed, but what I hope to illus-
erate causes—and also about what kinds of ex- trate here is that the leading formalizations of
planations one should aim for in neuroscience. this general idea (Craver 2008; Craver &
Here I will focus on the second question in the Bechtel 2007) place overly restrictive conditions
hope of partially illuminating the first. One in- on good mechanistic explanation. In what fol-
creasingly influential class of answers to this lows, I lay out the norms of mechanistic explan-
second question “construes explanation as a ation, as developed by Craver and Bechtel, and
matter of decomposing systems into their parts describe some cases that their model nicely cap-
Anderson, M. L. (2015). Beyond Componential Constitution in the Brain - Starburst Amacrine Cells and Enabling Constraints.
In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 1(T). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570429 1 | 13

tures. I then introduce the case of Starburst In levels of mechanisms, an item X is at a

Amacrine Cells (SACs)—a type of motion-sens- lower level than an item S if and only if X
itive cell in mammalian retina. In SACs, and in is a component in the mechanism for some
the functionally coupled direction-selective gan- activity ψ of S. X is a component in a
glion cells, the function-structure relationship is mechanism if and only if it is one of the
hard to capture within the Craver/Bechtel entities or activities organized such that S
mechanistic framework. I argue that we can bet- ψ’s. For that is what mechanisms are:
ter capture such cases by replacing the notion of they are entities and activities organized
mechanistic componential constitution with the such that they exhibit a phenomenon. Sci-
more general notion of enabling constraints. entists discover lower levels by decompos-
ing the behavior of a mechanism into the
2 The requirements of mechanistic behaviors of its component parts, decom-
explanation posing the behaviors of the parts into the
behaviors of their parts, and so on. (2007,
Craver (2008) sharply distinguishes between pp. 548–549)1
two traditions of understanding scientific ex-
planation: reductive explanation and systems As already noted, S is the system that ψs, or
explanation. According to Craver, the first that exhibits phenomenon. It is, for instance,
tradition accepts a version of the covering law the car (S) that accelerates ( ψ), and to ex -
model of explanation (Hempel 1965) whereby plain car acceleration will require identifying
one explains regularities at a given level of or- the components {X} that matter to S ψ-ing.
ganization by showing how these regularities To identify these components and their organ-
(the laws describing events and their rela- ization is to explicate the mechanism M that
tions) can be derived from theories holding at accounts for S ψ-ing. The target of mechan -
lower levels. Put differently, one explains a istic explanations of this sort is ψ: “mechan -
phenomenon of interest by showing how it is istic explanations are framed by the explanan-
to be expected based on the laws governing dum phenomenon” (Craver 2008, p. 121) and
activity at lower levels of organization. This “[t]he explanandum of a mechanistic explana-
tradition is reductive because when such ex- tion is a phenomenon, typically some behavior
planations are successful, one can strictly of a mechanism as a whole” (Craver 2008, p.
speaking do without the higher-level laws. 139).
However convenient they may be for under- In mechanistic explanation, a given X is a
standing or predicting higher-level phenom- component of the mechanism M if and only if it
ena, the higher-level laws do not add, capture, is one of the entities organized such that S ex-
or explain any facts that are not already con- hibits some phenomenon ψ. So the engine, the
tained in the lower-level laws. The lower-level accelerator, and the gas tank, but not the mud-
laws are scientifically sufficient. flaps or the windshield wipers are components
In contrast, in the systems tradition, a of M that explain the car accelerating, even
phenomenon of interest ψ exhibited by a sys - though these are all parts of the car S. In an
tem S is explained by identifying a set of com-
ponent parts {X} and showing how they are 1 There is a terminological issue that needs to be raised at the outset to
avoid confusion. Craver & Bechtel (2007; Craver 2008) usually, but not
organized such that S ψs. A systems explana- always, use S to refer to a mechanism. In contrast, I will always use S to
tion is similar to reductive explanation in that refer to the system or entity exhibiting the explanandum phenomenon ψ,
and I introduce the symbol M to refer to the responsible mechanism. I
it too relies on the identification of levels of do this because M and S are clearly not identical. Moreover, they are (or
organization, since it requires identifying the at least appear to me) to be distinguished in this passage, at least on one
reading. I think it is unfortunate that neither Craver nor Bechtel form-
parts of the system S, but, as I note below, it ally and consistently distinguish the system S and the mechanism M in
does not aim thereby at the reduction or ex- their analysis, for reasons that will become clear at the end of this sec-
planatory absorption of one level by another. tion. Here I’ll attempt to faithfully capture the essence of the Craver–
Bechtel mechanistic framework, were it to have included this important
Craver & Bechtel write: distinction.

Anderson, M. L. (2015). Beyond Componential Constitution in the Brain - Starburst Amacrine Cells and Enabling Constraints.
In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 1(T). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570429 2 | 13

ideal explanation, the mechanism defined by the and Bechtel, functional levels and spatial
parts {X} will contain all and only the compon- levels generally align.
ents relevant to S ψ-ing (see Craver 2008 for a Thus, although componential mechanistic
discussion of constitutive relevance in this con- explanations are not reductive, they generally
text). To identify the parts of M is thus to spe- are what one would call “bottom-up”, or per-
cify both a hierarchical and a functional rela- haps better in this context, “level-restricted”:
tionship between M and its parts, and between one explains the phenomenon ψ in S by refer-
M and S. ence to entities and relations at a lower level of
But although mechanistic explanation in- organization, but never the reverse. In compon-
volves essential reference to hierarchical rela- ential explanations of this sort, the intrinsic
tionships between levels of organization, it is properties of and interactions between the
not thereby a species of reductive explanation mechanism’s components account for a system’s
because in a successful systems explanation actions (where “intrinsic” means that such
nothing is rendered inessential or redundant. properties—such as the charge of an ion—are
The phenomenon ψ is neither derived nor deriv- either basic to the entity or accounted for by
able from laws governing the parts of M; rather, reference to entities and properties at a still
the parts {X} and their relationships simply are lower level of organization). Good mechanistic
M, and together explain why S ψs. The explan- explanations on this view will not include refer-
atory relationship is not rational derivation, but ences to unanalyzed properties of the whole S
functional composition: M is physically and or M, its “shape” or overall organization, as the
functionally constituted by its parts, and S ψs relations between the components {X} at the
in virtue of that constitution. lower level will already account for (in fact con-
stitute) these.
Mechanistic explanations are constitutive This account of mechanistic explanation
or componential explanations: they explain seems to me a clear and, indeed, compelling
the behavior of the mechanism as a whole model of one kind of explanatory practice in the
in terms of the organized activities and in- neurosciences. To satisfy the norms of mechan-
teractions of its components. Components istic explanation, one must:
are the entities in a mechanism—what are
commonly called ‘parts’. (Craver 2008, p.
128)2 1. Identify the phenomenon of interest ψ
2. Identify the system S that ψs
Given all this we can add one more criterion 3. Identify the relevant spatial sub-parts {X} of
for a given X being a part of the mechanism M (and their relevant intrinsic properties)
M: each X must be not just a functional but 4. Describe how the parts {X} are organized
also a spatial sub-part of M. As a component such that S ψs
of M, X will be at a lower level than M, and
smaller than M: “[b]ecause mechanisms are At least prima facie, a number of instances of
collections of components and their activities, successful (albeit incomplete) explanatory mod-
no component can be larger than the mechan- els in the neurosciences appear to neatly fit this
ism as a whole, and so levels of mechanisms description. Craver (2008) extensively discusses
are ordered by size” (Craver & Bechtel 2007, the mechanistic model of the action potential.
pp. 549–550). Craver and Bechtel conclude: Briefly, following the steps above:
“[m]ost fundamentally, levels of mechanisms
are a species of compositional, or part-whole 1. The phenomenon ψ is the action potential,
relations” (Craver & Bechtel 2007, p. 550). In which consists of the rapid depolarization of
the overall framework developed by Craver neural cells from a resting membrane poten-
2 Note that within this framework “componential mechanism”, “con-
tial of approximately –70mV toward (and in
stitutive mechanism”, and “compositional mechanism” are synonymous. many cases significantly exceeding) 0mV; an
Anderson, M. L. (2015). Beyond Componential Constitution in the Brain - Starburst Amacrine Cells and Enabling Constraints.
In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 1(T). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570429 3 | 13

equally rapid repolarization; a period of hy- erties, actions, and interactions of M’s spatial
perpolarization, where the cell overshoots the sub-parts together comprise the mechanism that
normal resting potential; and a gradual re- allows S to ψ and thus explain how S ψs. One
turn to the resting equilibrium (note that as can likewise plausibly sketch the mechanisms that
even this simplified sketch illustrates, ψ will account for spatial long-term memory (e.g., the
often be in and of itself complex, with many ability of an animal to return to some location in
aspects that any adequate model must cap- its environment) in terms of long-term potenti-
ture). ation of synapses in the hippocampus (Craver
2. The system S that ψs is the neuron. 2008), although it is worth noting that a more
3. The parts in virtue of which S ψs include ele- complete account of the functions of hippocampus
ments of the cell and its surrounding ionic will have some of the features I describe in 3 and
milieu: positively charged K+ and Na+ ions; 4 (Buckner 2010; Anderson 2015). Still, the fact
gated, ion-specific membrane channels; and that some explanations in neuroscience are like
the Na+/K+ pump. this is not under significant dispute.
4. Finally, the organization that explains ψ in - But this brings us to the question of why
cludes the following: The resting potential I have distinguished M and S in my treat-
is in fact an equilibrium between two op- ment. Because Craver (2008) does not form-
posing forces: a chemical concentration ally distinguish these, he is never led to ask
gradient that pushes Na+ into the cell and what the precise relationship is (or could be)
K+ out of it, and an electrical gradient between M and S (and between their respect-
that pushes K+ into the cell, each main- ive parts). In fact, for Craver the symbol S
tained by the selective permeability of the usually (but not always) refers to what I have
cell to Na+ and K+. Na+ channels change been calling M, and he frames his analysis of
their conformation in response to current mechanistic composition entirely in terms of ψ
flow (they are voltage-gated) such that they and its mechanism. When he does mention the
open to allow Na+ to flow into the cell. As larger system it is generally to emphasize the
Na+ flows into the cell this reduces the fact that not every part of a system S is relev-
electrostatic pressure on K+, and opens ant to the mechanism in virtue of which it ψs.
voltage-gated K+ channels, allowing K+ to So what might the committed mechanist say
flow out of the cell. The net effect is to about the relationships between S, M and
push the cell initially toward the electro- {X}? One possibility is: all the parts {X} of
chemical balance point for Na+, which is M will be on a lower level than S. That would
about +55mV. However, as the membrane be in keeping with the level-restricted charac-
potential drops, the Na+ channels close, ter of the framework, and its characteristic
thus slowing and eventually stopping the alignment between spatial and functional
depolarization. The diffusion of K+ out of levels. It is certainly a feature of all the ex-
the cell combines with the activity of the amples discussed in its support, including the
Na+/K+ pump to repolarize the cell, which model of the action potential outlined above.
however overshoots the resting potential A slightly stronger possibility would be: all
due to the fact that the K+ channels close the parts {X} of M will be spatial sub-parts of
later than the Na+ channels, thus allowing S. I don’t think anyone would or should en-
K+ to diffuse out of the cell for an extra dorse this stronger condition, but seeing why
millisecond or so during which the cell is will be instructive, and will lead us to the
hyper-polarized. reasons to reject the weaker formulation as
Obviously, this remains a sketch (see Craver 3 On my reading, the framework developed in (Craver 2008) implicitly as-
2008) or any basic neuroscience textbook for sumes the weaker condition, although most likely not the stronger one.
more detail), but it illustrates the main elements But for my purposes here it is not crucial to pin this down. If the frame-
work does assume the weaker condition, what follows should be read as
of a mechanistic explanation. The intrinsic prop- arguing (contra this model) that there are systems for which functional

Anderson, M. L. (2015). Beyond Componential Constitution in the Brain - Starburst Amacrine Cells and Enabling Constraints.
In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 1(T). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570429 4 | 13

The immediate trouble with the stronger every X needs to be a spatial sub-part of S,
formulation is that it collides with a fact then there is little reason to suppose that each
noted by Craver (2008), but not otherwise dis- X needs to be on a lower level than S, either.
cussed: the mechanism that accounts for S ψ- Indeed, I claim that in fact for some systems
ing may contain parts that are extrinsic to S S the mechanism M will contain items that
(although not to M). For instance, in the are neither intrinsic to nor at a lower level
mechanism for the action potential, the Na + than S. For instance, I often use other people
and K+ ions that are clearly part of M are (at to help me remember things, in the easiest
least sometimes) extrinsic to S; and in embod- case by asking them to remind me at some fu-
ied accounts of some cognitive processes like ture time. In such a case, this other individual
mathematics, the mechanism that accounts for is arguably part of the mechanism responsible
a person (P) multiplying (ψm-ing) contains for my remembering, but is certainly not for
parts that are always extrinsic to P, such as that reason on a lower ontological level than I
pencil and paper (Clark 1997; see also this am, qua remembering system. Moreover, as I
collection). These entities would arguably not will argue when looking at the case discussed
be components of the systems that ψ, al - below, some relevant parts of M (and certainly
though they would be components of the M itself) are at a higher organizational level
mechanisms in virtue of which they ψ. At the than S. Now of course, Craver & Bechtel
very least, this suggests there are some details define the concept of lower level in terms of
yet to be worked out about the necessary being a part of the mechanism: “an item X is
physical relationships between M and S that at a lower level than an item S if and only if
implement the hierarchical and functional re- X is a component in the mechanism for some
lationships in virtue of which M can account activity ψ of S” (2007, p. 548). I agree that
for S ψ-ing. There will be (presumably rare) this holds for the constitutive relationship
cases in which M and S are identical; cases between mechanisms and their parts. But it
such as the accelerating car where M contains only holds for all systems S if we assume that
only parts of S; and cases such as the action all the parts of M are parts of S, and we have
potential where M and S cross-cut one an- seen that this is not always the case. Thus al-
other, sharing some but not all of their parts. 4 though I think that Craver correctly analyzes
There may also turn out to be cases in which the relationship between mechanisms and
they share no parts, perhaps because the parts their parts in terms of constitution, I argue
of M and the parts of S are individuated by that the more capacious notion of enabling
different criteria, or because S’s ability to ψ is constraint better captures the relationship
imposed by or inherited from an entirely ex- between mechanisms and the systems whose
trinsic mechanism (indeed I’ll discuss a poten- activities they enable.
tial instance of this class of cases later in the In any case, with this as background, I
paper). now turn to the case of the SAC. In 3, I de-
But distinguishing M and S in this way scribe what we know about how the mechan-
also allows one to ask whether all the parts of isms in virtue of which the cell operates, and
M need to be at a lower level than S. If not in 4 I discuss the implications of this case for
componential mechanistic explanation.
and spatial levels in fact dissociate. If it does not, then what follows
should be read simply as offering an account of some of the possible 3 Direction selectivity in SAC dendrites:
functional relationships between mechanisms and systems, an issue not
explored in the original analysis. Either path leads to the same recom- Beyond componential constitution
mended modification of the original model.
4 In the case of the action potential, one might mount the argument
that the system that ψs is strictly speaking S + {the nominally non- Starburst Amacrine Cells are axonless neurons
S parts of M}, including the surrounding extracellular fluid. That found in the retina of mammals and numerous
would make M part of S in this case, but it is not clear to me that
this move will be equally attractive in every such case, nor do I think
non-mammalian species. Their morphology is
the mechanist is forced to adopt this strategy. planar, with multiple dendrites arrayed, as the
Anderson, M. L. (2015). Beyond Componential Constitution in the Brain - Starburst Amacrine Cells and Enabling Constraints.
In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 1(T). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570429 5 | 13

name suggests, in a starburst pattern around apses between SACs and ganglion cells remain
the cell body (Figure 1). (Masland 2005).

Figure 2: Depiction of the SAC network in peripheral

retina. Calibration bar 50µm. Reprinted from Tauchi &
Masland (1984).
Figure 1: Micrograph of a Starburst Amacrine Cell. Cal-
ibration bar 50µm. Reprinted from Tauchi & Masland Functionally, SACs play an important role
(1984). in motion detection, and are part of the overall
network for multiple uses including optokinetic
SACs form dense, highly overlapping, co- eye movement and motion perception (Yoshida
fasciculating layers in the “on” and “off” levels et al. 2001). In fact, each dendrite of the SAC
of the inner synaptic layer of the retina, nestled acts independently of the others, and signals the
physically and functionally between bipolar cells presence of stimuli moving centrifugally, that is,
and direction-selective ganglion cells. Among from the cell body out in the direction of the
the most numerous neural cells found in the signaling dendrite (Euler et al. 2002; see Figure
mammalian retina, they represent a large pro- 3). Put differently, each SAC dendrite is a direc-
portion of the total neural volume in the eye; in tionally selective spatial sub-part of the overall
the rabbit retina, for example, as much as six cell, and this is the functional property that will
meters of SAC dendrites occupy each square interest us here. As with so much in the neuros-
millimeter of retinal surface—higher coverage ciences, the mechanism that explains this func-
than any other retinal cell by an order of mag- tion is complex and not fully understood. It is,
nitude (Masland 2005; Tauchi & Masland 1984; however, possible to offer a sketch of it.
see Figure 2). As mentioned above, SACs lie between bi-
SACs are interesting for multiple reas- polar cells and direction-selective ganglion cells.
ons. Despite lacking axons, they synthesize Bipolar cells thus mediate the initial stimulus
and release both excitatory and inhibitory such that a moving light causes them to fire in
neurotransmitters (ACh (acetylcholine) and turn as the stimulus moves across the retina.
GABA (-Aminobutyric acid)) from the distal The bipolar cells make excitatory synapses onto
regions of their dendrites. Both the role and the SAC dendrites.5 With these basic anatom-
relative proportion of excitatory and inhibit- ical facts in view, we can turn to describing
ory synaptic connections change over time.
Cholinergic synaptic connections between 5 In fact there are two classes of bipolar cells, “on” and “off”, function-
ally differentiated by their disposition to respond to stimulus onset
neighboring SACs disappear over develop- vs. stimulus offset—i.e., one responds to light and the other to dark
ment, and GABAergic connections between —and anatomically distinguished by whether they synapse onto the
“on” or “off” level of the inner synaptic layer (Figure 4). As the
SACs begin as excitatory but later become in- mechanisms for direction selectivity in SAC dendrites are the same
hibitory. However, excitatory cholinergic syn- regardless, I’ll ignore this detail in what follows.

Anderson, M. L. (2015). Beyond Componential Constitution in the Brain - Starburst Amacrine Cells and Enabling Constraints.
In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 1(T). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570429 6 | 13

three different aspects of the overall mechanism Another important part of the mechanism
for direction selectivity: wiring specificity for directional selectivity involves mutual inhibi-
between bipolar cells and the SAC dendrites; tion between neighboring SACs (Figure 5). As a
lateral inhibition between neighboring SACs; stimulus moves so as to stimulate the centrifu-
and active elements in the dendrites themselves. gal dendrite of SAC1 (in Figure 5A), reinforcing
inputs will cause the release of GABA onto the
centripetal dendrite of SAC0, such that even
when the light stimuli begins to excite the cent-
ripetal dendrite of SAC0, the leading inhibition
dominates the signal. Similarly, as the stimulus
moves to the centrifugal dendrite of SAC0, the
successive excitatory inputs from the bipolar
cells reinforce, and any inhibitory inputs from
the neighboring SAC2 come too late. Moreover,
SAC0 will largely inhibit SAC2’s response (Fig-
ure 5B; Lee & Zhou 2006). An important ele-
ment of this mechanism involves the relative
time-course of ACh and GABA: ACh response
from the bipolar cells ramps up and decays
fairly quickly, while GABA response is relat-
ively delayed and prolonged (Demb 2007). This
temporal asymmetry helps ensure that when in-
hibition leads it dominates, and vice-versa. The
distance between SACs also plays a role. The
Figure 3: Depiction of direction selectivity in SAC dend- likelihood of synaptic connections between the
rites. Reprinted from Masland (2005). distal portion of the dendrites of two SACs—
where inhibitory connections are most effective
First, the axonal projections of bipolar cells —depends on the distance between the cell bod-
largely preserve the topography of their inputs, ies. Cells that are very close together or very far
such that neighboring axons come from cells with apart will thus not mutually inhibit one another
neighboring inputs, and make neighboring syn- (Figure 5C).
apses onto post-synaptic cells. What this arrange- Finally, direction selectivity depends upon
ment means for SACs is that neighboring syn- properties of the dendrite itself. The dendrites
apses on the dendrite are likely to come from are electrically isolated from one another, as a
neighboring bipolar cells, so that when a moving result of both overall cell morphology and the
stimulus activates one cell, and then another im- low impedance of the cell body. The uneven dis-
mediately to its left (say), this will tend to activ- tribution of synaptic inputs and outputs also
ate a given synapse, and then another immedi- contributes: excitatory inputs from the bipolar
ately to its left. Thus, in the case where such a cells are distributed along the length of the
stimulus moves along the direction of a dendritic dendrite, but synaptic outputs are confined to
process, the successive excitatory inputs to that the distal ends (as implied by the two aspects of
dendrite will tend to reinforce (Demb 2007; Lee & the overall mechanism described above). A
Zhou 2006). This is an important part of the third, active aspect of the local dendritic por-
overall mechanism, but is not sufficient by itself tion of the mechanism appears to involve
to produce the observed directional selectivity, as voltage-gated calcium channels. These channels
these inputs would tend to reinforce even during lead to amplification of the ACh response bey-
centripetal motion, although this would result in ond what the passive reinforcement caused by
a weaker response at the distal process of the successive synaptic transmission from bipolar
dendrite (Hausselt et al. 2007). cells can account for (Hausselt et al. 2007).
Anderson, M. L. (2015). Beyond Componential Constitution in the Brain - Starburst Amacrine Cells and Enabling Constraints.
In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 1(T). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570429 7 | 13

as a result of the different temporal activation

profiles of GABA and ACh; the asymmetric dis-
tribution of input and output synapses; and the
relative spatial placement of the SACs. And
voltage-gated calcium channels in the dendrite
actively amplify the centrifugal signal. Although
this sketch leaves out many of the known de-
tails, and there remain many details still to be
worked out, I believe it is sufficient to warrant
the conclusion that this is (a) an instance of
mechanistic explanation that (b) does not have
the level-restricted character of the (canonical)
mechanistic explanations laid out above. I spell
out the reasons for this conclusion in the next

4 Constitution and constraint

We can most readily see why this case repres-

ents an interesting challenge for componential
mechanism by fitting it to the four steps out-
lined in section 2, above.

1. Identify the phenomenon of interest ψ

2. Identify the system S that ψs
3. Identify the relevant spatial sub-parts {X} of
M (and their relevant intrinsic properties)
4. Describe how the parts {X} are organized
such that S ψs

The specific phenomenon of interest ψds is direc-

tion selectivity or, more precisely, the release of
neurotransmitter in and only in response to mo-
tion in a specific centrifugal direction. The sys-
tem Sds that exhibits ψds is the dendrite of the
SAC. It is also easy to say what the parts {Xds}
of the mechanism Mds are in virtue of which the
Figure 4: Schematic representation of the layered struc- dendrite ψ-dss, and how they are organized. I
ture and synaptic relationships between bipolar cells and have provided that sketch above. Finally, it
SACs. Reprinted from Yoshida et al. (2001). seems right to say, following Craver (2008), that
the relationship between Mds and its parts {Xds}
All of these elements combine to produce is one of componential constitution, such that
the direction selectivity of the SAC dendrite. all the parts {Xds} are at a lower level than Mds,
Bipolar cells successively synapse onto the and together constitute Mds. But now it gets in-
dendritic process, resulting in passive reinforce- teresting for componential mechanistic explana-
ment of excitatory input that preferentially pro- tion as currently developed. For only some of
motes neurotransmitter release in response to the parts of Mds—including the voltage gated
motion in the centrifugal direction. Surrounding calcium channels, and the input and output
SACs selectively inhibit centripetal excitation, synapses—are at a lower (spatial) level than the
Anderson, M. L. (2015). Beyond Componential Constitution in the Brain - Starburst Amacrine Cells and Enabling Constraints.
In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 1(T). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570429 8 | 13

dendrite Sds. The inhibitory dendrites of the SAC, for instance, and certainly the network as
neighboring SACs are at the same level as Sds, a whole, signals motion in all directions. Even if
the bipolar cells and their spatial relations are we restrict the definition of Mds to the entities
arguably at a higher level than Sds (although one in virtue of which one particular SAC dendrite
might wish to screen these off as mere inputs to is directionally selective, the symmetry of the
the mechanism), and the mechanism M as a mechanism—the fact that SACs mutually con-
whole in virtue of which Sds ψ-dss is certainly at strain one another and the same bipolar cells
a higher level than, and is in no way a physical synapse onto more than one SAC dendrite—
or functional component of Sds. strongly suggests that very same mechanism
I think this example demonstrates that generates right direction selectivity in the right-
not every mechanistic explanation will have the ward-reaching dendrite in SAC0, and left direc-
“bottom-up” or “level-restricted” character that tion selectivity in the leftward-reaching dendrite
the mechanism for the action potential has, in SAC2 (e.g., in Figure 4). The mechanism,
where function is built entirely from the capa- that is, does not have the same direction se-
cities of lower-level components and their inter- lectivity as either of the dendrites. Rather, it’s
actions. In the SAC dendrite, we appear to have as if when you turn the crank one way (i.e., the
a case not of a system that ψs in virtue of the stimulus moves one way) the mechanism pro-
capacities and relations of its components (and duces one output; and when you turn it the
that could in turn be thought of as a compon- other way, it produces the other output.
ent supporting the activities of a larger func- This suggests a different way to illustrate
tional system), but rather very nearly the re- the limitations of componential mechanism as
verse: a system that ψs in virtue of the proper - formulated. Craver writes that the explanan-
ties of and interactions in the higher-level sys- dum phenomenon ψ is “typically some behavior
tem of which it is a part. That is, the SAC of the mechanism as a whole” (Craver 2008, p.
dendrite is not functionally related to its sur- 139), and he thus might insist, contra my way
rounds as a component to a higher-level system; of formulating his framework in 2, that it is the
nor is the higher-level system related to the mechanism M and not the system S that exhib-
SAC dendrite as one of its components. Instead, its ψ. In this case, because I have agreed that
I want to say that the higher-level mechanism the parts {X} in fact constitute M, any conflict
M acts as an enabling constraint on S. between functional and spatial levels disap-
Before providing a bit more in the way of pears. But in the case before us it seems that
substantial analysis of the concept of an en- the mechanism responsible for, say, rightward
abling constraint, let us pause to consider one direction selectivity does not in fact exhibit
way in which a supporter of componential rightward direction selectivity. So the functional
mechanistic explanation might resist this con- puzzle reasserts itself in a different guise.6
clusion by redefining the system Sds to include One might nevertheless insist on distin-
the mechanism Mds. I think this is not a viable guishing these mechanisms in subtle ways—per-
option for a number of reasons. First, it would haps Mds0 includes these synapses from bipolar
appear to violate standard usage: neuroscient- cells, but not those synapses, while Mds2 includes
ists speak of direction-selective dendrites, and those synapses but not these. I doubt whether
not of a directionally selective network spanning this can work, because explaining direction se-
several retinal layers. The debate in the neuros- lectivity in either direction will require reference
cientific literature concerns not the definition of to the excitatory inputs from bipolar cells to
the direction-selective system, but the relative the centrifugal dendrite, and the inhibitory in-
role of intrinsic and extrinsic mechanisms for puts from the overlapping centripetal dendrite,
dendritic direction selectivity in SACs (Hausselt which are in turn a result of the excitatory in-
et al. 2007; Lee & Zhou 2006). puts from the very same bipolar cells synapsing
Second, it appears that the mechanism as 6 Thanks to an anonymous reviewer for pointing out this way of ex-
a whole is not direction selective. Any given pressing the matter.

Anderson, M. L. (2015). Beyond Componential Constitution in the Brain - Starburst Amacrine Cells and Enabling Constraints.
In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 1(T). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570429 9 | 13

onto the centrifugal dendrite. But let us take lectivity in SAC dendrites persists in the pres-
the possibility as granted. Then one seems ence of GABA and glycene receptor antagonists,
forced to say something along the following which would deactivate the portions of the nor-
lines: the mechanism as a whole ψs, but signals mal mechanism that involve mutual inhibition
ψ-ing with the dendrite. between neighboring SACs. In these circum-
stances, one might argue that only the portions
of the original mechanism intrinsic to the dend-
rite matter in the explanation of direction-se-
lectivity, and in such a case it is clearly the
dendrite that ψs. What shall we say, then, when
we remove the antagonists from the system and
reapply the same directional stimulus, resulting
in neurotransmitter release from this dendrite?
One option is: whereas before the dendrite ψ’d,
now it merely signals the ψ-ing of the larger
mechanism. But it seems clear to me that, if the
dendrite can ψ, then adding network interac-
tions that aid and enhance (that is, do not in
any sense prevent) ψ-ing can hardly cause it to
not ψ, but only signal ψ. This points to a
fourth and final reason to reject the general
move to extend the neural system S to include
the mechanism M whenever it is (or contains
entities that are) on a higher level than S: one
would apparently need the ability to rigorously
distinguish between ψ-ing and signaling ψ in an
overall system where to ψ is generally also to
signal it—that is, where signaling and doing are
deeply intertwined. Thus, I believe we must in-
sist: the dendrite ψs.
For all these reasons, I do not think it is
wise to hold onto level-restricted explanations
and componential composition by fiat. Instead,
it is time to expand the scope of mechanistic
explanation by considering the various ways in
which systems S relate to the mechanisms M
that enable their activities. I think the case of
SACs is especially important because it illus-
trates one way in which local selectivity in parts
of a network can be the result of the interplay
Figure 5: Lateral inhibition between neighbouring SACs of excitation and mutual inhibition between
contributes to direction selectivity in the dendrites. Re- non-selective parts of that network, which is
printed from Lee & Zhou (2006). clearly something that we need to understand
better if we are to accurately characterize the
Let us consider this possibility carefully. functional mechanisms at work in both small
As I intimated above, scientists debate the rel- and large-scale brain networks (Anderson et al.
ative importance of intrinsic and extrinsic 2013). But other structure-function relation-
mechanisms for dendritic selectivity in SACs. ships appear to call equally for a broader ac-
Hausselt et al. (2007) note that direction se- count of mechanistic explanation. For instance,
Anderson, M. L. (2015). Beyond Componential Constitution in the Brain - Starburst Amacrine Cells and Enabling Constraints.
In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 1(T). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570429 10 | 13

the direction-selective ganglion cell DSGC (Dir- of some pre-existing whole ability—in
ection-Selective Ganglion Cell), mentioned Sansom’s (2009) example, being handcuffed
briefly above, responds to stimuli moving only limits one’s ability to move one’s hands—this
in its preferred direction (which of course varies does not offer quite the right organizing frame
cell-to-cell). In this case, there do not appear to for explanation in neuroscience.
be any intrinsic mechanisms for the direction se- The reason is that in the neurosciences
lectivity of the DSGC. Rather, SAC dendrites we want to understand not just the capacities
selectively synapse onto DSCGs with preferred of entities, but how the structured interactions
stimuli antiparallel to the SAC dendrite prefer- between entities give rise to functions, which
ence (Briggman 2011) thus suppressing re- are, crucially, differential and differentiating
sponses to motion in the non-preferred direc- processes (that is, they differ from one an-
tion. DSCGs seem to simply inherit their se- other, and they differentiate between stimuli).
lectivity via their synaptic contact with SACs— Capacities in the sense of general powers (the
and, in fact, elimination of SACs from the ret- capacity to generate an action potential, say)
ina abolishes direction selectivity in DSCGs are necessary conditions for functions, but
(Yoshida et al. 2001). Here I just don’t see any they are not yet functions; the DSGC is
case for a compositional relationship between strictly speaking non-functional in the absence
the mechanism (or its parts) and the selective of SACs, even though it will continue to exer-
system. Instead, the relevant mechanism syn- cise its capacity to fire action potentials in re-
apses onto the relevant system, and by sup- sponse to inputs from bipolar cells. Con-
pressing a sub-set of its response tendencies, in- straints of the sort under investigation here
duces selectivity. serve to limit capacities, but in so doing they
This brings us finally back to the notion of enable functions; they result in an enhance-
“constraint”, which I think may help us under- ment (not a reduction) of the abilities of the
stand the full range of mechanism/system rela- system (and the organism).
tionships in the brain. The term constraint has For this reason I propose to analyze the
been used in myriad ways in the literature on general functional (and, crucially, non-hierarch-
scientific explanation. In evolutionary biology, ical) relationship between mechanisms and sys-
scientists refer for instance to stability con- tems in the following way: an enabling con-
straints (Schlosser 2007) and both universal and straint is a relationship between entities and/or
local developmental constraints on evolvability mechanisms at a particular level of description
(Maynard Smith et al. 1985). There are also and a functional system at the same or a differ-
law-like constraints on the possible states of ent level, such that the entities/mechanisms
physical systems generally (Lange 2011). None bias (i.e., change the relative probabilities of)
of these capture the sense of “constraint” that the outcomes of processing by the system. Such
will be most helpful to us here. enabling constraints offer necessary but not suf-
One notion that gets us close is the idea ficient conditions for the instantiation of differ-
of a “capacity constraint”, that is, a limitation ential function in neural systems. Because en-
on the capacity of a process that might take abling constraints are synchronic rather than
the form of changing the relative probabilities diachronic, the idea shares the same explanat-
of the range of possible process outcomes ory advantage that the relation of constitution
(Sansom 2009). This certainly has the right has over the relation of “causation” (when un-
flavor, for in the mechanism under discussion derstood, e.g., as an event involving the trans-
above it appears that the excitatory and in- mission of some property, power, or conserved
hibitory interactions between bipolar cells and quantity from one entity to another). As Craver
neighboring SACs bias the outcome of the & Bechtel (2007) point out, such a conception
dendritic processing of the moving stimulus. of causation does not accomodate interlevel
But insofar as a capacity constraint is gener- functional relationships well, because these are
ally conceptualized in terms of the reduction often synchronic and symmetric, whereas causa-
Anderson, M. L. (2015). Beyond Componential Constitution in the Brain - Starburst Amacrine Cells and Enabling Constraints.
In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 1(T). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570429 11 | 13

tion of this sort is temporal and asymmetric.7 In tional arrangement in neural systems, I’ve ar-
addition, enabling constraints can be mutual, gued here that the formulation is not wide
which gives the idea an advantage over both enough to capture the variety of mechanisms in
causation and constitution as an analysis of the brain. When we formally distinguish the
functional relationships in the brain. system S from the mechanism M in virtue of
which S exhibits the explanandum phenomenon
Enabling constraint =Df A physical rela- ψ, we see that although it seems correct to de-
tionship between a functional system S scribe the relationship between M and its parts
and entities {X} (and/or mechanism M), {X} in terms of constitution, it will only some-
at the same or different level of descrip- times be the case that S is (partially) consti-
tion, such that {X} (and/or M) changes tuted by {X}.
the relative probabilities of various pos- As an alternative to the relationship of
sible functional outcomes of activity in S. componential constitution, I have offered the
notion of an enabling constraint that can exist
To understand function not just in systems like between a system and the mechanism(s) in vir-
SAC dendrites and DSGCs, but also in the tue of which it has its various functions. SAC
large scale networks that are partially consti- dendrites appear to have their function in virtue
tuted by the Transiently Assembled Local of the enabling constraints imposed by entities
Neural Subsystems TALoNS (Transiently As- at the same and higher levels of organization;
sembled Local Neural Subsystems) crucial to and DSGC function is enabled by the con-
the functioning of a dynamic brain (Anderson straints imposed by the SAC dendrites. In
2015), we need to accept that there is a broader neither case is it appropriate to describe the re-
range of relationships that mechanisms can have lationship between the mechanism M and the
to functional systems, beyond componential relevant system S in terms of constitution, nor
constitution. Function in TALoNS results not are all (or, in the case of DSGCs arguably any)
from structured interactions between stable, of the parts {X} of M components of S.
autonomous low-level components, but rather Overall, I hope to have made the case that
from the interplay between the capacities of moving beyond level-restricted mechanistic ex-
lower-level entities and higher-level network dy- planation will allow us to better capture the
namics. That interplay, I argue, is best analyzed variety of neural systems that emerge from the
in terms of the mutual constraint that exists constant, constraining, biasing interplay
between bottom-up and top-down, feed-forward between feed-forward, feedback, bottom-up, and
and feed-back mechanisms in the brain. top-down processes in the dynamic brain.

5 Conclusion

Although mechanistic explanation as developed

by Craver & Bechtel (2007; Craver 2008) does
seem to accurately characterize one kind of ex-
planation in neuroscience, and one kind of func-
7 For instance, what explains why a neuron has a particular functional
property cannot be an event involving the transmission of some
property, power or conserved quantity from the parts of the neuron
to the whole, because if causes must precede their effects, this would
appear require that there be a time prior to which the neuron did
not have the functional property conferred by its parts. Interlevel
functional relationships do not generally appear to be temporal in
this way. Rather, for Craver and Bechtel, what explains the func-
tional property of the neuron is the way it is constituted by its parts.
Enabling constraints are also synchronic in the relevant way, and so
the view I am advocating here is also able to accommodate such
cases of interlevel functional relationships.

Anderson, M. L. (2015). Beyond Componential Constitution in the Brain - Starburst Amacrine Cells and Enabling Constraints.
In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 1(T). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570429 12 | 13

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Anderson, M. L. (2015). Beyond Componential Constitution in the Brain - Starburst Amacrine Cells and Enabling Constraints.
In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 1(T). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570429 13 | 13
Carving the Brain at its Joints
A Commentary on Michael L. Anderson

Axel Kohler

When neuroscientists explain the biological basis of a phenomenon of interest, Commentator

they usually try to identify the parts of a system that seem do the relevant job,
and propose a model of how those parts interact to produce the phenomenon. This
Axel Kohler
mechanistic framework of explanation is widely used and has been investigated
axelkohler @
from a philosophical point of view by different authors. In his target article, Mi -
chael Anderson poses a challenge to the currently dominant version of mechan- Universität Osnabrück
istic explanation as advocated, e.g., by Carl Craver. Taking empirical results and Osnabrück, Germany
explanatory models from studies on retinal starburst amacrine cells as a starting
point, Anderson suggests that the current framework for mechanistic explanation Target Author
should be extended to include a differentiation between systems and mechanisms,
which would allow more leeway in understanding processing in the nervous sys- Michael L. Anderson
tem. Mechanisms can then be seen to provide enabling constraints on the func- michael.anderson @
tioning of systems, where the mechanisms do not need to be subsumed under the Franklin & Marshall College
system and do not even have to be on the same organizational level. Although Lancaster, PA, U.S.A.
Anderson’s proposal is interesting and worth exploring, I am unconvinced that this
extension conforms to real-world explanatory practice and/or is necessary for ac- Editors
commodating the understanding of direction-selectivity in the retina. I examine
another sample of research on starburst amacrine cells, where the integration of
Thomas Metzinger
empirical data and computational models shows that, on close inspection, it is dis-
metzinger @
tributed networks to which certain characteristics are ascribed—a situation that
can be handled with the available tools of mechanistic explanation. Johannes Gutenberg-Universität
Mainz, Germany
Constitution | Direction selectivity | Enabling constraint | Enabling constraints | Jennifer M. Windt
Mechanism | Mechanistic explanation | Motion processing | MT | Neuroscience | jennifer.windt @
Neuroscientific explanation | Starburst amacrine cells | Top-down causation | V1 Monash University
Melbourne, Australia

1 Introduction

One of the dominant frameworks of explanatory istic explanation is thought to capture the dom-
practice in the neurosciences and the biological inant explanatory practice in the biological sci-
sciences in general is the model of mechanistic ences (Bechtel & Richardson 1993), but normat-
explanation proposed in its modern form by ive claims are also made with respect to the ad-
Bechtel & Richardson (1993) and recently ex- equacy of explanatory accounts. Craver (2007)
tended by Carl Craver (2007). Mechanistic ex- proposes a number of constraints on con-
planations describe entities and activities that stitutive mechanistic explanation in order to de-
together bring about a phenomenon of interest cide whether a mechanistic model is viable or
(Machamer et al. 2000). When we are interested not.
in how vision works, for example, we try to loc- In his target article, Michael Anderson
alize the relevant parts of the brain, and (this collection) takes current models of mech-
identify components and their types of interac- anistic explanation as a starting point for pro-
tions in order to understand how we can see posing an important extension of the existing
things (Bechtel 2008). This model of mechan- accounts. In previous models, the system that
Kohler, A. (2015). Carving the Brain at its Joints - A Commentary on Michael L. Anderson.
In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 1(C). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570627 1|8

exhibits a phenomenon and the mechanism that selectivity. Anderson proposes this distinction
explains the phenomenon were not separated. as an important extension of Craver and
Sometimes parts of the system can be screened Bechtel’s model of mechanistic explanation.
off with respect to the phenomenon at hand. This has two major advantages, according to
The windshields of a car and its radio compon- Anderson: (1) there can be entities and actions
ents are not really important in order to under- that play a role for M, but are not necessarily
stand how it drives, for example. It’s fine to say parts of S. This allows a certain flexibility in de-
that the whole car drives, but that only the rel- fining the system that displays Ψ, while at the
evant components (engine, axles, tires) are do- same time including all relevant components in
ing the mechanistic work. Focusing on the es- the mechanistic account of S’s Ψ-ing. (2) But if
sential components of a mechanism within a lar- there are parts of M that don’t need to be spa-
ger system is unproblematic. But Anderson tially subsumed under S, neither do they need
worries about more complex cases in the neur- to be at a lower level than S. So even the re-
osciences where the system displaying a phe- quirement of componential constitution might
nomenon does not encompass the relevant be relaxed to allow for higher-level mechanistic
mechanism producing the phenomenon and components that play an important role in S’s
might not even be on the same level of descrip- Ψ-ing.
tion as the mechanistic components. As an alternative account of the relation-
Anderson wants to demonstrate that com- ship between mechanisms M and the respective
ponential constitution is not sufficient as a systems S, Anderson proposes that M acts as an
model of mechanistic explanation for the pro- enabling constraint on S:
cessing of directional selectivity in the retina.
Mechanisms computing direction of motion are [A]n enabling constraint is a relationship
already available at the earliest stages of the between entities and/or mechanisms at a
visual hierarchy. The vital components of direc- particular level of description and a func-
tion selectivity in the retina could be identified. tional system at the same or a different
In particular, in recent discussion starburst level, such that the entities/mechanisms
amacrine cells (SAC) have been viewed as a bias (i.e., change the relative probabilities
mechanistic substrate of motion processing. The of) the outcomes of processing by the sys-
SACs receive input from bipolar cells, which are tem. (this collection, p. 12)
not themselves directionally selective, and
provide output to direction-selective ganglion In the case of retinal direction selectivity, the
cells (Zhou & Lee 2008). The SACs themselves mechanistic interaction between neighboring
seem to be the core component for retinal mo- SACs and BCs acts as an enabling constraint
tion selectivity (Park et al. 2014; Yoshida et al. for the direction selectivity of a specific SAC
2001). dendritic compartment (i.e., the system).
Examining the current models of how dir- The most straightforward move by pro-
ection selectivity is created in SACs, Anderson ponents of existing models of mechanistic ex-
takes note of a discrepancy between how direc- planation, as Anderson (this collection) also
tion selectivity is mechanistically achieved and notes, would be to claim that the differentiation
to which parts it is ascribed. He argues for a of system and mechanism is vacuous. Only the
distinction between the system S that Ψs (that mechanism as a whole can do the work. Even in
is, exhibits direction selectivity) and the mech- complex cases, one just has to pick out the right
anism M that accounts for S’s Ψ-ing. For the subparts of the network (specific synapses, spe-
case at hand, the SACs themselves or even just cific compartments of neurons) that together
single dendritic compartments of SACs Ψ, but a produce the phenomenon of interest. Anderson
much broader network of neighboring SACs and provides a number of arguments against this
bipolar cells needs to be considered in order to way of extending the concept of mechanism/sys-
provide a mechanistic account of SAC direction tem, which I would like to briefly summarize:
Kohler, A. (2015). Carving the Brain at its Joints - A Commentary on Michael L. Anderson.
In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 1(C). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570627 2|8

1. Neuroscientists just don’t talk about complex ment or surrounding processes. Even if the sys-
directionally selective networks, but about tem is defined as the dendrite only, factors in-
the direction selectivity of certain dendritic fluencing dendritic processing as well as the em-
branches. bedding of the system in the overall economy,
2. The mechanism as a whole does not display a its organization, have to be considered in order
specific direction selectivity (it is not right- to arrive at an understanding of the system’s
ward-selective etc.), it only contributes to the functioning (Bechtel 2008, pp. 148–150). On the
specific selectivity in the respective SAC other hand, I would like to argue that we have
dendrites. The mechanism contributes to dif- good reason to extend the boundaries of the
ferent kinds of selectivities in different dend- system to encompass all the contributing parts.
rites. This is a situation in which the original ascrip-
3. Making fine-grained distinctions between tion of a function to a system part has to be re-
subparts (synapses, axon branches, dendrites vised to accommodate new findings. This pro-
etc.) of the very same neurons that contrib- cess is termed reconstituting the phenomena by
ute to different directional selectivities is im- Bechtel & Richardson (1993). Although direc-
plausible. tion selectivity was thought to be bound to or
4. When the whole network is said to be direc- even intrinsically generated in SAC dendrites, it
tion-selective (i.e., it Ψs), what about the turns out that the system can only be under-
dendrite itself? Is it supposed to only signal stood in combination with other neural ele-
direction selectivity (signal Ψ-ing)? It is un- ments that vitally contribute to the mechanism
likely that a clear distinction between Ψ-ing in question.
and signaling Ψ-ing can be made. One advantage that Anderson suggests
comes with the differentiation of system and
The aim of this commentary is twofold. First, I mechanism is that mechanistic components
would like to argue that the described cases can can then be set at a different level of organiz-
be handled by current models of mechanistic ex- ation than the relevant system. The SAC
planation when one considers the options of re- dendrite is at a lower level compared to the
constituting the phenomena and top-down caus- input from bipolar cells and the network
ation. Second, using another example of re- structure (bipolar cells and neighboring SACs)
search on SACs, I would like to show that the that enables SAC direction-selectivity. But
straightforward ascription of direction selectiv- once the question of how exactly we should
ity to the SAC dendrites is at least debatable. carve up the brain into systems and mechan-
When looking at how empirical results are often isms has been answered, I don’t think that
integrated with computational models of direc- complex inter-level relationships are much of
tion selectivity, it becomes clear that those phe- an issue for mechanistic accounts. They can
nomena can only be understood by considering be easily accommodated within the framework
the distributed nature of the involved networks. of top-down causation proposed by Craver &
Bechtel (2007). They suggest that any refer-
2 Reconstituting the phenomena and top- ence to inter-level interactions can be ana-
down causation lyzed in terms of within-level causal relation-
ships between parts of entities, where parts
Anderson proposes a separation between sys- and entities are related in a constitutive fash-
tems and mechanisms. No matter whether the ion and entities can be located on different
system is constrained to be a dendritic compart- levels. Emphasizing the fact that complex
ment or whether it is extended to encompass all inter-level interactions often need to be con-
mechanistically relevant parts, there are tools sidered in order to offer adequate explanatory
available to describe the respective situation. accounts in neuroscience is important, but it
The mechanistic model does not necessarily is not outside the scope of current models of
consider systems in isolation from the environ- mechanistic explanation.
Kohler, A. (2015). Carving the Brain at its Joints - A Commentary on Michael L. Anderson.
In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 1(C). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570627 3|8

3 Systems and mechanisms for direction What is important about the paper is not
selectivity just the main result itself. Any empirical obser-
vation may be overruled in the (near) future. So
Since the processing of direction selectivity in it is not particularly relevant whether these ex-
the retina is currently a very active research act cell types and this exact type of wiring is vi-
field, there is substantial controversy concerning tal for the phenomenon at hand. What I found
the relevant entities and activities that contrib- intriguing in this study, however, was how the
ute to the mechanism, as Anderson points out relevant mechanism was described and how the
in his target article. Some accounts focus on data were integrated with a computational
local processes within the SAC dendrites them- model of direction selectivity, reflecting a recent
selves (Hausselt et al. 2007), while others draw trend in the neurosciences to combine biological
a broader picture of a multi-component process, and computational perspectives in explanatory
where the exact arrangement of cell types and accounts. It shows how neuroscientists pick out
their compartments is vital for direction se- the relevant parts of a system that contribute to
lectivity (Lee & Zhou 2006). For our purposes a specific phenomenon in question. The pro-
here, I would like to use a most recent update posed computational model (Fig. 1a; Kim et al.
on SAC function offered by the group working 2014) maps the biological entities onto specific
with Sebastian Seung. The group uses high-res- parts of the computational circuit. The output
olution electron-microscopy images of brain tis- element at the lower part of the figure is the
sue to reconstruct complete brain networks on a SAC. The input stems from BC2 (left) and
cellular level. Apart from trained reconstruction BC3a (right); their respective response proper-
experts, the project also makes use of so-called ties are captured as delay values and sustained
“citizen neuroscientists”—volunteers who con- vs. transient response types. The circuit com-
tribute to the reconstruction process through an bines elements of classical models of direction
online platform that employs gaming features to selectivity, the Reichardt (Fig. 1b) and the Bar-
guide and motivate the community effort low-Levick detectors (Fig. 1c). Clearly, the dir-
( ection selectivity cannot be attributed to any
In their study, Seung and colleagues used one of the system components in isolation.
images from the mouse retina to analyze SAC Mechanistic accounts and the corresponding
circuitry. They took a closer look at the exact computational models both point to the whole
wiring between bipolar cells (BCs) and SACs complex of entities as the relevant system that
(Kim et al. 2014). BCs provide input to SACs, achieves directional selectivity.
but do not show any directional selectivity by In its computational abstraction, the
themselves. The main point of the article is to model can be thought of as a canonical system
show that different BC subtypes display differ- of directional selectivity. Similar models have
ent patterns of connectivity with SACs. By ana- also been applied to different hierarchical levels
lyzing branch depth and contact area, they of neural processing and different species. For
could show that one subtype (BC2) has mainly example, mechanisms of directional selectivity
connections close to the soma, while another have been studied for a long time in the fly
subtype (BC3a) has more connections far from visual system. With very different neural ele-
the soma in the outer parts of the dendrites. ments and wiring, a system of interconnected
Importantly, the BC subtypes, in turn, have dif- neurons achieves directional selectivity with re-
ferent intrinsic visual response latencies. BC2 sponse properties closely resembling the
seems to lag BC3a by 50ms and more. It can be Reichardt-type of motion detector (Borst &
shown that the differential connectivity patterns Euler 2011). Again, only the combination of ele-
and the divergent latencies add up to produce ments from different processing stages succeeds
selectivity for a preferred direction of movement in delivering direction selectivity as a system.
going out from the soma on the respective On a cortical level, direction selectivity has
dendrite in accordance with empirical results. been first described for complex cells of the
Kohler, A. (2015). Carving the Brain at its Joints - A Commentary on Michael L. Anderson.
In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 1(C). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570627 4|8

primary visual cortex (V1) in the seminal work The region was first described in the macaque
of David Hubel & Torsten Wiesel (1962). (Dubner & Zeki 1971; Zeki 1974) and owl mon-
Without offering a quantitative computational keys (Allman & Kaas 1971). The human homo-
model, they nevertheless suggest a hypothetical log, the human MT complex (hMT+; Tootell et
connectivity pattern between different cell types al. 1995; Zeki et al. 1991), turned out to be a
that might underlie the observed responses to collection of areas with related response proper-
moving patterns in complex cells (Hubel & ties (Amano et al. 2009; Kolster et al. 2010).
Wiesel 1962, Fig. 20). The model shares fea- Again, to understand the direction selectivity of
tures with other motion detectors; a mapping MT, it is necessary to consider the cooperation
between components is possible. of cells in MT and the input processing stages,
mainly from V1. This cooperation and the need
for an integrated perspective is emphasized in
empirical studies (Saproo & Serences 2014) as
well as computational models of MT function-
ing (Rust et al. 2006). Only the V1-MT system
as a whole is understood to deliver motion se-
lectivity as output of the MT stage.
But in terms of the role of MT in motion
processing, a case could be made in support of
Anderson’s suggested distinction between a sys-
tem that exhibits a certain selectivity and the
mechanism that produces this selectivity. The
apparent locality and modularity of motion pro-
cessing in MT is based on very selective deficits
in patients with lesions in and around MT (Zeki
1991; Zihl et al. 1983). And stimulation of MT
with transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS)
in healthy participants leads to selective deficits
in motion perception (Beckers & Hömberg 1992;
Beckers & Zeki 1995; Hotson et al. 1994; Sack
et al. 2006). In a recent study, patients undergo-
ing brain surgery near MT could be investigated
Figure 1: Computational models of direction selectivity (a) with electrical stimulation (Becker et al. 2013).
The selectivity of SACs described in Kim et al. (2014) can Only stimulation of MT and a related area
be modeled with a computational framework using a com- nearby, MST, led to an inability to perform a
bination of sustained and transient response properties as simple motion-detection task, a rather specific
well as excitatory and inhibitory connections. The displayed result concerning the relevance. Results of that
wiring would lead to direction selectivity for rightwards mo- kind drive the intuition that the system that is
tion. The proposed model can be considered to combine pre- responsible for motion perception, independent
vious classical models of direction selectivity, the Reichardt of any cortical areas that might mechanistically
detector (b) and the Barlow-Levick model (c). Green dots contribute to the processing chain leading up to
indicate excitatory and red dots inhibitory synapses. ‘-τ’ in - MT (like V1), are localized in MT.
dicates a temporal lead and ‘+τ’ a temporal lag. Reprinted Lesion and other interference studies (e.g.,
by permission from Macmillan Publishers Ltd: Nature (Kim with TMS) are suggestive, but there are also
et al. 2014), copyright (2014). well-known difficulties with interpreting the res-
ults. Lesions mostly affect larger parts of the
When it comes to motion selectivity in the brain and are rarely limited to a single cortical
brain, one of the most intensively studied cor- site. As such it is often hard to identify the ac-
tical areas is the middle temporal (MT) region. tual parts of the complex brain networks that
Kohler, A. (2015). Carving the Brain at its Joints - A Commentary on Michael L. Anderson.
In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 1(C). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570627 5|8

are affected. The advantage of stimulation tech- corresponding deficits when they are affected or
niques is that the interference is temporary and stimulated. But this might conceal the fact that
can be precisely targeted on a specific location. motion selectivity is a product of a wider net-
But, given the rich connectivity structure of work that crucially depends on integrated pro-
neural networks, stimulation effects can be seen cessing for proper functioning.
even in remote target sites (Bestmann et al. In sum, I think that close inspection of
2004; Sack et al. 2007). In addition, TMS stud- how direction selectivity is investigated and
ies have shown that activity of MT might not treated in neuroscientific research is in disagree-
even be sufficient for conscious motion percep- ment with Anderson’s arguments (1) and (3).
tion without the involvement of V1 (Pascual-Le- Although it is true that investigators sometimes
one & Walsh 2001; Silvanto et al. 2005). There refer loosely to local elements as displaying a
are also further empirical as well as philosoph- certain characteristic, the corresponding de-
ical reasons for rejecting the claim that motion tailed and extended accounts of direction se-
perception can be attributed to MT in a strin- lectivity give credit to the distributed nature of
gent fashion (Madary 2013), which I won’t dis- the relevant systems that figure in explanations.
cuss here.1 Even considering the case of conscious motion
So while at first glance MT is a very perception, it is unclear whether the presumed
strong candidate for straightforward and very locality of motion representation stands up to
local attribution of function, it seems again that stringent tests. Rather, it seems to be a case of
the relevant system is more appropriately de- localized interference with a distributed system
scribed on a network level. The tendency to see where damage to vital hubs leads to funda-
system parts as vital for a function may also mental deficits.
stem from the limitations of our employed
methods. Lesion cases and interference tech- 4 Conclusion
niques are commonly interpreted as being in-
formative about the relevant gray-matter struc- In this commentary, I have defended the claim
tures that are affected by the lesion or stimula- that the current tools of mechanistic explana-
tion. But there is evidence that interference tion are sufficient for accommodating the ex-
with white-matter connections between network planatory goals in current neuroscience, particu-
parts can be even more incapacitating than larly in the special case of direction selectivity
gray-matter damage. It has long been known in the retina and other neural systems. A closer
that frontoparietal areas are implicated in a de- look at explanatory practice shows that, in rep-
ficit of visuospatial attention called neglect. But resentative cases of empirical research, models
very recently Thiebaut de Schotten et al. (2005, of direction selectivity have to take a number of
2011) revealed that the properties of fiber con- components in a distributed network into ac-
nections between frontal and parietal sites are count in order to provide a full-fledged descrip-
most predictive of visuospatial processing capa- tion of the relevant processes. On the philosoph-
cities, and that their electrical stimulation leads ical side, the conceptual tools of “reconstituting
to severe deficits. Transferring this insight to the phenomena” (Bechtel & Richardson 1993)
the case of MT, we simply have most direct ac- and “top-down causation” (Craver & Bechtel
cess to the cortical gray-matter centers involved 2007), offered by existing models of mechanistic
in motion processing, and since they are vital explanation, might be sufficient for capturing
components of the system, this also leads to the problematic cases to which Anderson (this
1 Madary (2013) uses two sets of empirical results to show that repres- collection) points.
entation of motion cannot be ascribed to MT simpliciter. One is the On the other hand, Anderson’s proposal
recent emphasis on spontaneous activity making significant contribu-
tions to the state of sensory systems—they add content referring to (this collection) to extend existing models of
the attentional or sensorimotor state of the organism to input-de- mechanistic explanation with the notion of en-
rived sensory representations. The other demonstrates that in MT
specifically, the response properties of cells can be quite variable and
abling constraints is very interesting and might
are not consistently related to perceptual content only. offer an avenue to more nuanced mechanistic
Kohler, A. (2015). Carving the Brain at its Joints - A Commentary on Michael L. Anderson.
In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 1(C). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570627 6|8

descriptions of systems in their contextual em- Bestmann, S., Baudewig, J., Siebner, H. R., Rothwell, J. C. &
bedding. In almost all relevant cases in neuros- Frahm, J. (2004). Functional MRI of the immediate impact
cience research, there are various external of transcranial magnetic stimulation on cortical and subcor-
factors influencing the workings of a system, tical motor circuits. European Journal of Neuroscience, 19
and it is often difficult to draw clear boundaries (7), 1950-1962. 10.1111/j.1460-9568.2004.03277.x
between vital and non-vital, but nevertheless Borst, A. & Euler, T. (2011). Seeing things in motion:
highly influential system components. Ander- Models, circuits, and mechanisms. Neuron, 71 (6), 974-
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Kohler, A. (2015). Carving the Brain at its Joints - A Commentary on Michael L. Anderson.
In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 1(C). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570627 8|8
Functional Attributions and Functional
A Reply to Axel Kohler

Michael L. Anderson

In his commentary (Kohler this collection) on my target article (Anderson this Author
collection), Axel Kohler suggests that componential mechanism (Craver 2008) in
fact suffices as a framework for understanding function-structure relationships,
Michael L. Anderson
even in complex cases such as direction selectivity in Starburst Amacrine Cells.
michael.anderson @
Here I’ll argue that while Kohler is correct that the framework can accommodate
such cases, this approach misses an opportunity to draw important distinctions Franklin & Marshall College
between what appear to be different sorts of relationships between functioning Lancaster, PA, U.S.A.
systems and the mechanisms in virtue of which they function. I tentatively suggest
further that the avenue that one prefers may turn on whether one expects the Commentator
functional architecture of the brain to be primarily componential and hierarchical
(Craver 2008; this collection) or typically more complex than that (Pessoa 2014). Axel Kohler
axelkohler @
Keywords Universität Osnabrück
Constitution | Direction-selective ganglion cells | Enabling constraint | Explana- Osnabrück, Germany
tion | Hierarchy | Levels | Mechanisms | Mechanistic explanation | Neuroscientific
explanation | Starburst amacrine cells | Structure function mapping Editors

Thomas Metzinger
metzinger @
Johannes Gutenberg-Universität
Mainz, Germany

Jennifer M. Windt
jennifer.windt @
Monash University
Melbourne, Australia

1 Introduction

In my target article (Anderson this collection), I mechanism M in virtue of which it ψs allows

argued that the complexity of the function- one to paint a more nuanced picture of the vari-
structure relationships that give rise to direction ous ways entities can be organized so as to give
selectivity in Direction-Selective Ganglion Cells rise to observed function. Second, I suggested
Direction-Selective Ganglion Cells (DSGCs) and that the function-structure relationships in
in the dendrites of Starburst Amacrine Cells these particular cases appeared to violate the
Starburst Amacrine Cells (SACs) represent a bottom-up hierarchical assumptions at the cen-
challenge to componential mechanism as cur- ter of the componential mechanistic framework,
rently formulated (Craver 2008). First, I argued which requires that the components of M in vir-
that distinguishing between the system S that tue of which a system exhibits ψ are at a lower
exhibits the target phenomenon ψ, and the level of organization than S. In the cases under
Anderson, M. L. (2015). Functional Attributions and Functional Architecture - A Reply to Axel Kohler.
In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 1(R). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570757 1|4

discussion, I argued that some parts of the be components of S, such that M is a relevant
mechanism in virtue of which SAC dendrites sub-component of S. Let’s call this relationship
function are at a higher level of organization R1. A relationship of type R1 obtains between
than the dendrite, and that parts of the mech- the drive-train of an automobile and the auto-
anism in virtue of which DSGCs function are at mobile as a whole. Second, (R2), M and S can
the same level. Moreover, I noted that in be identical. I can’t think of an uncontroversial
neither of these cases were all the entities that example of this relationship, and imagine that
constituted M constitutive parts (components) such a case is relatively rare. Third and finally,
of S. (R3), M and S can cross-cut in various ways,
To accommodate such cases, I recommen- sharing some but not all of their parts. In my
ded extending the notion of mechanistic consti- view, for instance, it is the neuron the fires an
tution with the notion of an enabling constraint: action potential, but not all of the entities that
mechanisms, we should say, enable function in comprise the mechanism for generating action
systems by changing the relative probabilities of potentials are also part of the neuron. For ex-
functional outcomes of activity in S. I suggested ample, the ions in the extracellular fluid that
that this change would allow us to more accur- are crucial for establishing the membrane poten-
ately characterize the variety of structure–func- tial are not part of the neuron, although they
tion relationships in the brain (and in other are clearly part of the mechanism. Similarly, I
complex systems). However, in his commentary argued in my target article that in the case of
on my article (Kohler this collection), Axel direction-selectivity in SAC dendrites, although
Kohler argues that such an extension is unne- it is the dendrite itself that is directionally se-
cessary, for in fact the componential mechan- lective, many of the parts of the relevant mech-
istic framework of Craver and Bechtel (Craver anism are not in fact parts of the dendrite.
2008; Craver & Bechtel 2007) can accommodate Moreover, in the case of DSGCs, the cell and
these cases. the mechanism in virtue of which it is direction-
Kohler is correct. The extension is strictly selective share at most one part: the synapse
speaking unnecessary, and componential mech- between the SAC dendrite and the DSGC.
anistic explanation can offer one plausible char- One advantage of making these distinc-
acterization of function-structure relationships tions, I believe, is that it allows one to see quite
in these cases. In fact, it is probably the case clearly when top-down constraints are respons-
that no example or set of examples ever forces ible for function, as I argued is the case for dir-
one to give up on an explanatory framework ection selectivity in SAC dendrites. But Kohler
(certainly not one as well-motivated and useful suggests that appearances may be misleading
as componential mechanism). What examples here. In fact, he argues, we should “reconstitute
such as these can do, however, is illuminate the the phenomenon” by recognizing that the relev-
potential advantages of a new approach, and I ant direction-selective system is not the SAC
would like to use the opportunity offered by this dendrite, but is rather the dendrite + the non-
reply to reiterate what I take some of those ad- dendritic elements of the mechanism, including
vantages to be. other SACs. This larger system can be then be
treated within the standard framework of com-
2 Three possible system-mechanism ponential mechanism. We can call this approach
relationships to addressing these sorts of cases “the Kohler
In my target article (Anderson this collection) I As I noted in my target article, the Kohler
suggested that once one distinguishes between strategy is certainly open to the mechanist. It
the system S that ψs and the mechanism M in does, however, have the following effects. First,
virtue of which it does so, it is easy to see that it tends to make the systems of the brain to
there are three possible relationships between M which functions are attributed relatively larger
and S. First, the components of M can all also and more diffuse, which arguably reduces preci-
Anderson, M. L. (2015). Functional Attributions and Functional Architecture - A Reply to Axel Kohler.
In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 1(R). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570757 2|4

sion. Second, it would in effect turn all apparent of relationships between them. Consider the fol-
instances of R3 into instances of R2.1 I noted lowing from the paper Kohler discusses:
above that I thought the class of R2 would be
small. If I am right about the prevalence of R3 Research on [the visual detection of motion]
functional relationships in the brain, then this has converged upon the SAC. An SAC
strategy would make R2 very large. But it dendrite is more strongly activated by mo-
would do so essentially by legislation, as a way tion outward from the cell body to the tip
of preserving the universal applicability of the of the dendrite, than by motion in the op-
componential mechanist framework. How forced posite direction. Therefore an SAC dendrite
this appears will depend on how closely one be- exhibits DS, and outward motion is said to
lieves the guiding assumptions of that frame- be its ‘preferred direction’. Note that it is in-
work match the architectural facts of the brain. correct to assign a single such direction to a
We will return to this last point after reviewing SAC, because each of the cell’s dendrites
some of the considerations that appear to favor has its own preferred direction. DS persists
the Kohler strategy. after blocking inhibitory synaptic transmis-
sion, when the only remaining inputs to
3 Motivations for the Kohler strategy SACs are BCs, which are excitatory. As the
SAC exhibits DS but its BC inputs exhibit
Kohler maintains that actual scientific practice in little or none, DS appears to emerge from
fact supports the Kohler strategy. Exhibit A in the BC–SAC circuit. (Kim et al. 2014, p.
his argument is a recent article (Kim et al. 2014) 331; emphases added)
detailing part of the mechanism for visual motion
detection. Kohler reproduces a figure depicting Far from seeming loose, the attribution of direc-
their model, and argues that the inclusion of the tion-selectivity to the dendrite appears to me
distributed network in the model suggests that clear and precise. Moreover, note that in the final
the authors are strictly speaking attributing func- sentence quoted above, the attribution of direc-
tion to the whole system as depicted: tion-selectivity to the cell is reinforced, even in
the context of a reference to the mechanism as
Although it is true that investigators the “BC-SAC circuit”. Indeed, I would argue it is
sometimes refer loosely to local elements natural and permissible to gloss the last clause in
as displaying a certain characteristic, the the following way: “DS in the dendrite appears to
corresponding detailed and extended ac- emerge from the BC-SAC circuit.” On this read-
counts of direction selectivity give credit ing, of course, the authors of this article would be
to the distributed nature of the relevant proposing an R3 functional relationship such that
systems that figure in explanations. parts of the mechanism are on a higher level of
(Kohler this collection, p. 6) organization than the system exhibiting the phe-
I agree that this is one possible interpretation of That these authors are open to R3 rela-
the practice. But here is another: these scient- tionships of various sorts appears to be rein-
ists are distinguishing between the system that forced by a line later in the paper:
exhibits the phenomenon and the mechanism
that produces it, and are open to different sorts Previous research suggests that On–Off
direction-selective ganglion cells inherit
1 Actually, there are some questions here, for there seem to be obvious their DS from SAC inputs owing to a
instances of R3 with which the mechanist is and should be entirely strong violation of Peters’ rule. (Kim et al.
comfortable, e.g., the neuron and the mechanism of the action poten-
tial. So presumably this strategy would be employed only when the 2014, p. 335; emphasis added)
relationship appeared to violate the “lower-level entity” constraint.
I’ve not the space to pursue this further here, so will note only that
selectively pursuing the Kohler strategy would need separate justific-
Here again we see the same pattern: a clear at-
ation. tribution of direction-selectivity to the DSGC in
Anderson, M. L. (2015). Functional Attributions and Functional Architecture - A Reply to Axel Kohler.
In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 1(R). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570757 3|4

the same sentence as a reference to the distal For those who instead want to maintain
mechanism (the SACs), in the context of what the greater attributional specificity that appears
is obviously an R3 relationship between system to conform to scientific discourse, and in the
and mechanism. Thus, while I agree that the current case to explain direction selectivity in
Kohler strategy is viable, I don’t see that con- the SAC dendrite, then I would argue that the
sideration of scientific practice forces us to ad- most promising strategy is to recognize the
opt it, or even necessarily favors it. ways in which functional parts (including net-
So what might be other reasons for adopt- works) can impose constraints on other func-
ing the Kohler strategy over extending mechanism tional parts, at whatever relative level of organ-
to include enabling constraints? As I mentioned ization. Adopting this strategy will of course fo-
at the end of the previous section, the matter cus attention on the nature of these constraints,
might come down to how closely one thinks the whether bottom-up, top-down, or synpedionic. I
architectural facts about the brain match the would hope that the careful study of such R3
guiding assumptions of the componential mechan- relationships as those showcased here would res-
ist framework. If one expects that the brain is at ult in a better understanding of the varieties of
root a decomposable or nearly-decomposable sys- causal interactions in complex systems.
tem of well-defined interacting components, then
componential mechanism does indeed seem like a References
very appropriate framework for capturing at least
the majority of its functional relationships (with Anderson, M. L. (2015). After phrenology: Neural reuse
the few exceptions to be dealt with perhaps as and the interactive brain. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
secondary elaborations or special cases). If, how- (2015). Beyond componential constitution in the
ever, one takes seriously the notion that the brain brain: The case of starburst amacrine cells. In T. Met-
is a massive network marked by multiple, nested, zinger & J. M. Windt (Eds.) Open MIND. Frankfurt a.
cross-cutting, dynamic hierarchies interacting in M., GER: MIND Group.
bottom-up, top-down, feed-forward and feedback Craver, C. F. (2008). Explaining the brain: Mechanisms
fashions (Pessoa 2014), then one might wish for and the mosaic unity of neuroscience. Oxford, UK: Ox-
some of the explanatory flexibility that the notion ford University Press.
of enabling constraints appears to offer. I, of (2015). Levels. In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt
course, am in this latter camp (Anderson 2015). (Eds.) Open MIND. Frankfurt a. M., GER: MIND
4 Conclusion Craver, C. F. & Bechtel, W. (2007). Top-down causation
without top-down causes. Biology and Philosophy, 22
As Kohler correctly points out, it is possible to (4), 547-563. 10.1007/s10539-006-9028-8
accommodate these complex cases of function- Kim, J. S., Greene, M. J., Zlateski, A., Kisuk, L.,
structure relationships within the componential Richardson, M., Turaga, S. C., Purcaro, M., Balkam,
mechanistic framework, by reconstituting the M., Robinson, A., Behabadi, B. F., Campos, M., Denk,
phenomenon and ascribing function to the W., Seung, H. S. & the EyeWirers, (2014). Space-time
whole mechanism that produces it. I have tried wiring specificity supports direction selectivity in the
to indicate what I think some of the costs are to retina. Nature, 509 (7500), 331-336.
the Kohler strategy, including an apparent con- 10.1038/nature13240
flation of R2 and R3 functional relationships Kohler, A. (2015). Carving the brain at its joints: A com-
and a potential loss of grain in our ascriptions mentary on Michael L. Anderson. In T. Metzinger & J.
of function to structure. For some, paying these M. Windt (Eds.) Open MIND. Frankfurt a. M., GER:
costs will be preferable to the proposed altern- MIND Group.
ative, which might appear to require the admis- Pessoa, L. (2014). Understanding brain networks and
sion of spooky top-down causes into our onto- brain organization. Physics of Life Reviews, 11 (3),
logy. 400-435. 10.1016/j.plrev.2014.03.005

Anderson, M. L. (2015). Functional Attributions and Functional Architecture - A Reply to Axel Kohler.
In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 1(R). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570757 4|4
What a Theory of Knowledge-How
Should Explain
A Framework for Practical Knowledge beyond Intellectualism and Anti-

Andreas Bartels & Mark May

We argue against both intellectualist and anti-intellectualist approaches to know- Authors

ledge-how. Whereas intellectualist approaches are right in denying that know-
ledge-how can be convincingly demarcated from knowledge-that by its supposed
Andreas Bartels
non-propositional nature (as is assumed by the anti-intellectualists), they fail to
andreas.bartels @
provide positive accounts of the obvious phenomenological and empirical peculiar-
ities that make knowledge-how distinct from knowledge-that. In contrast to the in- Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-
tellectualist position, we provide a minimal notion of conceptuality as an alternat- Universität
ive demarcation criterion. We suggest that conceptuality gives a sound basis for a Bonn, Germany
theory of knowledge-how which is empirically fruitful and suitable for further em-
pirical research. We give support to this suggestion by showing that, by means of Mark May
an adequate notion of conceptuality, five central peculiarities of knowledge-how mm @
as compared to knowledge-that can be accounted for. These peculiarities are its Helmut-Schmidt-Universität
context-bound, impenetrable and implicit nature, as well as the automatic and Hamburg, Germany
continuous forms of processing that are connected to it.
(anti-)intellectualism | (non-)propositionality | Conceptuality | Disposition(ality) | Ramiro Glauer
Intuitive knowledge | Knowledge representation | Knowledge-how | Knowledge-
ramiro.glauer @
that | Practical mode of thinking | Sensorimotor knowledge
Magdeburg, Germany


Thomas Metzinger
metzinger @
Johannes Gutenberg-Universität
Mainz, Germany

Jennifer M. Windt
jennifer.windt @
Monash University
Melbourne, Australia

Bartels, A. & May, M. (2015). What a Theory of Knowledge-How Should Explain - A Framework for Practical Knowledge beyond
Intellectualism and Anti-Intellectualism. In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 2(T). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570009 1 | 20

1 Introduction

In this paper, we shall argue against both intel- ist approaches leads us to the conclusion that a
lectualist and anti-intellectualist approaches to philosophical framework for practical know-
knowledge-how,1 for their failing to provide a ledge, in order to provide a basis for further em-
suitable framework for empirical research on the pirical research, has in the first instance to lay
subject of practical knowledge. Anti-intellectual- some firm meta-theoretical ground.
ists propose, following Ryle (1949), that intelli- The second part of the paper (sections 5,
gent action embodies “practical knowledge”, 6, and 7) will provide necessary elements for
which is distinguished from “theoretical know- such a ground by identifying some central beha-
ledge” by its manifesting abilities or disposi- vioral peculiarities of practical knowledge that
tions. Intellectualists, in contrast, claim that must be explained by any empirically-adequate
there is only one sort of knowledge that is char- theory of knowledge-how. As will be seen, this
acterized by having propositional content (e.g., is, above all, its context-bound, impenetrable,
Stanley 2011b). Practical knowledge, according and implicit nature, as well as the automatic
to intellectualists, is rather distinguished by and continuous forms of processing that are
how propositional contents are applied in action. connected to it. These five peculiarities will, in
Whereas intellectualist approaches (e.g., Stanley turn, be illustrated by examples stemming from
2011b), we shall argue, are right in denying that the realms of sensorimotor knowledge
practical knowledge can be convincingly de- (Milner/Goodale), intuitive knowledge (Dama-
marcated from theoretical knowledge by its sup- sio), and expert versus novice knowledge (An-
posed non-propositional nature, nevertheless derson), among others. We proceed by propos-
they fail to provide a conceptual framework in ing a possible realization for the explanatory
which the peculiarities by which practical know- tasks identified in the meta-theoretical part:
ledge stands out could be made visible. here we will argue that it is not by recourse to
On the other hand, anti-intellectualists (non-)propositionality in any of its different
(e.g., Newen & Jung 2011) often present phe- senses that the peculiarities of practical know-
nomenologically-motivated identifications of ledge can be explained; instead, we shall argue,
forms of practical knowledge with certain rep- conceptuality is a more suitable criterion for de-
resentational formats. Classificatory schemas marcating practical from theoretical knowledge,
without theoretical foundation—that is, without and for explaining their respective peculiarities.
a general conceptual framework within which By “explaining” the peculiarities of practical
these classifications naturally emerge, and versus theoretical knowledge we do not mean a
without any clear-cut specification of the ex- kind of logical “derivation”. “Explaining” here is
planatory tasks that have to be fulfilled by that rather to be understood as showing how the
classification—have only limited value as a realization of necessary conditions for the pos-
manual for empirical research. Such schemas session of concepts coincides with those condi-
cannot even be judged according to explanatory tions that have to be fulfilled in order to
productivity or completeness. achieve the step from practical to theoretical
The first part of the paper (sections 2, 3, knowledge, each characterized by their respect-
and 4) will be concerned with the shortcomings ive peculiarities. In other words, we search for
of both intellectualist and anti-intellectualist “how-possible-explanations” of the peculiarities
approaches, partly programmed by Ryle’s fam- of practical versus theoretical knowledge. The
ous, but also somewhat misleading, exposition driving role of conceptuality would also explain,
of the subject. The perception of these deficien- in that sense, why the contents of practical
cies of both intellectualist and anti-intellectual- knowledge cannot be easily verbally expressed,
let alone abstractly represented. Such abilities
1 Ryle, in his seminal approach, uses the term “knowing how” instead of “knowledge-
how”. We don’t follow his usage because we think, contrary to Ryle, that know
only enter the scene, we argue, when knowledge
how-phrases ascribe genuine knowledge, i.e., knowledge of truths (see section 2). reaches the conceptual level.
Bartels, A. & May, M. (2015). What a Theory of Knowledge-How Should Explain - A Framework for Practical Knowledge beyond
Intellectualism and Anti-Intellectualism. In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 2(T). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570009 2 | 20

2 The shortcomings of intellectualist challenge by suggesting that the non-conscious

approaches representation governing the application of
practical knowledge embodies “tacit know-
Ryle (1949), in his seminal work on knowledge- ledge”; since such tacit knowledge is applied by
how, established a tradition of thinking that means of automatic mechanisms (not by inten-
knowledge-how, as opposed to knowledge-that, tional acts), it cannot fall victim to Ryle’s re-
is essentially characterized by its non-proposi- gress argument.
tionality. That an action is intelligent, and thus If we ignore the vagueness of this reading
embodies practical knowledge, comes not in vir- with respect to the units of processing in which
tue of its being “controlled by one’s apprehen- this symbolic representation should appear, the
sion of truths”, according to Ryle, but instead foregoing may be a good answer to the question
in virtue of its manifesting an ability or a dis- of how practical knowledge could possibly be pro-
position. Thus, Ryle’s notion of propositionality positional knowledge. In the eyes of Stanley
of knowledge is from the start coupled with a (2011b), a more general conclusion could be
specific model of knowledge-application. Since drawn. According to him, since this argument
this model cannot be true, practical knowledge that knowledge-representations need some auto-
cannot be employed by applying propositions. matic mechanisms (and not something like “con-
Indeed, if a person, in order to apply knowledge sidering” a proposition) in order to be applied in
had first to “consider a proposition”, stored in action, is true irrespectively of the kind of know-
his or her memory, this very act of considering a ledge involved, symbolically represented or not,
proposition would itself be an instance of prac- all kinds of knowledge are completely on a par
tical knowledge and thus would be in need of a with respect to their representations—whatever
further act of considering a further proposition, they are—having to play some functional roles,
and so on ad infinitum. Note that this means, mediated by an automatic mechanism, in order to
at most, that practical knowledge cannot be be applied in action. Thus, Ryle’s analysis, ac-
manifested by virtue of this sort of application cording to which practical knowledge has a dis-
of propositions. But, as Fodor has remarked, positional nature, can be accepted, but only at
“[if] the intellectualist says that, in tying one’s the price of accepting it for all sorts of knowledge.
shoes, one rehearses shoe-tying instructions to As such, not only can practical knowledge be pro-
oneself, then the intellectualist is wrong on a positional, but the whole distinction between pro-
point of fact” (1968, p. 631). Thus, in order to positional and non-propositional knowledge turns
avoid the whole debate turning out as a non- out to be irrelevant for characterizing sorts of
starter, we first have to disentangle the claim of knowledge, and a fortiori cannot be used to
propositionality of practical knowledge from the ground the distinction between practical and the-
Rylean model of knowledge-application. But in oretical knowledge.
what other sense, then, could practical know- In other words, it is important to hold
ledge be propositional? apart the thesis that knowledge is propositional
The answer is that practical knowledge in the sense of its being based on language-like
could be propositional in the sense that a per- representations, accessible to consciousness or
son has practical knowledge by virtue of there not, from the empirically implausible Rylean
being a rule that has a symbolic, language-like model of knowledge application, which presup-
(“propositional”) representation, which is not poses an act of “considering” a proposition. If
accessible to consciousness, and which is not in we keep this distinction in mind, we find that
need of being consciously “considered” in order propositionality per se does not provide a cri-
to be applied in action. The knowledge embod- terion for the theoretical versus practical know-
ied by this rule is instead applied in action by ledge distinction. Instead, all kinds of know-
means of some kind of sub-personal processing ledge have to be “dispositional” in some sense,
of the representation. Fodor (1968) has defen- irrespective of their being based on symbolic,
ded such an intellectualist answer to Ryle’s language-like representations or not.
Bartels, A. & May, M. (2015). What a Theory of Knowledge-How Should Explain - A Framework for Practical Knowledge beyond
Intellectualism and Anti-Intellectualism. In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 2(T). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570009 3 | 20

Some anti-intellectualists, following Ryle, there is, according to Devitt, no decisive empir-
use the notion of “propositionality” of know- ical evidence to tell us whether skills involve
ledge to refer to the fact that a person has con- representations of the governing rules or not, he
scious access to linguistic propositional repres- takes the recent picture that psychology paints
entations (that is, that a person has sentences of procedural knowledge “as constituted some-
“in her mind”). Thus, for example, Michael De- how or other by embodied, probably unrepres-
vitt, in a recent paper (Devitt 2011), argues ented rules that are inaccessible to conscious-
that intuitively “to attribute any propositional ness” (Devitt 2011, p. 213). Finally, he argues
attitudes to the ant [who has the skill of finding that empirical evidence from cognitive ethology
its way back to its nest by virtue of some neural confirms this distinction between declarative
processing] simply on the strength of that com- and procedural knowledge by indicating that
petence seems like soft-minded anthropomorph- the “surprisingly rich cognitive lives” of desert
ism” (Devitt 2011, p. 208). But the impression ants, western scrub jays, or bottle-nosed dol-
of anthropomorphism only occurs if we con- phins can be understood as based on forms of
strain the notion of a propositional attitude to procedural knowledge (to be identified with the
refer to a conscious act by which a person folk notion of “knowledge-how”), but not on de-
relates to a linguistic propositional representa- clarative knowledge (“knowledge-that”).
tion. The impression disappears as soon as we Thus, surprisingly, the anti-intellectualist
replace this interpretation of “propositional atti- Devitt and the intellectualist Fodor would agree
tude” with a version in which the “proposition” to subsuming sub-personal knowledge, whether
is a rule, represented by symbolic encoding to represented in explicit or implicit form, under
which the ant is related by virtue of her neural the heading of knowledge-how. But the first
mechanisms processing this encoding (or by vir- would classify it as non-propositional, the latter
tue of her neural mechanisms being structured as propositional knowledge. The real dissent
in such a way that they realize some implicit seems to be about the question whether repres-
rule). That the ant “grasps a proposition” ap- entations being conscious (and being accessible
pears to be a strange description only under the in linguistic form) or non-conscious makes a rel-
presupposition that guidance by propositions evant difference for sorts of knowledge. We
implies the conscious possession of linguistic en- think that conscious availability/unavailability
tities. expresses a relevant difference for sorts of know-
Moving from these “intuitive” considera- ledge, but a difference that can only be ex-
tions to arguments from the “science of know- plained by recourse to some fundamental dis-
ledge-how” (cf. Devitt 2011, p. 207), Devitt tinction between practical and theoretical know-
identifies a “folk distinction between knowledge- ledge. Phenomena indeed indicate that the
that and knowledge-how” with the “psycholo- boundary between practical and theoretical
gical one between ‘declarative’ and ‘procedural’ knowledge coincides pretty well with conscious
knowledge” (2011, pp. 208-209). Now, declarat- availability/non-availability. But Devitt’s dis-
ive knowledge, according to Devitt, is character- tinction just repeats this phenomenon, rather
ized (according to what he sees as a consensus than explaining it.2 What we look for is a
in psychology) by conscious representation of deeper reaching distinction that would be able
what is known (cf. Devitt 2011, p. 210). For ex- to explain phenomenal differences such as con-
ample, a person has declarative knowledge of scious availability/non-availability and, as a
arithmetic rules only if she consciously repres- consequence, verbalizability/non-verbalizability.
ents those rules. Concerning procedural know- 2 In the same way, Adams (2009) argues for a knowledge-that/know-
ledge, Devitt refers to the distinction from com- ledge-how distinction on the grounds of empirical evidence that takes
recourse to experimental findings showing that declarative and pro -
puter science between “processing rules that cedural memory can operate independently from each other. We
govern by being represented and applied and think that such empirical phenomena constitute explananda of the
those that govern by being simply embodied, searched-for distinction, but cannot provide decisive evidence for the
existence of a fundamental difference between knowledge-how and
without being represented” (2011, p. 210). Since knowledge-that.

Bartels, A. & May, M. (2015). What a Theory of Knowledge-How Should Explain - A Framework for Practical Knowledge beyond
Intellectualism and Anti-Intellectualism. In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 2(T). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570009 4 | 20

Thus, the propositionality criterion appears in order to apply his knowledge in action. If the
again unsuited for drawing an empirically-inter- correct understanding of the semantics of know-
esting distinction between practical and theoret- ledge-phrases, no matter whether it is theoret-
ical knowledge. As far as the intended distinc- ical or practical knowledge that is ascribed by
tion concerns the transfer of knowledge into ac- them, is that they refer to propositions, then
tion (this aspect is exactly that to which Ryle’s this propositional nature of knowledge, accord-
distinction refers), ways of representing know- ing to this reading, cannot be used to draw any
ledge seem to be “on a par” and thus insensitive distinction between theoretical and practical
with respect to the distinction. knowledge.
According to Stanley, it is the semantic Now, someone could object that Ryle’s
notion of propositionality, with respect to which distinction is concerned with the nature of
all sorts of knowledge can be subsumed as “pro- knowledge, e.g., how knowledge is represented
positional” (knowledge-that), be they based on in a person, but not with what is involved in
conscious or non-conscious representations, by knowledge ascriptions. Thus the semantic read-
explicitly represented or simply embodied rules. ing of propositionality would be irrelevant for
Thus, Stanley has argued that the way in which the theoretical versus practical knowledge dis-
a piece of knowledge is implemented (or repres- tinction. But note that Ryle’s analysis of prac-
ented) has nothing to do with a distinction tical knowledge actually starts by asking ques-
between two kinds of knowledge. Therefore, the tions like: “When the person is described by one
distinction between “declarative” and “proced- or other of the intelligence-epithets” (Ryle 1949,
ural” knowledge as it is widely used in psycho- p. 28), what sort of knowledge is this descrip-
logy should not be misunderstood, according to tion imputing to the person? That is, Ryle asks
him, as providing some ground for the know- for the semantics of knowledge-ascriptions for
ledge-that versus knowledge-how distinction: typical cases of practical knowledge. Therefore,
“the latter is a putative distinction between two it is not at all clear that a semantic reading of
kinds of state, rather than a distinction between propositionality is irrelevant for his analysis. On
two ways of implementing a state” (cf. Stanley the contrary, the sense in which Ryle is con-
2011b, p. 151). Paradigmatic examples of prac- cerned with the “nature” of knowledge is ex-
tical knowledge, in the sense of knowledge being pressed, by him, by means of an analysis of the
manifested by intelligent conduct, could turn role that knowledge-phrases play in actual lin-
out to be represented in a language-like way guistic practice.3
(without any conscious mediating act of “con- It has now been shown that both pos-
sidering a proposition”), whereas clear examples sible readings of “propositionality”, that is,
of theoretical knowledge could fail to have any the representational and semantic readings,
language-like representational background. are relevant for Ryle’s proposed theoretical
Stanley’s semantic reading of proposition- versus practical knowledge distinction, but
ality is concerned with the reference of “know neither is suited to grounding the distinction:
how”-phrases by which we ascribe knowledge- Whether a piece of knowledge is a case of
how to persons. According to our best available practical or of theoretical knowledge does not
linguistic theories, as Stanley argues, know how- depend on whether it is supported by lan-
phrases have to be understood to refer to pro- guage-like structures or not; and, since all
positions. But this fact, in the first instance, knowledge is semantically propositional (if
does not include anything about the role those Stanley is right) it does not depend on its se-
propositions play in the intelligent action of a mantic propositionality either.
person who knows the propositions. In particu-
3 Contrary to this, Noë (2005) argues that “Ryle’s distinction is not a
lar, it does not follow that such a person pos- thesis about the sentences used to attribute propositional and prac-
sesses language-like symbolic representations tical knowledge, respectively”. He claims that “Ryle was not an or-
that guide the person’s intelligent action, or dinary language philosopher”. How then, would Noë, for example,
understand Ryle’s appeal to linguistic use in his deflationary account
that such a person “considers” the proposition of the “will”?

Bartels, A. & May, M. (2015). What a Theory of Knowledge-How Should Explain - A Framework for Practical Knowledge beyond
Intellectualism and Anti-Intellectualism. In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 2(T). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570009 5 | 20

Thus, it seems as if no criterion for the ledge, to be more urgent than for cases of theor-
distinction between practical and theoretical etical knowledge: How can knowledge be dispos-
knowledge could be available from the intellec- itional and propositional at the same time?
tualist point of view. But, we shall see that, Stanley & Williamson (2001) have suggested
from Stanley’s revised dispositional analysis of that cases of practical knowledge can be cap-
knowledge, rather surprisingly a new possible tured by means of a “practical mode of think-
criterion emerges. Let us, therefore, follow the ing”, by which a person who has practical
path of this analysis, which is intended by the knowledge has access to propositional contents.
author to show how, contrary to Ryle, the (se- If, for example, a person knows that a certain
mantic) propositional nature of knowledge is way of riding a bike is a way for her to ride a
compatible with its dispositional nature. bike, then her thinking of that proposition is in
According to Stanley (2011b), even if we a peculiar way self-directed, it is a “first-person-
accept Ryle’s general claim that knowledge has way” of thinking the proposition. Stanley
to be understood as dispositional, 4 “there still (2011b) has developed this suggestion further
need to be automatic mechanisms that mediate into a dispositional theory of knowing a propos-
between dispositions (and abilities) and the ition.
manifestation or execution of these dispositions Gareth Evans (1982), in his analysis of
and abilities” (Stanley 2011b, p. 26). What has “demonstrative knowledge”, has provided a use-
to be true of theoretical knowledge, namely the ful framework of first-person dispositions: My
existence of mechanisms that mediate the ap- thinking is a demonstrative belief about a per-
plication of that knowledge, has to be also true ceptually-presented object if I will be disposed
of practical knowledge. The complex of disposi- to have changes in that object affect my belief
tions on which the ability to catch the fly ball (Stanley 2011b, p. 110). Thus, my thinking of
rests may be completely intact, even if the an object in the world as “myself” involves a
player sometimes does not succeed in catching permanent disposition to let my thoughts and
the ball because he has become tired or has mo- actions be determined by my own bodily per-
mentarily lost concentration. When that hap- ceptions. Now this schema seems to fit the prac-
pens, his executing mechanisms can fail. As has tical way of thinking that occurs when it comes
often been identified in the debate on know- to propositions like “This way of riding a bike is
ledge-how, having the right dispositions (and a way to ride a bike for me”: A person mani-
thus having the right sort of practical know- fests knowledge of this proposition by, while rid-
ledge) does not always guarantee successful per- ing a bike, manifesting the disposition to react
formance (cf. Snowdon 2004). to certain kinesthetic sensations mediated by
Even if, from the intellectualist point of her own bodily movements by means of ad-
view, all forms of knowledge—be they “prac- equate motor commands.
tical” forms of knowledge or not—could be, and We accept this as an adequate way of de-
indeed have to be, analyzed with respect to scribing the phenomenological peculiarity of
their dispositional nature, the question seems, “practical ways of thinking” a proposition. In-
by the very phenomenology of practical know- deed, when described in this way, practical
knowledge can be propositional and disposi-
4 Contrary to what Noë (2005) has claimed, Stanley thus does not attack
Ryle’s identification of “knowledge how” with the possession of abilities
tional at the same time. But this analysis does
tout court. What Stanley objects to is the supposed opposition between not tell us—and indeed is not meant to tell us
knowledge as the possession of abilities and propositional knowledge on —how the distinction between practical and
which Noë, assuming that propositional knowledge necessarily entails un-
derstanding of propositions, insists. Even the earlier work (Stanley & theoretical knowledge can be grounded. That
Williamson 2001) tries to account for the dispositional nature of prac- there is such a distinction seems obvious inter
tical knowledge by introducing the concept of a “practical mode of think-
ing”. On the contrary, any unrestricted identification of knowledge-how alia on the basis of the functional characterist-
with abilities confronts the problem of how to account for cases in which ics peculiar to practical knowledge, such as its
practical knowledge survives the loss of ability. The distinction between
dispositions and their manifestation by means of executing mechanisms
domain-specific nature, its limited transferabil-
accounts for this problem. ity, its non-penetrability, and so on. Stanley’s
Bartels, A. & May, M. (2015). What a Theory of Knowledge-How Should Explain - A Framework for Practical Knowledge beyond
Intellectualism and Anti-Intellectualism. In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 2(T). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570009 6 | 20

dispositional theory fails, at least at first sight, faced when considering Ryle’s notion of proposi-
to deliver any resources for explaining why prac- tionality. What does it mean to say that a rep-
tical knowledge is distinct from theoretical resentation is propositional? It should not mean
knowledge on the basis of these functional char- that the content of the knowledge is or can be
acteristics. The main shortcoming of recent in- made available to the person in the form of con-
tellectualist approaches, in our opinion, is not sciously-accessible linguistic structures. Even if
that they simply neglect the peculiarities of the property of explicitness vs. implicitness of
practical knowledge. Rather they are deficient knowledge is often used to distinguish between
insofar as they do not provide an explicit posit- theoretical and practical knowledge, this merely
ive demarcation criterion of practical versus descriptive criterion does not help to explain the
theoretical knowledge that would go beyond theoretical versus practical distinction, but
capturing the well-known phenomenological pe- preferably should be explained by the more
culiarities and make it compatible with the pro- principled criterion we are looking for. If, on the
posed fact that all knowledge is (semantically) other hand, we take “propositional” to mean
propositional. Before we go back to Stanley’s that the kind of processing connected to a piece
analysis, in order to show how some explicit de- of knowledge has a language-like structure, how
marcation criterion could possibly be drawn do we identify the units of processing to which
from it, we ask whether recent anti-intellectual- this characterization is supposed to refer? Even
ist approaches do a better job of providing a de- if it were possible to precisely identify the level
marcation criterion. of processing that accounts for propositionality,
it would be far from clear how the characterist-
3 The shortcomings of anti-intellectualist ics of theoretical versus practical knowledge
approaches could be explained by means of that supposed
representational fact. As we have already poin-
The anti-intellectualist position has recently ted out in discussing Ryle’s notion of proposi-
been supported by, among others, Toribio tionality: Why should it be the case that “the-
(2008), Young (2011) and Newen & Jung oretical” knowledge is necessarily connected to
(2011). Newen and Jung assume that Ryle’s dis- propositional representations, and, correspond-
tinction between knowledge-how and know- ingly, practical knowledge to non-propositional
ledge-that should be taken as referring to the ones?
nature of knowledge. From a naturalist point of According to Young (2011), what we call
view, the most general way to characterize “knowledge-how” may appear in different forms,
knowledge is to say that it is based on mental which are accompanied by more or less compre-
representations. Thus the distinction between hensive linguistic mastery of propositions. The
practical and theoretical knowledge, from that sort of knowledge a guitar player manifests in
perspective, has to be spelled out as a distinc- his playing may be either such that he is able to
tion between ways of representing something, or articulate that, for example, G should be played
between representational formats. Now, theoret- rather than G#, or such that he may only be
ical knowledge, according to Newen & Jung able to experience his performance as appropri-
(2011), can be identified with the propositional ate guitar playing (Young 2011, pp. 57f.). In the
representational format, whereas they hold that latter case, his knowing how to play guitar is
practical knowledge comes in two (non-proposi- constituted by specific dispositions to react in
tional) varieties, one characterized by the particular ways to the conscious auditory and
format of sensorimotor representations, and the motor experience of his own playing. Even this
other by what they call image-like representa- form of knowledge may be reducible to proposi-
tions. tional knowledge, however, since the player is
Concerning the first of these representa- potentially able to instruct himself with the
tional formats, namely the propositional format, help of demonstrative pronouns denoting parts
we are confronted with the same problem we of his actual auditory experiences. Whereas
Bartels, A. & May, M. (2015). What a Theory of Knowledge-How Should Explain - A Framework for Practical Knowledge beyond
Intellectualism and Anti-Intellectualism. In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 2(T). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570009 7 | 20

those forms of knowledge-how may, according to the performance of knowledge-how does not ex-
Young, be reducible to propositional knowledge, clude the “propositionality” of that knowledge-
he thinks that there is a clear case of irreducible how in the semantic sense of “propositionality”,
knowledge-how that is constituted by “purely” and neither does it exclude the “propositional-
sensorimotor abilities, and that is exercised ity” of that knowledge in the sense of being
without being supported by any kind of propos- based upon symbolic language-like processing.
itional knowledge. Such kinds of sensorimotor Toribio (2008) gives a similar argument
abilities are exemplified, according to Young, by against the possible propositionality of DF’s
the case of DF in the Milner/Goodale-experi- knowledge. She argues that
Patient DF is impaired in her ability to re- DF has no conscious awareness of this
cognize objects, despite showing intact basic visual information [the information avail-
visual processing abilities. Milner and coworkers able on the dorsal route] and has no phe-
presented to DF a letterbox in which the slot nomenal experience as to the appropriate-
through which one inserts letters could be rotated ness of her own performance, but she has
to vertical, diagonal, or horizontal orientations. proprioceptive awareness of the features
DF had problems when she was asked to visually that govern her visually guided action in
match the orientation of the slot to different al- this particular task. (cf. Toribio 2008, p.
ternatives. However, when asked to actually insert 13)
a letter, she was able to reach towards the slot
while orienting her hand in accordance with the This situation, according to Toribio, is relev-
spatial orientation of the slot. Thus, DF has the antly different from the example of Hannah’s
ability to use visual information in purposeful ob- knowing how to ride a bike. In the latter case,
ject manipulations without being able to con- Hannah has not only proprioceptive, but also
sciously visually process or experience them. On conscious awareness of the sensory information
the other hand, another patient, IG, showed con- available. Why does this difference matter? It
scious visual awareness of objects without being matters, Toribio suggests, because in order to
able to practically manipulate them. Apparently, make plausible that a person’s knowledge-how is
then, there are two independent neural pathways somehow “guided” by a proposition, this guid-
for processing visual information: the ventral ance has to be spelled out by a real process of
path, leading to visual identification and corres- “entertaining” or “contemplating” the proposi-
ponding to conscious experience, and the dorsal tion by the person. Suggesting a propositional
path, used for non-conscious action control and reading of Hannah and DF’s knowledge without
execution. In pathological cases, one or the other being able to point out some possible realization
(DF vs. IG) of these pathways does not work, of “entertaining a proposition” in these cases
whereas the other remains intact (Milner & “threatens to make us lose our grip on what
Goodale 1995, 2008). propositional knowledge is” (cf. Toribio 2008, p.
What is the reason for Young’s assuming 13). But Stanley & Williamson (2001), Toribio
that the case of DF exhibits “irreducible” know- claims, are unable to provide such a possible
ledge-how? The reason seems to be that DF is realization in the case of DF:
not able to use linguistic propositions—in
whatever rudimentary form—to refer to aspects DF couldn’t possibly entertain such a pro-
of the visual scene. She simply has no conscious position because she cannot grasp one of
access to the visual scene whatsoever. Young its constituents – she cannot perceive the
thus takes “propositionality” of knowledge to be features, e.g. the orientation, that governs
constituted by conscious access to—possibly her motor behavior in the posting task,
rudimentary forms of—linguistic propositions. and hence couldn’t recognize them as in
But, as we already have seen, lacking conscious any way constituting a reason for her ac-
access to linguistic propositions accompanying tion. (cf. Toribio 2008, p. 9)
Bartels, A. & May, M. (2015). What a Theory of Knowledge-How Should Explain - A Framework for Practical Knowledge beyond
Intellectualism and Anti-Intellectualism. In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 2(T). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570009 8 | 20

We think that Stanley’s elaboration on “prac- tion is already complete or has to be completed
tical ways of thinking a proposition” is able to in certain ways becomes obvious when further
overcome this objection. We can very well un- classificatory distinctions are proposed. For ex-
derstand what it means that a person thinks a ample, Newen & Jung (2011) introduce, in addi-
proposition p without being able to sensually tion to the sensorimotor and propositional
identify the objects constituting p. Sensual iden- format, a third representational format, called
tification (“grasping”) is a precondition for con- image-based knowledge, which they think can
ceptual apprehension of the constituents of a supplement the knowledge-how variety. An ex-
proposition, but it is not a precondition for non- ample of image-based knowledge, according to
conceptual attitudes to propositional contents, the authors, is a high jumper’s generation of a
by way of proprioceptive information. mental image of his planned jump before his
What the performance of DF in the Mil- running up. The authors argue that the mental
ner/Goodale-experiments indeed shows is that image can take the role of controlling the per-
sensorimotor processing of visual information is formance of the action. The action, in cases of
sufficient for entertaining practical abilities and image-like knowledge, is thus “guided” by an
does not require any conscious processing, in image, just as motor reactions to bodily experi-
particular no linguistic processing, if we suppose ence supposedly guide actions in the case of
that linguistic processing is necessarily con- sensorimotor knowledge, and propositions sup-
scious.5 This result does not imply that sensor- posedly guide actions in the case of proposi-
imotor processing is independent of (and op- tional knowledge. Now, we think that it is far
posed to) propositional processing. Sensorimo- from clear how mental imagery or real images
tor processing could use “propositional” repres- can “guide” actions. Even if we could clarify
entations, only if these propositional representa- what “guiding” here means, there is at least a
tions were not linguistic representations (cf. possible alternative interpretation of the role of
Fodor 1968). Thus, the case of DF cannot be mental images in acting, namely a common
understood as supporting the sensorimotor-pro- cause interpretation, according to which the
positional processing-classification of knowledge. performance of the action and the occurring of
There is still no indication that there are two a corresponding mental image have a common
independent types of cognitive processing, a cause, namely the neural processing that is the
propositional and a sensorimotor one, to say real cause of the different aspects of the per-
nothing about the possible explanatory virtues formance, which thus “guides” the action. If
of such a distinction. such an interpretation was correct, the mental
That the sensorimotor vs. propositional image would not be a “guide”, but would
classification is lacking any theoretical founda- merely be an epiphenomenon of the processing
tion that could determine whether this distinc- that produces the action (cf. Pylyshyn 1984).
That this alternative interpretation exists shows
5 Note that this does not necessarily mean that there is also no con-
ceptual processing involved. As Stanley points out, declarative know- that there is no clear indication that “image-
ledge is sometimes defined as “knowledge that can be consciously based knowledge” is an independent third kind
and intentionally recollected”, as opposed to procedural knowledge,
which is taken to be “knowledge expressed through experience-in- of knowledge that would legitimately supple-
duced changes in performance” (Stanley 2011b, p. 154). This reading ment the classification.
of the procedural-declarative distinction proposes to fix it by trans-
lating it into the “explicit” versus “implicit”-distinction, where it
On the other hand, research in psychology
seems to exactly match the distinction of two pathways of processing and cognitive neuroscience indicates that it is
that are exhibited in the Milner/Goodale-experiments. But it cannot possible for non-conscious and non-linguistic
be taken as grounding the theoretical versus practical knowledge dis-
tinction. We agree with Stanley, who claims that practical knowledge types of knowledge (e.g., intuitive knowledge) to
can have a propositional content that is able to be verbalized—the guide actual behavior, and which cannot be
subject can be able to linguistically express what she knows. Stan-
ley’s example is that of “physicians skilled at a procedure, who are classified as “sensorimotor” knowledge.6 As long
also very good at describing to others how they do it”—they “pos-
sess explicit procedural knowledge” (2011, p. 159). Thus knowledge 6 A further type of practical knowledge that fulfills this criterion seems
may be procedural in the sense of the above definition, and at the to be expert knowledge in areas that are not reducible to sensorimo-
same time conscious and linguistically expressible. tor processing: e.g., chess or financial stock markets.

Bartels, A. & May, M. (2015). What a Theory of Knowledge-How Should Explain - A Framework for Practical Knowledge beyond
Intellectualism and Anti-Intellectualism. In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 2(T). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570009 9 | 20

as there is no theoretical principle or framework cipatory skin conductance responses (reflecting

from which the classification of possible forms minimal perspiratory reactions standing for fear
of knowledge-how can be derived, there is in our responses) when planning to draw from riskier
opinion no reason to exclude such types of decks, although they were not consciously aware
knowledge from the knowledge-how variety. of these preferences, or of any physiological re-
To give an example of non-sensorimotor actions during this phase of the game. Showing
knowledge-how: Bechara et al. (1997) examine these non-conscious and involuntary responses
the behavioral, subjective, and physiological during the pre-hunch period was prerequisite for
states involved in intuitive decisions. Parti- subjects to advance to the hunch as well as the
cipants played a card game (known as the Iowa later conceptual period. A control group of pre-
gambling task) in which they had to repeatedly frontally-damaged participants7 did not show
(up to 100 times) pick cards from four different any of the described physiological skin responses
decks that could lead to wins as well as losses. during the experiment, and their card-drawing
In the long run, drawing from some decks led to behavior as well as their subjective reports
smaller or larger winnings, and others to smaller showed no sign that they had developed know-
or larger losses. The goal was to maximize one’s ledge of the riskier behavior associated with
play money on the basis of a $2000 starting picking cards from certain decks.
sum. Unknown to the participants, the card The intuitive knowledge that is reflected in
decks were pre-organized so that all decks would this study makes up for a further possible form
lead to wins in the first few draws. During the of knowledge-how (for other examples of intuit-
game two good decks turned out to be relatively ive knowledge see Myers 2004; for intuitive core
safe (i.e., small wins and losses) leading to an knowledge about geometry, numerosity, and or-
overall net win, while two bad decks turned out dering see Spelke 2000; for intuitive knowledge
to be relatively risky (i.e., large wins, but also of experts see Dreyfus & Dreyfus 1986). Instead
large losses) leading to overall net loss. of adding new forms of knowledge-how in some
The hidden win-loss dynamics and rela- arbitrary way, we think that it is more prom-
tions between the outcomes allowed the re- ising to look for a general criterion for know-
searchers to separate different periods of card- ledge-how that has the potential to explain the
drawing behavior (standing for different know- salient characteristics of knowledge-how, and at
ledge states) during the game. A first pre-pun- the same time is suited to give a framework for
ishment period stood for the phase of early the possible surface forms in which knowledge-
wins, a second pre-hunch period for the phase in how may appear, including the sensorimotor
which subjects started to get a feeling that and intuitive forms described above. We sup-
there were differences between decks in terms of pose that the most promising candidate for such
safety vs. risk-taking, a third hunch period for a a criterion is non-conceptuality.
phase in which subjects started liking or dislik-
ing certain decks without exactly knowing why 4 How can propositional knowledge be
this was the case, and a last conceptual period non-conceptual?
in which subjects were able to articulate their
preferences and the reasons for these preferences How can it be true that the knowledge held by
between different decks. Not all participants a person is “propositional” in its semantic sense8
reached the hunch or the conceptual period of without being conceptual? Would not the per-
the game.
7 Several studies (e.g., Barch et al. 2001; Bechara et al. 2000; Halligan
Of foremost interest were observations et al. 2004; Stuss & Alexander 2007) indicate that lesions of the pre-
made in the pre-hunch period. Normal parti- frontal cortex can lead to a number of cognitive and affective prob-
lems, most notably working memory problems, deficits in executive
cipants, as opposed to participants with pre- functioning such as planning, goal selection, task monitoring, deficits
frontal damage, began to develop behavioral in inhibiting thought and action impulses, problems in outcome anti-
preferences for the good and less riskier card cipation, and risk-taking behavior.
8 Note that we have accepted Stanley’s thesis that all knowledge is
decks during this phase, and also showed anti- propositional in that sense.

Bartels, A. & May, M. (2015). What a Theory of Knowledge-How Should Explain - A Framework for Practical Knowledge beyond
Intellectualism and Anti-Intellectualism. In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 2(T). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570009 10 | 20

son necessarily need a grasp of the concepts a tional contents are individuated by concepts. In-
proposition is “composed of” in order to have stead, it implies that, in case of knowledge-how,
knowledge of that proposition? The answer is persons have propositional knowledge that is in-
that in order to have conscious knowledge of a determinate with respect to any conceptualiza-
proposition given in linguistic form it is neces- tion of the objects occurring in the proposi-
sary to have a grasp of the concepts of which tional content. We therefore object to Stanley’s
the linguistically-given proposition is composed. claim that “I cannot be said to know how to
But Stanley’s notion of knowing a proposition is ride a bicycle if I have no clue what a bicycle
not restricted to linguistically-given proposi- is” (Stanley 2011b, p. 170). Someone can be
tions. For example, if Hannah knows the pro- able to manifest a well-determined disposition
position that “this way is a suitable way for me with respect to riding a bicycle, whatever con-
to ride a bicycle”, her way of knowing this pro- ceptual understanding, if any, he has about bi-
position is a practical way of knowing that does cycles.
not include knowledge of linguistic entities, but In face of the DF-case in the
shows up by manifesting dispositions to react to Milner/Goodale-experiments, Stanley admits
certain kinds of bodily experiences. Thus, as that:
much as knowledge-how is involved, it is pos-
sible to have knowledge of a proposition […] DF cannot accurately report on the
without being able to grasp the concepts the orientation of the slot, whereas the normal
proposition is “composed of” when given in a agent can. DF’s knowledge of how to put a
linguistic form. The case can be made plausible card into a slot is propositional knowledge
by looking again at the Milner/Goodale-experi- that is based on a non-conceptual under-
ments: although the patient DF knows “how to standing of the orientation of the slot, un-
put a card into a vertical slot”—and thus knows derstood here in the sense of an under-
a proposition—due to a defect in her ventral standing of the orientation of the slot that
pathway she is not able to have a conceptual is not available to conscious apprehension.
understanding of the linguistic components of She is able to have propositional attitudes
that proposition. about a way of posting a card into a slot
Stanley (2011b) has formulated objections in virtue of this non-conceptual under-
to conceptions of non-conceptual content, at standing of orientation, yielded by her in-
least when they are directed against proposi- tact dorsal processing pathway. In con-
tionality tout court, as for example in Dreyfus trast, the normal agent does have con-
(2007), according to whom “embodied skills […] sciously available knowledge of the orienta-
have a kind of content which is non-conceptual, tion of the slot before she acts. This is a
non-propositional, non-rational […]” (p. 360). difference between DF and the normal
His main argument is that ascriptions of know- agent, but not one that can be used to
ing-how create opaque contexts (Stanley 2011b, deny that DF’s action is guided by propos-
p. 168). But this argument does not seem very itional knowledge of how to put a card
strong, if seen from Stanley’s own perspective of into a slot. (Stanley 2011b, p. 172)
a dispositional reading of ways of knowing a
proposition in the case of knowing-how. How In the remaining sections, we will follow the
the objects occurring in the propositional con- path opened by the suggestion that knowledge
tent are conceptualized does not make any dif- can be propositional without being conceptual.
ference to the subject’s knowing the proposi- Whereas we hope to have shown that the pro-
tion, namely his being disposed to react to his positional/non-propositional-distinction is not
own bodily experiences in a certain way (think fruitful for explaining practical knowledge, we
of the guitar player). Thus, the dispositional argue that the conceptual/non-conceptual dis-
reading of propositional knowledge is simply not tinction does have this potential. The idea, fol-
compatible with the proposed fact that proposi- lowing Stanley’s proposal, is that knowledge-
Bartels, A. & May, M. (2015). What a Theory of Knowledge-How Should Explain - A Framework for Practical Knowledge beyond
Intellectualism and Anti-Intellectualism. In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 2(T). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570009 11 | 20

how is, in general, knowledge of propositions by A. Context-bound versus context-free

way of non-conceptual understanding. But we knowledge. Knowledge-how is specific to the do-
do not stick to the definition of “conscious ap- main or the situation of its use, whereas know-
prehension” that in the DF-case indeed coin- ledge-that is not. In other words, knowledge-
cides with conceptual grasp. There can be con- how is about situational skills, while knowledge-
ceptual grasp even in the absence of conscious that is about general facts (e.g., Clark 1997;
apprehension (as it seems to be the case for cer- Clancey 1997). For example, throwing a javelin
tain animal species where the presence of con- and anticipating its movement when it leaves
sciousness is at least doubtful). Instead we take the hand is a case of context-bound knowledge,
recourse to a minimal conception of “conceptu- whereas calculating the biomechanical forces
ality” that has been developed by Newen & needed for optimal performances (e.g., the bal-
Bartels (2007) in the context of animal con- listics of an optimal flight trajectory) is an in-
cepts. This minimal conception does not depend stance of context-free knowledge. Chess experts
on consciousness. First, however, we shall ex- as compared to novices have superior context-
plore the already-noted peculiarities of practical bound knowledge of constellations of chess fig-
knowledge. It is these peculiarities that a fruit- ures, which helps them to reproduce specific
ful conception of knowledge-how, based on the shortly-presented board situations from
contrast between “conceptuality” and “non-con- memory. However, their superior knowledge
ceptuality” needs to be able to explain. does not help expert chess players to reproduce
random constellations of chess figures from
5 The peculiarities of practical memory, as their skill for applying context-
knowledge bound perceptual chunking mechanisms on
meaningful constellations of figures does not
An adequate meta-theory of human knowledge prove beneficial.
should be able to account for empirical differ- B. Impenetrability versus penetrability of
ences observed when people use practical knowledge. Knowledge-that is penetrable by
rather than theoretical knowledge in the most other cognitive processes or meta-processing,
general terms, and be able to deliver an ex- whereas knowledge-how is impenetrable (Pyly-
planation for these differences. The starting shyn 1984, 1990). Impenetrability means that
point for the need to distinguish between prac- use of knowledge-how is not changed by in-
tical and theoretical knowledge is the behavi- ternally (e.g., beliefs, goals) or externally
oral and neurological differences or dissoci- (e.g., distracting stimuli) triggered cognitive
ations in performance in different sensory, mo- processes. One example is subitizing, i.e., the
tor, or cognitive tasks, e.g., performance differ- rapid, accurate, and confident estimation of
ences between experts and novices, between the number of displayed elements (e.g.,
normal and prefrontal patients, between DF stones), which works fine and is robust against
and IG. In actual research observed behavioral internal or external distractions. In contrast,
or neurological differences and dissociations are the use of knowledge-that to determine the
often accounted for by describing them in number of regularly arranged objects by
terms of polar opposite knowledge attributes or counting them or doing mental arithmetic
effects. In our understanding this is a first step (e.g., adding over rows of elements
in the direction of a theory of knowledge-how, 3+5+4+2+…) is prone to interferences from
even if it is still short of delivering a satisfact- internally- or externally-activated cognitive
ory explanation of the observed behavioral and processes. If athletes change the order of dif-
neurological differences. ferent sensorimotor sub-processes (e.g., in
In the cognitive science and psychological technical sport disciplines such as high-jump-
literature, one finds the following polar opposite ing or hitting a golf ball), they can encounter
ascriptions of attributes of knowledge-how as considerable problems and might need addi-
opposed to knowledge-that: tional time and effort to build up new
Bartels, A. & May, M. (2015). What a Theory of Knowledge-How Should Explain - A Framework for Practical Knowledge beyond
Intellectualism and Anti-Intellectualism. In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 2(T). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570009 12 | 20

knowledge-how. Not so well-trained movements To give another example from research on spa-
(e.g., dancing steps in beginners) can be more tial cognition: Wayfinding on the basis of mul-
easily rearranged. timodal sensory inputs from the surroundings
C. Implicit versus explicit knowledge. Use and from automatic updating is very different
of knowledge-how takes place largely outside of from the quite effortful and highly disturbable
awareness and hence cannot be verbalized, use of knowledge-that that results from listening
while knowledge-that is to a large degree con- to verbal route-descriptions or maps (Montello
sciously available and can be verbalized. In the 2005).
last decades psychological research has made E. Continuous versus discontinuous pro-
substantial progress in distinguishing between cessing. Use of knowledge-how expresses itself in
implicit and explicit forms of human learning, smooth and continuous processing, while know-
memory, and information processing (e.g., Dijk- ledge-that is normally reflected in step-by-step
sterhuis & Nordgren 2006). People learn the processing along a discontinuous path of inter-
grammar of natural language or internalize their mediate knowledge states. Recent dynamic sys-
society’s norms implicitly, that is, without con- tems accounts of the sensory, motor, and cognit-
scious knowledge of the principles that guide ive processes underlying human knowledge use
their language use or their social behavior (e.g., describe these differences in terms of different
Reber 1989). Implicit memory is, for example, attractor landscapes of mental or neural state
displayed in cases of amnesia, in which patients spaces (Spivey 2008). Research into children’s
are not able to explicitly recall previously- cognitive development, for example, reveals that
presented items or events from memory, while there are two levels of spatial location coding in
performances on tasks that do not require expli- memory. In a first phase, children learn to code
cit memory such as perceptual priming or sen- the metric distance between locations (e.g., al-
sorimotor skills are undisturbed and virtually lowing them to find previously hidden objects in
normal (e.g., Tulving & Schacter 1990). terms of distance from the sides or the corners
D. Automatic versus effortful processing. of a rectangular sandbox). In a second phase,
Use of knowledge-how is automatic in the sense children attain the ability to impose organiza-
that it requires little attentional monitoring or tion on their spatial knowledge (e.g., allowing
guidance, and in the sense that that its de- them to divide the spatial layout in hierarchical
mands on working memory are quite low (Bargh subsections or regions). The shift from the first
& Chartrand 1999). Use of knowledge-that is to the second level reveals itself in changes in
generally more effortful, and can be shown to the types of spatial errors (discontinuous vs.
require significant attentional as well as working continuous distributions) children commit when
memory resources (Hasher & Zacks 1979). Good locating hidden objects (Newcombe & Hutten-
examples of the distinction between the auto- locher 2000).
matic and effortful use of knowledge can be This list of opposing attribute pairs is
found in the domain of spatial cognition: Blind- probably not complete, but seems a good
folded navigators (animals as well as humans) starting point for our purposes. It can be
complete triangles by returning to the starting thought of as a general description and char-
point on the basis of automatic vestibular and acterization of practical knowledge in contrast
kinesthetic path-integration mechanisms (know- to theoretical knowledge. Not every single case
ledge-how), while only humans are able to use of knowledge use will be easily describable by
effortful geometrical calculations (knowledge- means of the list, or will even require a full
that) to find their way back to the origin of the description along all opposing attribute pairs.
outbound travel. Experiments show that simul- However, chances are good that the over-
taneous secondary tasks (e.g., to-be-ignored whelming majority of cases will be adequately
spatial movements vs. counting operations) dif- described by using such a set of opposing at-
ferentially affect the one or the other type of tributes, and, generally, the profile over the
knowledge processing (May & Klatzky 2000). five attributes will correctly apply. We will ar-
Bartels, A. & May, M. (2015). What a Theory of Knowledge-How Should Explain - A Framework for Practical Knowledge beyond
Intellectualism and Anti-Intellectualism. In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 2(T). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570009 13 | 20

gue that this list of attribute pairs, together behavior, in contrast to the performance of ri-
with their predominant assignment to the one gid mechanisms:9
or other knowledge variety, is what an ad-
equate and fruitful theory of knowledge-how [I]ndependence in this sense entails that
vs. knowledge-that should be able to account the responses of the animal to a certain
for. stimulus are not just ‘driven by’ that stim-
ulus, and are also not to be explained as
6 Conceptuality as a demarcation cases of stimulus generalization, i.e., dis-
criterion for knowledge-that versus crimination by a mechanism responsive to
knowledge-how a single basic stimulus. (Newen & Bartels
2007, p. 287)
We propose conceptuality as a demarcation cri-
terion for knowledge-that in relation to know- If the reactions of a system to a given stimulus
ledge-how that is able to account for the peculi- can be modified by the presence of additional
arities of both knowledge types outlined in the stimuli representing the peculiarities of the situ-
last section. In order to show that conceptuality ation in which the reaction occurs, the system
can do the job, we have, in a first step, to es- will be first able to generalize—as rudimentary
tablish a notion of concept that does not pre- as that ability may be—the information re-
suppose in an obvious way characteristics of ceived. It is then that we can legitimately
knowledge-that, i.e., the notion we look for ascribe the possession of concepts: “First, an or-
should not entail that concepts are essentially ganism whose internal representations are
linguistic entities enabling persons to verbally concept-like should be able to generalize inform-
express knowledge-that. What we then need, in ation obtained from a variety of perceptual in-
a second step, is a notion that entails some fun- puts and use that information in a range of be-
damental and (hopefully) non-contentious as- havioral situations” (Newen & Bartels 2007, p.
sumptions about necessary conditions for 287).
concept possession in terms of abilities. Charac- We thus arrive at a criterion for conceptu-
terizing concepts in the form of abilities neces- ality, which can be called, following Allen
sary for concept possession should enable us to (1999), the “transcendence of particular stimuli”
show that having those abilities necessary for or, in terms given by Pylyshyn (1990), the “cri-
concept possession is exactly what is needed for terion of informational plasticity”. Essentially
the subject to overcome the peculiar limitations the criterion requires the “possibility of the
accompanying knowledge-how, and thus to gain modification of a response in the light of addi-
access to the level of knowledge-that (see sec- tional information” (Allen 1999); the kind of re-
tion 5). sponse has to depend, crucially, on other
In shaping the sought-for notion of con- sources of information (cf. Newen & Bartels
ceptuality we take recourse to work by Allen 2007, p. 287).
& Hauser (1991), Pylyshyn (1990), and Newen The criterion considered above is still not
& Bartels (2007). Allen and Hauser have sharp enough. As long as we do not further spe-
claimed that, from the perspective of inter- cify the “modification of a response” occurring
preting the behavior of systems including hu- “in the light of additional information”, each
man and animal organisms as much as artifi- sort of extension of the processing capacities of
cial systems, the ascription of genuine con- an individual would count as reaching the level
cepts requires “evidence supporting the pres- of “conceptuality” if only this extension enables
ence of a mental representation that is inde- the individual to integrate some additional
pendent of solely perceptual information” (Al- 9 One example of a “rigid mechanism” is the behavior of ants re-
len & Hauser 1991, p. 231). The criterion of sponding to the presence of acidic byproducts from the decom -
independence, as called for by these authors, position of dead con-specifics: in tests they rigidly remove any-
thing from the nest that is painted with oleic acid, even live
is that it enables the system to show flexible con-specifics.

Bartels, A. & May, M. (2015). What a Theory of Knowledge-How Should Explain - A Framework for Practical Knowledge beyond
Intellectualism and Anti-Intellectualism. In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 2(T). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570009 14 | 20

source of information into its behavioral reper- additional auditory stimuli. His choice of re-
toire. Thus diversification of processing capacit- sponse (“green” or “round”) turned out to de-
ies could then not be distinguished from trans- pend crucially on the “additional information”
ition from non-conceptual to conceptual pro- given in form of the auditory stimulus. As such,
cessing capacities. Newen and Bartels concluded that “Alex was
To get a criterion for conceptuality it is re- able to represent different properties while hav-
quired that the “modification of a response” ing only one and the same visual input of an
mentioned above concerns classificatory beha- object.”10
vior. The “additional stimulus”, in that case, With this example in view, Newen & Bar-
not only has to work as a switching point, open- tels (2007) formulated the following require-
ing one or the other pathway for a response ments for the possession of concepts—for in-
within a non-conceptual behavioral pattern, it stance, the concept “red”: A cognitive system
also has to stand for a category, according to has the concept “red” only if (i) it has relative
which the actual behavioral pattern can be clas- stimulus independence such that it depends on
sified. some additional mechanism—which detects and
One example of additional stimuli charac- weighs stimuli other than the key stimulus of
teristics standing for a category has been de- redness—to determine that the system focuses
scribed by Newen & Bartels (2007) with respect on redness while perceiving a red square, in con-
to the conceptual abilities of the grey parrot trast to some other property; and (ii) the prop-
Alex (Pepperberg 1999). In order to be able to erty of being red is represented as an instance of
form elementary color concepts, for example the the dimension “color”.11
concept “green”, Alex should not only be able Note that the above-mentioned definition
to generalize over a class of similar stimuli and of conceptuality does not only require the exist-
thus to identify a sample of different green ob- ence of some “additional stimulus” to which the
jects, but should additionally be able to repres- individual has to be responsive, but that there
ent green as a color. Only then could we ascribe has to be some additional internal mechanism of
to him the ability to classify green objects ac- processing by which the individual is able to
cording to a well-determined class concept. “detect and weigh” a specific additional stimu-
The test items by which Pepperberg ex- lus as standing for a category (e.g., “color”).
amined the classification abilities of the animal The responsiveness of the individual to that
were, for instance, “What color?” or “What stimulus shows up when it focuses its attention
shape?”. These questions should on those aspects of a scene, or to those items of
a behavioral pattern, which exemplify the re-
[…] determine if he [Alex] could respond spective category.
not only to specific properties or patterns Another example would be the balancing
of stimuli [e.g., to green objects], but also of coffee cups by a waiter in a restaurant. Let
to classes or categories to which these spe- us assume that the waiter for some time pos-
cific properties or patterns belong […]. sesses the ability to balance cups of different
Could he, for example, go beyond recog- shapes without spilling coffee, and without con-
nizing what is, or is not, ‘green’ to recog- sciously attending to a particular cup, or the
nizing the nature of the relationship 10 Cf. Newen & Bartels (2007), p. 293. That the auditory stimuli
between a green pen and a blade of grass? “What color?” or “What shape?” were really understood by Alex as
(cf. Pepperberg 1999, p. 52) asking for the respective category was tested by Pepperberg using
additional auditory signals of the form “What’s same?” and “What’s
different?” The correct response would be the label of the appropri-
It happened that Alex was indeed able to clas- ate category, e.g., the mastery of categories could be verified in the
sense that Alex successfully identified the essential functional role of
sify the given “key” stimulus, e.g., a green, category terms like “color” or “shape” as dividing the objects of the
round object, visually presented to him, as world into “sameness” equivalence classes.
“green” or “round” according to different di- 11 Cf. Newen & Bartels (2007), p. 296. These conditions are only two of
a total of four conditions. But only these two matter with respect to
mensions (e.g., color or shape) represented by our discussion.

Bartels, A. & May, M. (2015). What a Theory of Knowledge-How Should Explain - A Framework for Practical Knowledge beyond
Intellectualism and Anti-Intellectualism. In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 2(T). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570009 15 | 20

shape of a particular cup that he is currently jects he is dealing with was accomplished only
dealing with. At some point he is told that by being able to react in a coordinated way to
there are essentially two different kinds of cups, sensorimotor information originating from hand-
one high and cylindrical, and the other flat and ling these objects.
bowl-shaped (this information is the “additional At the time he is told that coffee cups
stimulus”). The waiter “detects and weighs” the come in two different shapes, his cognitive sys-
additional stimulus by focusing his attention, tem enables him to use that information such
from that time on, to his own specific handling that he begins to rely on a category (i.e., a
of cups, depending on the sort of cup a particu- cup’s shape) in order to refer to coffee cups, and
lar exemplar belongs to. He might then detect to classify his own balancing behavior according
that he had previously managed to deal with to the objects thus categorized. He reaches, in
both kinds of cups efficiently and without spill- some minimal way, the level of conceptual
ing coffee without even noticing that liquids in knowledge, since he now begins to identify both,
both reacted in different ways to his move- that is, the objects and his behavior with re-
ments. The waiter’s behavior has switched from spect to these objects, by conceptual means.
a former “non-conceptual” dealing with coffee
cups to a form of behavior that is “conceptual” 7 Explaining the peculiarities of
in the sense of exhibiting an additional ability, knowledge-how by means of
namely the ability to classify his own perform- conceptuality
ance in balancing coffee cups according to a cat-
egory (in this case the cups’ shape). Equipped with an adequate notion of conceptu-
How does such a notion of conceptuality ality, we now proceed to show that concept-pos-
relate to Evans’ notion of non-conceptual know- session is exactly what is needed for a cognitive
ledge in terms of first-person dispositions that system to overcome the specific limitations as-
we made use of in sections 2 and 4? If the pos- sociated with knowledge-how, and hence be able
session of concepts is constituted (in contrast to to gain access to the level of knowledge-that.
non-conceptual cognitive processing) by the Why exactly is it necessary for a system to pos-
gaining of additional abilities, it should be made sess concept-like representations in order to
plausible how those additional abilities connect have knowledge-that as opposed to knowledge-
to a non-conceptual basis in Evans’ theory. how?
In our treatment of his theory, we followed
an interpretation of Evans’ work as implying 1. Context-bound versus context-free knowledge.
that non-conceptual knowledge relies on the dis- For this polar contrast the answer, in short,
position to have one’s own motor reactions be will be that conceptual representations are
determined by sensory and kinesthetic informa- precisely those representations which make
tion that is mediated by either some external the subject able to generalize information
object or by one’s own body. Again, the waiter over a range of different behavioral situ-
dealing with the coffee cups may help to illus- ations. Conceptual representations are, as we
trate the point. The waiter’s experienced hand- have seen above, representations whose func-
ling relies on a disposition to have his motor ac- tional role is to classify aspects of a scene, or
tions determined by the multimodal sensory in- items of a behavioral pattern, according to a
formation that is mediated by holding coffee certain category. This is the reason why only
cups in his hands. The waiter’s knowledge-how conceptual knowledge (whether verbally ex-
to balance the cup might be completely inde- pressible or not) can enable overcoming the
pendent of any conceptual reference to coffee limits of situationally-bound use. Intuitively
cups. He could be the experienced waiter that sampling objects, for example, on the basis of
he is—at least with respect to his balancing some salient similarity criterion, is a mani-
ability—without even knowing in a conceptual festation of knowledge-how, because it de-
way “what a coffee cup is”. Reference to the ob- pends on situational features—for instance
Bartels, A. & May, M. (2015). What a Theory of Knowledge-How Should Explain - A Framework for Practical Knowledge beyond
Intellectualism and Anti-Intellectualism. In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 2(T). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570009 16 | 20

that the situation represents some sort of av- culating their way home according to some
erage type to which the corresponding beha- rigid computational processes that are de-
vior is adapted. To overcome such situational ployed on the basis of a small number of
limitations, categorical distinctions have to parameters. If the experimenter interferes
be introduced that enable the subject to with the process by repositioning the ant, the
transfer his or her knowledge partly to new mechanism still works as it would have done
situations that deviate, for instance, with re- without relocation, with the result that the
spect to the objects that have been treated in ant misses the nest by exactly the distance
standard situations. For example, a waiter and direction to which it has been reposi-
who starts to work in a new restaurant using tioned by the experimenter (see Bartels &
only coffee cups of one type, that is slightly May 2009). In contrast, conceptually-based
higher than the large type used in the former processing has to be penetrable in order to
restaurant, might fail in balancing the cup as guarantee that categorical information can be
long as he only takes recourse to his know- extracted from the scene according to specific
ledge-how; but he might be more successful if stimuli (in this case the repositioning stimuli)
he relied on a conceptual understanding of a and used in evaluating the result produced
distinguished large-cup-technique. In the by rigid processing up to the time of reposi-
same way, anticipation of the flight of a tioning.
javelin is a situation-bound ability, since it
depends on relatively rigid processing of 3. Implicit versus explicit knowledge. This dis-
visual information and proprioceptive mech- tinction refers to whether or not the knowing
anisms that are well-adapted to a range of organism has knowledge of the rules govern-
standard cases, but fail for cases outside that ing its knowledge application. For example,
range. If the case is exceptional (e.g., strong people learn the grammar of their natural
wind from behind), the subject can only at- language or internalize their society’s norms
tain success by analyzing the influence that implicitly, that is without knowledge of the
this particular external condition will have on principles that guide their language use or
the standard performance. The same applies their social behavior. In such cases people
for knowledge-how expert chess knowledge, represent rules only indirectly, by means of
which fails in cases of random constellations dispositions to have their reactions determ-
because the experts’ expertise in evaluating ined by the linguistic or social information in
the scene is dependent on average situational a way that can be recognized by their fellow
features. The occurrence of “new” constella- subjects as to be in accordance with the
tions requires extracting general properties rules. In contrast, explicit knowledge requires
from the scene, and thus has to be done by direct representation of rules, objects, or
means of conceptual representations. properties. The waiter in the restaurant, for
example, after having achieved knowledge-
2. Impenetrability versus penetrability of know- that about his balancing of coffee cups, is
ledge is a contrast almost built into the no- able to refer directly to two sorts of cup
tion of conceptuality that we propose. Non- shape, the high and cylindrical or the flat
conceptual representations are non-receptive and bowl-shaped, respectively. In other
for additional stimuli that could yield classi- words, he must be able to represent proper-
ficatory behavior. They have to be non-re- ties; if so, the waiter would, for instance, be
ceptive (“impenetrable”) in order to avoid in- able to draw inferences from the contents of
terferences that could disrupt the more or his knowledge. Now, a person’s ability to pro-
less rigid mechanisms by which some well- duce attribute-representations of objects pre-
defined type of behavior is regularly pro- supposes the ability to apply categories to his
duced. Impenetrable knowledge-how, for ex- or her own experience. For example, the
ample, is manifested by navigating ants cal- waiter is able to represent coffee cups as high
Bartels, A. & May, M. (2015). What a Theory of Knowledge-How Should Explain - A Framework for Practical Knowledge beyond
Intellectualism and Anti-Intellectualism. In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 2(T). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570009 17 | 20

and cylindrical objects because his capacities while lapses in use of knowledge-that express
include the ability to apply the category of themselves in categorical errors, or discon-
shape to the objects he is balancing. Thus, a tinuous error distributions (e.g., switches of
person’s possession of conceptual capacities is categories or total failures to come up with a
a condition that has to be fulfilled for his or result).
her knowledge to be explicit. Moreover, given
that the additional conditions for conscious It is beyond the scope of the present article
processing of cognitive representations are to give an outline of a research agenda for
fulfilled, the subject would then be able to empirically confirming and underpinning the
consciously think about and to draw con- present account of knowledge-how compared
scious inferences about the objects. In addi- to knowledge-that. Different examples of po-
tion, verbalizability of knowledge depends on tential research areas and experimental
the presence of this conscious form of explicit paradigms have been pointed out in the pre-
knowledge. ceding sections (e.g., numerosity judgments,
spatial memory, intuitive knowledge use).
4. Automatic versus effortful processing. As we The most convincing way to support the ad-
have argued in (B), conceptuality entails equacy of the conceptuality criterion for dis-
openness to penetration. Now, if cognitive tinguishing between knowledge-how and
processing is receptive to penetration, addi- knowledge-that will be to run new experi-
tional costs in terms of attention and addi- ments in these or other research areas that
tional processing necessarily occur. If the reveal behavioral and/or neural dissociations
ant’s navigation mechanisms were receptive that comply with the distinction between
to a certain type of repositioning, it would concept-driven vs. concept-free knowledge-use
have to use additional computational path- along the lines of the different peculiarities of
ways for processing “repositioning informa- practical knowledge outlined above.
tion” and would be in need of additional cal-
culation to determine the influence of the 8 Conclusion
particular repositioning on the result pro-
duced by rigid calculation of the expected We have shown that propositionality is, in none
path back home. of its three main senses, an adequate and useful
demarcation criterion between knowledge-how
5. Continuous versus discontinuous processing. and knowledge-that.
Knowledge-that is characteristically used in a First, in its semantic sense (e.g., Stanley
step-by-step manner with intermediate know- 2011a), propositionality applies to both know-
ledge states (discontinuous), whereas know- ledge-how and knowledge-that, and thus a for-
ledge-how appears to be grounded in smooth tiori cannot be successfully used as a demarca-
and fluent processing without intermediate tion criterion.
states (continuous). The difference can be ac- Second, in its “language of mind”-sense,
counted for by the fact that knowledge-that propositionality applies to knowledge represent-
is grounded in concept-based processing al- ation. As we have shown, the way in which a
lowing for and instantiating discrete inferen- particular piece of knowledge is represented is
tial steps, whereas knowledge-how is based independent from the type of knowledge exem-
on concept-free processing without clearly- plified by this piece of knowledge. Thus, again,
defined intermediate knowledge states. An this sense of propositionality is not useful as a
observable consequence of the continuous demarcation criterion.
nature of knowledge-how is that lapses in Third, propositionality in the sense of lin-
knowledge use result in graded errors, or con- guistic, consciously available propositions is
tinuous distributions of errors (e.g., gradual without doubt a central phenomenological trait
precision losses of sensorimotor movements), of knowledge-that as opposed to knowledge-
Bartels, A. & May, M. (2015). What a Theory of Knowledge-How Should Explain - A Framework for Practical Knowledge beyond
Intellectualism and Anti-Intellectualism. In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 2(T). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570009 18 | 20

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Bartels, A. & May, M. (2015). What a Theory of Knowledge-How Should Explain - A Framework for Practical Knowledge beyond
Intellectualism and Anti-Intellectualism. In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 2(T). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570009 20 | 20
The Semantic Reading of
Propositionality and Its Relation to
A Commentary on Andreas Bartels & Mark May

Ramiro Glauer

Bartels and May propose an explanation of the difference between practical and Commentator
theoretical knowledge in terms of the involvement of non-conceptual and concep-
tual representations, respectively. They thereby want to alleviate a shortcoming of
Ramiro Glauer
Stanley’s intellectualist theory of knowledge-how that cannot explain this differ-
ramiro.glauer @
ence. In this paper it is argued that an appreciation of the fact that both Stanley
and Bartels and May employ a semantic reading of propositionality makes clear Otto-von-Guericke-Universität
that their endeavors follow quite different goals. While Stanley gives an analysis Magdeburg, Germany
of how we talk about knowledge-how, Bartels and May are interested in underly -
ing cognitive representations. From Stanley’s analysis of knowledge-how, nothing Target Authors
can be inferred about cognitive representations. The semantic reading of proposi-
tionality is then spelled out with the help of the idea that ascriptions of proposi- Andreas Bartels
tional attitudes are (like) measurement statements. Some considerations from andreas.bartels @
measurement theory show how propositions can be used to reason about psycho- Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-
logical states without themselves having to play any role in a person’s psycho- Universität
logy. Bonn, Germany

Keywords Mark May

Anti-intellectualism | Concepts | Conceptual representations | Homomorphic map-
mm @
ping | Intellectualism | Knowledge-how | Measurement | Measurement theory |
Measurement view | Mental representation | Non-conceptual representations | Helmut-Schmidt-Universität
Personal level | Propositional attitudes | Propositionality | Propositions | Se- Hamburg, Germany
mantic reading of propositionality

Thomas Metzinger
metzinger @
Johannes Gutenberg-Universität
Mainz, Germany

Jennifer M. Windt
jennifer.windt @
Monash University
Melbourne, Australia

Glauer, R. (2015). The Semantic Reading of Propositionality and Its Relation to Cognitive-Representational Explanations - A Commentary on
Andreas Bartels & Mark May. In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 2(C). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 978-3-95857-017-7 1 | 12

1 Introduction

Bartels and May’s paper presents the outlines of tangling these different endeavors. A further
a theory of practical knowledge. The paper con- step can be made with the help of the idea that
sists of a discussion of intellectualist and anti- ascriptions of propositional attitudes are (like)
intellectualist approaches to knowledge-how, a measurements. I will call this the measurement
characterization of a range of behavioral partic- view of ascriptions of propositional attitudes.
ularities of practical knowledge, and the out- Considerations from measurement theory can
lines of a theory that attempts to explain these then be used to shed further light on the rela-
behavioral particularities in terms of involved tion between ascriptions of propositional atti-
underlying mental representations. The discus- tudes and the underlying cognitive representa-
sion is remarkably clear, and the explicit expos- tions. The result will be that nothing can be in-
ition of what is to be explained by a theory of ferred about cognitive structure from the struc-
practical knowledge is a great virtue of the pa- ture of ascriptions of propositional attitudes
per. For our purposes here, a discussion of the alone. Propositions need not play any role in a
initial characterization of practical knowledge theory of cognition. Nonetheless, there is a clear
and its attempted explanation in terms of con- sense in which propositional attitudes are real.
ceptual and non-conceptual capacities would They are the measurement-theoretic represent-
help us assess the import of this paper. To my atives of behaviorally relevant states. In closing
valuation, however, the discussion also reveals I will note that, given the close connection
some very important features of the relation between concepts and propositions, a semantic
between knowledge ascriptions (and, to that ef- reading of conceptuality might be desirable. For
fect, ascriptions of propositional attitudes in Bartels and May, this would mean that the dif-
general) and descriptions of underlying cognit- ference between practical and theoretical know-
ive structures and representations. Most import- ledge should not depend on the conceptuality of
antly, Bartels and May employ Stanley’s se- the underlying representations. But given their
mantic reading of propositionality, according to definition of conceptuality, this would merely
which the propositionality of some mental state require a change in nomenclature.
depends on whether a proposition is mentioned Before going into the discussion of a se-
in the ascription of that state. As a result, ques- mantic reading of propositionality, of measure-
tions concerning cognitive structure and under- ment and its bearing on the relation between
lying representations are largely detached from Bartels and May’s proposed explanation of
considerations concerning ascriptions of proposi- practical knowledge and Stanley’s theory of
tional attitudes. I think this is a great advant- knowledge-how, I will briefly summarize Bartels
age, because we are not led to read back the re- and May’s line of argument.
lational grammatical structure of ascriptions of
propositional attitudes onto psychological states 2 The semantic reading of
themselves. Here I want to focus on this se- propositionality and the explanation of
mantic reading of propositionality and ask practical knowledge
about its effects on the relation between Bartels
and May’s proposed explanation of practical Bartels and May set out to clarify what a the-
knowledge and Stanley’s theory of knowledge- ory of knowledge-how should provide and begin
how. The result will be that Stanley and Bartels to give the outlines of such a theory. In their
and May attempt to explain quite different view, a theory of knowledge-how should explain
things. While Stanley proposes a theory of how the difference between practical and theoretical
we ascribe knowledge-how to each other, Bartels knowledge, the former being characterized by a
and May are interested in underlying cognitive number of distinguishing features. The proposal,
processes. The semantic reading of proposition- then, is to explain this difference in terms of the
ality, however, only goes halfway towards disen- reliance on non-conceptual capacities (or repres-
Glauer, R. (2015). The Semantic Reading of Propositionality and Its Relation to Cognitive-Representational Explanations - A Commentary on
Andreas Bartels & Mark May. In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 2(C). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 978-3-95857-017-7 2 | 12

entations) in the case of practical knowledge tellectualist account of knowledge-how, namely

and on conceptual capacities in the case of the- Stanley’s, employs, and Bartels and May follow
oretical knowledge, instead of using proposition- Stanley’s analysis here.
ality as the main criterion. Their account of According to the semantic reading of pro-
what is to be captured by a theory of know- positionality, whether some psychological atti-
how, and their proposed solution, are preceded tude is propositional depends on the semantics
by an illuminating discussion of the shortcom- of the locutions used to ascribe such attitudes.
ings of each side of the intellectualism vs. anti- And our best current theories of the semantics
intellectualism debate. of knows-wh locutions—i.e., of locutions that
involve the verb “know” and some question
2.1 Merits and shortcomings of word such as “who”, “where”, “what”, “when”,
intellectualism or, to that effect, “how”—tells us that know-
ledge-how is propositional—just as knowledge-
In short, Bartels and May claim that the intel- that is. But as a result, it is argued, intellectual-
lectualists are right to concede that the distinc- ists are not able to explain the respective pecu-
tion between knowing-how and knowing-that liarities of practical and theoretical knowledge—
cannot be made in terms of the propositionality both are propositional. This is identified as the
of knowing-that. Three readings of proposition- major shortcoming of intellectualism.
ality are distinguished:
2.2 Merits and shortcomings of anti-
• a representational reading, according to intellectualism
which the propositionality of some men-
tal state depends on a sentence-like men- The anti-intellectualists, on the other hand, lack
tal representation being tokened, a systematic criterion for the distinction
• a conscious-availability reading, accord- between knowledge-how and knowledge-that.
ing to which propositional representa- The introduction of different kinds of know-
tions are consciously available and can be ledge, based on different representational
expressed linguistically, and formats, by some anti-intellectualists is taken to
• a semantic reading of propositionality, be ad hoc (e.g., image-based knowledge and sen-
according to which the propositionality sorimotor knowledge by Jung & Newen 2011).
of some mental state depends on whether It is not based on an independently identified
it is attributed as a propositional atti- set of underlying representational formats that
tude. would explain the characteristic behavioral dif-
ferences. Instead, it merely attempts to find al-
It is argued that all three readings of proposi- leged mental representational formats that intu-
tionality are inapt for making the distinction itively fit the distinction (cf. Bartels & May this
between practical and theoretical knowledge. I collection, p. 7). Further arguments to the effect
take it that both the representational reading that intellectualism is a non-starter are ineffect-
and the conscious-availability reading are im- ive against Stanley’s (2011) version of intellec-
plausible for independent reasons—the repres- tualism (cf. Bartels & May this collection, pp.
entational reading presupposes a language of 10-11). An attack from Toribio (2008, reference
thought, while the conscious-accessibility read- taken from Bartels & May this collection) to
ing can arguably be undermined by considering the effect that Milner & Goodale’s patient DF
cases in which someone would be said to know (cf. Milner & Goodale 1995) could not possibly
something she need not be able to express have propositional knowledge of how to put a
verbally, in terms of the proposition in question card into a slot presupposes that knowledge-
(this might involve some non-obvious logical how involves a conceptual grasp of how some-
consequences of one’s occurrent beliefs). In ad- thing is done or of what is acted upon. Roughly,
dition, the semantic reading is what our best in- Toribio argues that DF does not have proposi-
Glauer, R. (2015). The Semantic Reading of Propositionality and Its Relation to Cognitive-Representational Explanations - A Commentary on
Andreas Bartels & Mark May. In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 2(C). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 978-3-95857-017-7 3 | 12

tional knowledge of how to put the card into nevertheless she non-conceptually grasps its ori-
the slot because she cannot report on the ori- entation such that she is able to put the card
entation of the slot. But Stanley acknowledges into the slot. Due to her successful performance,
that some propositional attitudes involve the she is said to know how to put the card into the
non-conceptual grasp of relevant states of af- slot, making this particular form of knowledge-
fairs. In the case of DF, this involves the non- how non-conceptual. This somewhat departs
conceptual grasp of the orientation of the slot from tradition, where concepts are usually taken
(cf. Stanley 2011, p. 172). to be the constituents of thoughts, while
As a result, neither intellectualists nor thoughts are likely understood in a Fregean way
anti-intellectualists provide a satisfactory ac- as the intensions of sentences, i.e., propositions.
count of knowledge-how. But both get some It makes sense, though, because propositionality
things right. The intellectualist is right in tak- is understood semantically while conceptuality
ing both knowledge-that and knowledge-how to is not. Whether some cognitive capacity is con-
be propositional. And the anti-intellectualist is ceptual or non-conceptual is thought to depend
right in requiring an explanation of the differ- upon the kind of mental representation in-
ence between these two kinds of knowledge, pre- volved.
sumably in terms of underlying cognitive struc-
tures or kinds of mental representation. 3 Knowledge ascriptions and mental
2.3 Non-conceptual capacities as an
explanation of practical knowledge 3.1 Analyzing knowledge ascriptions vs.
explaining cognitive capacities
Bartels and May, then, pick up on the idea that
practical knowledge might involve non-concep- Now, it’s easy to believe that the whole debate
tual capacities, while theoretical knowledge is around propositions, concepts, non-conceptual
conceptual. They list a number of received pe- representations, and cognitive structure is
culiarities of practical knowledge that are to be highly convoluted and that it is difficult to
captured by a theory of practical knowledge. properly disentangle the different issues that lie
And it is proposed that these peculiarities are behind a larger number of related debates. One
the same peculiarities that result from a reli- important distinction, I take it, which is not al-
ance on non-conceptual representations. Among ways properly made, is whether one is con-
the differential features of practical knowledge cerned with what someone does (the whole per-
are its being context-bound, implicit, and auto- son) as opposed to what his or her cognitive
matic and effortless. Non-conceptual capacities, system does. What happens between Stanley’s
it is argued, just have these features. The result and Bartels and May’s discussion of kinds of
is a position that is intellectualist in form, be- knowledge, then, is a shift from a personal-level
cause all kinds of knowledge are propositional, perspective to a level at which the cognitive sys-
but anti-intellectualist in spirit, as the distinc- tem is described.
tion of practical vs. theoretical knowledge is Stanley formulates a theory of knowledge-
maintained. Practical knowledge is not reduced how on the basis of an analysis of ascriptions of
to theoretical knowledge; rather, the former is a knowledge-how. And the subject of clear cases
non-conceptual form of knowledge while the lat- of appropriate knowledge-how ascriptions are
ter is conceptual. persons. Their brains (or whatever else might
One effect of drawing the distinction realize their cognitive systems) can at best de-
between practical and theoretical knowledge in rivatively be said to know how to do something.
terms of conceptuality is that Bartels and May This is made especially clear in Stanley’s ana-
must follow Stanley in accepting non-conceptual lysis, according to which knowledge-how in-
forms of propositional knowledge. Patient DF volves first-person thought (cf. 2011, Ch. 3). If
cannot report on the orientation of the slot, but someone knows how to do something he knows
Glauer, R. (2015). The Semantic Reading of Propositionality and Its Relation to Cognitive-Representational Explanations - A Commentary on
Andreas Bartels & Mark May. In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 2(C). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 978-3-95857-017-7 4 | 12

that a certain way of doing something is a way not want to claim that such a rich conception of
in which he could do it himself. It is hard to see persons is involved in Stanley’s discussion. Non-
how someone’s cognitive system could have this etheless it should be clear that Stanley is not
kind of first-person thought in a non-derivative interested in what the brain does, what its func-
way. tional architecture is, or on which states it oper-
Bartels and May, on the other hand, want ates. He is interested in knowledge-how. And
to explain the particularities of practical and knowledge-how is something someone has: it’s
theoretical knowledge in terms of the involved personal-level at least in the parsimonious way
underlying representations. As they put it at that it is something we attribute to each other.
the outset of their discussion, “‘Explaining’ here In realizing that Bartels and May are
is rather to be understood as showing how the really interested in the structure of cognitive
realization of necessary conditions for the pos- systems possessing practical knowledge it be-
session of concepts coincide with those condi- comes clear why they come to a conclusion that
tions that have to be fulfilled in order to seems to be diametrical to what some other
achieve the step from practical to theoretical participants in the knowledge-how debate sug-
knowledge, each characterized by their respect- gest. Bengson & Moffett (2007), for instance,
ive peculiarities. In other words, we search for argue that knowing how to do something is a
‘how-possibly-explanations’ of the peculiarities matter of having a guiding conception of the
of practical versus theoretical knowledge” (Bar- way in which the subject of knowledge-how is to
tels & May this collection). “How-possibly-ex- perform an activity. This captures that action
planation” is a term from mechanistic accounts guided by knowledge-how is a form of intelligent
of explanation that characterizes attempted action—as opposed to something done by reflex,
mechanistic explanations that are not yet well mere habit, or rote. It is an intellectual achieve-
corroborated by an independent identification of ment to know how to do something. Bengson &
the components of the alleged mechanism. Bar- Moffett (2007) argue that knowing how to do
tels and May clearly appeal to structures under- something requires an understanding of the
lying cognitive abilities. In addition, they em- activity at hand, and that understanding, in
ploy a notion of concepts that is further de- turn, is equivalent to the reasonable mastery of
veloped in Newen and Bartels (Bartels & Newen the concept that guides the action. Understand-
2007), where it is made clear that concepts are ing is clearly something someone has; it is not a
kinds of mental representations (cf. ibid., p. trait of his or her cognitive system that might
284). Their interest thus lies in the differences rather be said to enable or mediate such under-
between the cognitive architectural realization standing.
of practical and theoretical knowledge, not in While the discussion in Bengson & Moffett
the ascription conditions of kinds of knowledge (2007) sticks to the vocabulary of intellectual
to persons. And, as said, among the virtues of appraisal employed in the Rylean treatment of
Bartels and May’s paper is the clarity of the ex- the topic, Bartels and May take a cognitive-psy-
position of what is to be explained by a theory chological approach to the matter. For them,
of practical knowledge in the first place: the be- concepts are kinds of mental representations
havioral or functional peculiarities of practical that serve to explain why someone has some
knowledge. ability. The notion of understanding does not
I understand that making a distinction figure prominently in their account. The differ-
between different endeavors in philosophy of ence to Bengson and Moffett’s account can thus
mind in terms of personal vs. sub-personal level be traced back to different notions of what a
explanations is not always a particularly at- concept is, which result from an interest in dif-
tractive way to go about the problem. The per- ferent perspectives on knowledge-how. Bengson
sonal level brings with it a number of loaded and Moffett are interested in the conditions un-
presumptions, for instance, concerning the im- der which someone can be said to know how to
port of norms for action and belief. And I do do something, while Bartels & May want to ex-
Glauer, R. (2015). The Semantic Reading of Propositionality and Its Relation to Cognitive-Representational Explanations - A Commentary on
Andreas Bartels & Mark May. In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 2(C). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 978-3-95857-017-7 5 | 12

plain the cognitive-psychological difference (Stanley 2011, p. 144). This appears to imply
between practical and theoretical knowledge. that ascriptions of propositional attitudes are
When we adopt a semantic reading of proposi- understood realistically, and this in turn seems
tionality and follow Stanley’s analysis of know- to be possible only if we take such ascriptions to
ledge-how, it becomes clear that these are very describe real relations among subjects and men-
different endeavors. A theory of knowledge-how tal representations to have the propositional
involves an analysis of what it is to ascribe such content in question. This is the main motivation
knowledge to someone; it is an investigation of for a representational theory of mind (cf. Fodor
the semantics of knowledge-how ascriptions and 1987). Thus, an investigation into the nature of
of our ways of talking. An explanation of the knowledge-how that comes to the conclusion
difference between practical and theoretical that knowledge-how is propositional seems to
knowledge, on the other hand, tells us how cor- employ a representational reading of proposi-
responding abilities are realized by the cognitive tionality.
system in terms of the employed representa- Fortunately, this strong form of corres-
tions. pondence between ascriptions of propositional
One of the great virtues of a semantic attitudes and the mental states that are thus
reading of propositionality, then, is that it liber- described is not the only way to take such
ates us from drawing conclusions concerning ascriptions to describe real mental states. We
cognitive architecture from the structure of are not condemned to instrumentalism by ad-
ascriptions of mental states to subjects. Given opting a semantic reading of propositionality
that whether some mental state is propositional when we recognize that ascriptions of proposi-
depends on the form of its ascription, there is tional attitudes might share their logical struc-
no need to assume that the cognitive states de- ture with measurement statements.
scribed as propositional have to fulfill very spe-
cific conditions as to their structure and con- 3.2 Saving realism about propositional
tent. The correctness conditions for ascriptions attitudes while employing a semantic
of knowledge-how need not make reference to reading of propositionality: A
cognitive-architectural features of the subject of measurement view
the ascription. And according to Stanley’s ana-
lysis they don’t. A knowledge state that is At least since the late seventies a number of re-
ascribed as propositional to some subject need searchers have argued that having a proposi-
not have propositional content itself nor be in tional attitude is not a matter of standing in a
any way structured such as to provide a vehicle certain cognitive relation to an abstract object,
for a propositional content. Indeed, Stanley (cf. i.e., some particular proposition, but that
2011, p. 159) claims to have shown that having ascriptions of propositional attitudes describe
propositional knowledge states is entirely com- (intrinsic) psychological states with the help of
patible with even an anti-representational con- a domain of abstract representatives, i.e., the
ception of the mental. Nonetheless, knowledge- domain of propositions. Propositions play the
how is taken to be behaviorally real and effica- same role in ascriptions of propositional atti-
cious, since it is implicated in certain actions tudes as numbers play in measurement state-
and allows for explanations and predictions of ments (cf. e.g., Churchland 1979; Davidson
behavior. We will shortly see how this can be 2001; Beckermann 1996; Matthews 2007). Let’s
so. call this the measurement view of propositional
The liberation from cognitive-architectural attitudes.
commitments is somewhat occluded by Stanley, According to the measurement view,
however, when he writes that he is interested in ascriptions of propositional attitudes have a
the nature of knowledge-how and that “[d]iscus- non-relational logical form. The attitude verb
sions of semantics are often in fact discussions and its propositional complement together form
of metaphysics, carried out in the formal mode” a complex predicate that refers to an intrinsic
Glauer, R. (2015). The Semantic Reading of Propositionality and Its Relation to Cognitive-Representational Explanations - A Commentary on
Andreas Bartels & Mark May. In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 2(C). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 978-3-95857-017-7 6 | 12

psychological property of the subject of the measurable properties like length or mass, for
ascription. Thereby the difficulty that proposi- example. Numbers are assigned to objects in ac-
tional attitudes must be understood as a rela- cordance to a (procedural) rule. Somewhat sim-
tion between a subject and a proposition is plified, in the case of length or mass measure-
avoided: they could just as well be properties of ment, a unit element is defined, and the number
the subject. A weaker form of the measurement of unit elements that need to be concatenated
view is exhausted by this claim (cf. e.g., in a certain way such as to be of equal length or
Churchland 1979; Davidson 2001). mass, respectively, as the object that is meas-
A stronger form of the measurement view ured, are counted. For mass the concatenation
in addition holds that ascriptions of proposi- might be a simple lumping-together in the pan
tional attitudes really are measurements in the of a scale, while for length measurements unit
sense that a formal measurement theory can be elements are aligned rectilinearly. The number
formulated for propositional attitudes (Mat- assigned to an object is equal to the count of
thews 2007). And indeed a further investigation unit-elements required. These numbers can then
of the analogy between ordinary measurement be used to represent relations among objects
statements and ascriptions of propositional atti- that are measured in the same way, i.e., on the
tudes reveals how abstract objects can be used same scale. An object that takes the number
to refer to causally efficacious properties of ob- two on some length scale, for instance, is
jects without themselves playing any causal shorter than one that is assigned the number
role. A measurement theory shows that one three, and it takes two objects of length two to
formal structure, the so-called empirical struc- get a concatenated object of equal length to an
ture, can be homomorphically mapped onto an- object that was assigned the number four on
other formal structure, the representational that scale. Thus, the system of objects is
structure, the empirical structure being a formal mapped with respect to their length onto the
theory about the domain of objects of interest formal structure constituted by the natural
(cf. e.g., Krantz 1972). The details of this map- numbers, including addition and the less-or-
ping determine what can be inferred about the equal relation. The result is a homomorphic
empirical structure from the representational mapping from objects to numbers that respects
structure. In length measurement, for instance, certain additive relations among the lengths of
ratios between numbers correspond to ratios objects. Correspondingly, the addition of num-
between lengths of objects. bers can be used to reason about the lengths of
Propositional attitudes figure in the explan- objects. Other properties of these objects and
ation and prediction of behavior. Thus, in the their relations might not be captured by the ho-
case of propositional attitudes, the empirical momorphism. Which numerical operations can
formal structure has to be a formal theory of, pre- be used to reason about the objects’ properties
sumably, the psychological states that are caus- of interest depends on the scale that is used. In
ally involved in the production of behavior. The temperature measurement, for instance, most
representational formal structure has to be an ad- common scales do not respect ratios among
equate formalization of the structure of proposi- temperatures, such that it does not make sense
tions. Leaving open what the two structures even- to say, for instance, that the air on a sunny day
tually turn out to be, it is the stronger claim that at 28° centigrade is twice as warm as the air on
ascriptions of propositional attitudes really are a day in fall at 14° centigrade.
measurements that I want to endorse here. In Importantly, the objects’ properties of in-
particular, I take it that propositions are the ele- terest are holistically captured by the numbers
ments of a representational structure of a meas- on a scale. It is in virtue of their position on the
urement theory for propositional attitudes. Let us scale and the admissible operations that num-
have a brief look at measurement theory. bers represent certain (amounts of) properties
In ordinary measurements, numerical of measured objects. There is nothing intrinsic
scales are used to represent systems of certain to the number five that would make it a repres-
Glauer, R. (2015). The Semantic Reading of Propositionality and Its Relation to Cognitive-Representational Explanations - A Commentary on
Andreas Bartels & Mark May. In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 2(C). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 978-3-95857-017-7 7 | 12

entative of a length of five centimeters or a particular propositions can be said to represent

weight of five kilograms. Individually, i.e., some psychological state. According to this
without their position on a scale, numbers don’t view, there is nothing intrinsic to propositions
tell us anything about the property they are that would relate them to particular psycholo-
used to represent—not even when the dimen- gical states. Thus, a measurement-theoretic no-
sion (length, weight, …) is added. Thus, which tion of propositionality does not require the
numbers represent which property (or amount states that are referred to with the help of pro-
of a property) and which operations on these positions to have propositional content them-
numbers can be used to reason about the prop- selves. Nonetheless, ascriptions of propositional
erty of interest depends on the employed scale. attitudes can be understood realistically just as
Neither are all relations among objects respec- ordinary measurements are understood realistic-
ted by the homomorphic mapping; nor can all ally. Once the mapping is fixed, it is an entirely
relations among the numerical representatives objective question which proposition represents
be read back onto the objects of interest. This some given psychological state.
much can be said on the basis of basic measure- Neither numbers nor propositions are
ment theory as formulated by Krantz et al. themselves taken to be causally relevant, but
(1971). they are used to pick out a particular causally
Most interestingly for our present pur- relevant property (or state) from a range of pos-
poses, measurement in the sense of homo- sible relevant properties (or states) as defined
morphic mapping does not require numerical by the scale in use. Numbers on a meter scale
representatives. Elements of other abstract are used to identify the length of objects. And
structures might just as well serve as the targets it is the length of a pole, say, that is relevant for
of such homomorphic mappings. This idea is ex- building a rack, not the number that is used to
ploited by Matthews (2007) and Dresner (2010), identify that length. The number is only relev-
for instance. In particular, Matthews argues ant in relation to the numbers that are assigned
that the structure of propositions, including to other parts of the rack. Similarly, proposi-
their inferential and evidential relations among tions are used to identify psychological states
each other and to perceptions, might thus serve that are behaviorally relevant. But it is the psy-
as a measurement structure for certain psycho- chological states themselves that produce beha-
logical states of subjects: those that are com- vior, not the propositions that are used to
monly called the propositional attitudes. These identify them. Using propositions to identify
psychological states are homomorphically psychological states leaves open how these
mapped onto propositions—the causal relations states are realized within the cognitive system.
among the former being captured by the infer- All that is required is that the homomorphism
ential, and other relations among the latter. holds. Indeed, drawing conclusions about the
The propositions can then be used to identify structure of the cognitive system from observa-
psychological states and, importantly, to reason tions concerning properties of the propositional
about them. Thereby, propositional attitudes representatives of psychological states that are
can appear in explanations and predictions of not warranted by the representational scheme
behavior without the propositions themselves (or “scale”) arguably amounts to an over-assign-
having to play any causal role in the cognitive ment of structure (cf. Dresner 2004). As noted
system. above, not all properties of the system of repres-
I take it that propositional structures rep- entatives are shared by what they represent.
resent psychological properties holistically—just The homomorphism holds with respect to some
as numerical structures represent properties of structural features of the represented objects as
objects holistically. The homomorphic mapping determined by the used scale.
as a whole respects certain relations among psy- Stanley appears to be at least sympathetic
chological states, and it is in virtue of their pos- to such a measurement-theoretic conception of
ition within the propositional structure that propositions—he mentions Matthews (2007) ap-
Glauer, R. (2015). The Semantic Reading of Propositionality and Its Relation to Cognitive-Representational Explanations - A Commentary on
Andreas Bartels & Mark May. In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 2(C). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 978-3-95857-017-7 8 | 12

provingly. And there is reason to believe that different. In analogy to the measurement of
such a measurement account of ascriptions of length, one might say that Bartels and May are
propositional attitudes is a plausible candidate interested in giving a theory of how different
for a semantic conception of propositionality. As bodies behave with respect to their length un-
mentioned above, it has the advantage of giving der some range of (physical) concatenation op-
a non-instrumentalist, realist account of propos- erations and comparison relations. For instance,
itional attitudes without buying into any direct welding two rods might have an influence on the
correspondence between propositions and men- resultant length of the composite rod such that
tal representations that would lead to a lan- it is not equally long as the two aligned but un-
guage-of-thought-like theory of cognition. While welded rods. Or, they might be interested in
Fodorean Realism presupposes that ascriptions how length measurement transfers to smaller
of propositional attitudes can only be correct if scales, such as molecular, atomic, or subatomic
the involved terms refer to actual cognitive en- distances. Stanley, on the other hand, would be
tities and relations (i.e., a functional/computa- interested in the more formal properties of the
tional relation towards a mental representation, numerical scales that are used for length meas-
where the former determines the kind of atti- urement. He might ask how different scales re-
tude and the latter its propositional content), late. Just as the Fahrenheit scale can be trans-
such a measurement account makes clear how a ferred into the centigrade scale, knows-wh locu-
system of propositions could structurally (i.e., tions might be transformed into know-that locu-
holistically) represent psychological states tions.
without having to assume that psychological Toribio’s above-mentioned attack on intel-
states themselves have propositional content or, lectualism would then not be successful, because
at any rate, are dependent on how they are she has not realized that Stanley’s theory really
ascribed. And it eschews some of the difficulties is about the structure of the representatives of
associated with more traditional accounts, such certain psychological states, and not about the
as explaining how propositions can both be the psychological states themselves. She offers some
abstract, sharable contents of thoughts and at considerations concerning the structure of the
the same time psychologically real in that what psychological states that are meant to show
someone does depends on the contents of his de- that they could not possibly be propositional.
sires and beliefs, etc. (cf. Davidson 2001). The But she does not give us a reason to think that
mental states represented by some propositional the considered properties of certain cognitive
attitude ascriptions are psychologically real; the processes face difficulties in terms of being rep-
proposition itself need not be. First of all, it resented by a propositional structure. Stanley
serves as a representative for that state. then shows that there is no such difficulty. Tori-
The difference between Stanley’s and Bar- bio’s discussion, on the other hand, is rather in-
tels and May’s accounts of knowledge-how and teresting for the development of an account of
practical knowledge, respectively, can then be the cognitive structures that make it the case
understood as follows. Stanley is interested in that someone knows how to do something.
the structure of the domain of abstract entities Stanley’s and Bartels and May’s accounts
that are used to represent psychological struc- are thus relatively independent of each other.
ture, while Bartels and May are interested in Stanley’s theory of knowledge-how can be seen
the structure of the empirical domain of psycho- as a partial investigation of the representational
logical entities and relations that are described structure that we use to identify certain mental
in terms of propositional attitudes. Both en- states. The approach of Bartels and May, on the
deavors are related in that they involve a phe- other hand, is an attempt to give an explana-
nomenon that we might call “knowing how to tion of certain cognitive capacities that are
do something”, and both use intuitive examples taken to be expressions of knowledge-how in
and empirical evidence as test cases for their ac- terms of underlying mental representations.
counts. But their respective goal is really quite Given that propositional attitude ascriptions
Glauer, R. (2015). The Semantic Reading of Propositionality and Its Relation to Cognitive-Representational Explanations - A Commentary on
Andreas Bartels & Mark May. In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 2(C). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 978-3-95857-017-7 9 | 12

measure psychological states, they aim to for- to be that we take ascriptions of propositional
mulate a theory of the empirical structure. The attitudes to mirror psychologically real relations
measurement view first of all serves to disen- between subjects and propositions. As such, we
tangle these different endeavors and to shed feel the need to tell a story about how proposi-
some light on the relation between them, tional attitudes are realized in the brain. The
namely that the search for underlying represent- measurement view enables us to employ a less
ations and mental mechanisms is largely uncon- committal way of representing someone’s psy-
strained by the structure of ascriptions of pro- chological states that largely leaves open how
positional attitudes by themselves and that con- the cognitive system manages to coordinate its
clusions about the empirical structure can only behavior with the environment. The constraints
be drawn when the mapping is known as well. that are put on cognitive architecture by suc-
This take is in line with both Stanley’s cessful ascriptions of propositional attitudes are
theory and Bartels and May’s explanation of really quite weak. To be sure, if the measure-
practical knowledge. Stanley believes that cog- ment view is to be proven correct, there must
nitive psychology does not decide whether be a homomorphic mapping from an empirical
knowledge-how is propositional and refutes all structure into the propositional structure. But
objections to the contrary. The propositionality homomorphisms abound. Any number of homo-
of knowledge-how is a matter of the semantics morphisms can be found between any two struc-
of their ascriptions. And Bartels and May give a tures. And as far as we can tell, the structure of
characterization of the difference between prac- propositions is homomorphic to the course of
tical and theoretical knowledge that is inde- the sun and the stars. This is why we can em-
pendent of Stanley’s theory of knowledge-how. ploy intentional explanations for just about any
Practical knowledge has some behavioral/func- system we want. The measurement view be-
tional characteristics that are to be explained in comes informative when we have formalizations
terms of mental representations. The measure- of the two structures and a measurement theory
ment view parts company with Stanley in his that describes the particular homomorphism of
contention that he provides an investigation interest that holds between them. Then we can
into the nature of knowledge-how. Rather, the tell what we learn about the empirical structure
measurement view is an investigation into a by means of reasoning about propositions. An
part of the representational structure of a meas- attempt to infer the empirical structure from
urement theory for a certain range of psycholo- the representational structure alone must fail.
gical states. We would not take an investigation In the case of propositional attitudes, I ul-
of the centigrade scale to be an investigation of timately doubt that the mapping is best con-
the nature of temperature. ceived as holding between internal cognitive ar-
chitectural structure and propositional attitude
4 Some final remarks ascriptions. Propositional attitudes might rather
be measurements of structures of observable be-
What the discussion around knowledge-how havior. Propositional attitudes are ascribed on
mainly shows, I think, is that the relation the basis of observable behavior together with
between propositional attitudes, cognitive struc- some standards of folk psychology—such as that
tures or representations, and the behavioral one believes what one sees or what one is told
evidence for their respective presence are still by trustworthy peers. Propositions might
not well understood. It seems that we find it provide standardized ways of identifying behavi-
surprisingly difficult to disentangle our different orally relevant circumstances, including what
ways of talking about ourselves and others in someone saw, was told, and aims for, that
terms of what we believe, on the one hand, and would otherwise have to be identified less sys-
in terms of the information that our brains (or tematically by way of particular situations and
some other division of the body-environment) individual histories. I can tell that you know
process on the other. The main difficulty seems that the earth is an approximate sphere—you’ve
Glauer, R. (2015). The Semantic Reading of Propositionality and Its Relation to Cognitive-Representational Explanations - A Commentary on
Andreas Bartels & Mark May. In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 2(C). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 978-3-95857-017-7 10 | 12

certainly learned it somewhere. I do not need to In closing, I want to mention one reserva-
go back in your learning history until I find the tion that can be held against the particular cog-
moment in which someone uttered a sentence nitive-architectural account presented by Bar-
with the respective meaning—which would al- tels and May. Given that concepts remain a
low for similar predictions and explanations. vexed issue in contemporary discussion, that
Taking propositional attitude ascriptions they are traditionally closely related to proposi-
to be measurements of structures of observable tions, and that it is notoriously difficult to find
behavior would also be very much in line with good grounds for attributing representations of
Ryle’s original, rather behaviorist discussion of a certain kind and with a specific content to
knowledge-how. With reference to our use of cognitive systems that are not able to verbally
mental vocabulary to describe the behavior of express their beliefs, a semantic reading of con-
others, Ryle writes that “we go beyond what ceptuality might be worth considering. Concepts
we see them do and hear them say, but this go- might be broadly conceived of as the constitu-
ing beyond is not a going behind, in the sense ents of thoughts, i.e., (trains) of propositional
of making inferences to occult causes; it is go- attitudes. In our case: whatever is a constituent
ing beyond in the sense of considering, in the of knowledge-how would count as a concept.
first instance, the powers and propensities of One effect of this would be that the reliance on
which their actions are exercises” (1949, p.51). non-conceptual capacities in order to explain
The powers and propensities are in turn under- certain forms of knowledge-how, like that of pa-
stood as complex dispositions, describable in tient DF, would not be open to Stanley. But as
terms of their acquisition and manifestation an alternative, Stanley could accept demon-
conditions. The move from a structure of ob- strative concepts and claim that some forms of
servable behavior to a propositional structure knowledge-how are distinguished by their in-
would take the place of acknowledging the role volvement. Admittedly, Bartels & May would
of so-called internal states; for now we can ex- have to change their terminology; their abilities
ploit inferential relations among propositions approach to concepts is not compatible with
for explanation and prediction. But these pro- concepts being the constituents of propositions
positional attitudes need not be understood as alongside a semantic reading of propositionality.
internal states. Instead they could be taken as But nothing much seems to be lost by this.
measurement representations of Ryle’s powers Quite possibly, mentalistic vocabulary is just
and propensities. Ryle notwithstanding, how- not the best way to come to grips with the
ever, we need not give up cognitive psychology. structure of cognitive systems.
Ascriptions of propositional attitudes and cog-
nitive representations would relate via the be-
havior that each is to explain—they provide
complementary explanations of the same beha-
vior. For Bartels and May’s explanation of
practical knowledge this would mean that it is
not part of a theory of an empirical structure
for measurements of propositional attitudes. It
would be a cognitive-psychological explanation
of a behaviorally characterized psychological
phenomenon called practical knowledge. The
main point of this commentary, though—
namely, that Stanley and Bartels and May are
up to different things and that little can be in-
ferred about cognitive architecture from Stan-
ley’s analysis of knowledge-how—remains un-
Glauer, R. (2015). The Semantic Reading of Propositionality and Its Relation to Cognitive-Representational Explanations - A Commentary on
Andreas Bartels & Mark May. In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 2(C). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 978-3-95857-017-7 11 | 12

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ledge-how should explain. In T. Metzinger & J. M. Explorations, 11 (1), 39-52.
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Davidson, D. (2001). What is present to the mind. In D.
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Dresner, E. (2004). Over-assignment of structure. Journal
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Fodor, J. (1987). The persistence of the attitudes. In J.
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semantic analysis and an analysis of mind. In A.
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representation (pp. 79-105). Stanford, CA: Centre for
the Study of Language & Information.
Krantz, D. H. (1972). Measurement structures and psy-
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1435. 10.1126/science.175.4029.1427
Krantz, D., Luce, D., Suppes, P., & Tversky, A. (1971).
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demic Press.
Matthews, R. J. (2007). The measure of mind. Oxford,
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Glauer, R. (2015). The Semantic Reading of Propositionality and Its Relation to Cognitive-Representational Explanations - A Commentary on
Andreas Bartels & Mark May. In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 2(C). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 978-3-95857-017-7 12 | 12
Preparing the Ground for an Empirical
Theory of Knowing-How
A Reply to Ramiro Glauer

Andreas Bartels & Mark May

The commentary gives a clear and instructive summary of our main arguments Authors
against both, intellectualist and anti-intellectualist accounts of knowing-how. But
the aim of our account is not correctly described as an attempt to give an explan-
Andreas Bartels
ation of certain cognitive capacities that are taken to be expressions of know-
andreas.bartels @
ledge-how in terms of underlying mental representations. (Glauer this collection,
p.10). What we aim at is not an empirical theory of knowing-how, but a framework Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-
that would be useful for cognitive scientific research on phenomena of knowing- Universität
how. Bonn, Germany

Keywords Mark May

(Anti-) intellectualism | Conceptuality | Knowing-how | Knowing-that | Know- mm @
ledge representation | Propositionality Helmut-Schmidt-Universität
Hamburg, Germany


Ramiro Glauer
ramiro.glauer @
Magdeburg, Germany


Thomas Metzinger
metzinger @
Johannes Gutenberg-Universität
Mainz, Germany

Jennifer M. Windt
jennifer.windt @
Monash University
Melbourne, Australia

1 Answer to the Commentary

First, we want to thank Ramiro Glauer and em- Jason Stanley (2011) with respect to the issue
phasize that his commentary gives a clear and of propositionality as an alleged demarcation
instructive summary of our main arguments criterion between knowing-how and knowing-
against both intellectualist and anti-intellectual- that. There are at least three different concep-
ist accounts of knowing-how (see Section 2). As tions of propositionality, and none turns out to
he rightly points out, we are parting ways with be helpful in making the distinction. In particu-
Bartels, A. & May, M. (2015). Preparing the Ground for an Empirical Theory of Knowing-How - A Reply to Ramiro Glauer.
In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 2(R). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570863 1|3

lar, the semantic reading of propositionality, ac- (this collection, p. 4)? First, we are not quite
cording to Stanley’s thoughtful and impressive sure how Glauer would himself mark the differ-
account, applies to clear-cut cases of knowing- ence between a “person” and a “cognitive sys-
how. Since knowing-how is no less propositional, tem”, and what relevance he would ascribe to
according to the semantic reading, than know- that difference with respect to the issue of
ing-that, there is no hope of understanding the knowing-how. Our paper wants to make clear
peculiarities of knowing-how by adopting such a that the first-person-perspective is an important
stance. constituent in the analysis of the specific dispos-
In Section 3, Glauer then turns to what in itional states that characterize “practical ways
his opinion is the main difference between Stan- of thinking”—specific ways of epistemic access
ley’s and our account. Unfortunately, we don’t to propositional contents when knowing-how is
think that he quite grasps the point that is im- at stake (Bartels & May this collection, p. 6).
portant to us when he argues that “what hap- Thus, we agree that the knowing person, includ-
pens between Stanley and Bartels & May’s dis- ing all of his or her cognitive capacities and be-
cussion of kinds of knowledge, then, is a shift havioral resources, has to be taken into account
from a personal-level perspective to a level at for a thorough analysis of knowing-how; see, for
which the cognitive system is described” instance, our example of the waiter in a restaur-
(Glauer this collection, p. 4), and later, “Bartels ant balancing different types of coffee cups (p.
& May, on the other hand, want to explain the 16).
peculiarities of practical and theoretical know- In essence, Ramiro Glauer’s commentary
ledge in terms of the involved underlying repres- draws a picture of our account that misses its
entations” (Glauer this collection, p. 5). This, main intentions. The aim of our account is not
we have to say, is clearly a misrepresentation of correctly described as “an attempt to give an
our account and the intentions behind our de- explanation of certain cognitive capacities that
veloping it. are taken to be expressions of knowledge-how in
To be more specific, we argue that neither terms of underlying mental representations”
the semantic nor the representational reading of (Glauer this collection, p. 9). Instead, our aim is
propositionality is suited to grounding the dis- to identify and specify some constituents of an
tinction between knowing-how and knowing- empirically fruitful theory of knowing-how. In a
that (Bartels & May this collection, pp. 5–6): first step, as we argue, this requires a careful
“[w]hether a piece of knowledge is a case of description of central epistemic peculiarities
practical or of theoretical knowledge does not that characterize knowing-how as opposed to
depend on whether it is supported by language- knowing-that, and that thus have to be covered
like structures or not” (p. 6). Thus, contrary to by any adequate theory (see Bartels & May this
the picture drawn in the commentary, we agree collection, pp. 12–13). We then ask what gen-
with Stanley with respect to his denial of a rep- eral sort of epistemic capacities may coincide
resentational demarcation criterion between with the peculiar capacities embodied by know-
knowing-how and knowing-that. We thereby ing-how and knowing-that, respectively. And fi-
don’t want to express any anti-representational nally, we suggest that conceptuality versus non-
reservations (as is also the case, in our opinion, conceptuality may be the general distinction
for Stanley). However, we are skeptical with re- that coincides with typical knowing-that and
spect to any type of account that, in rather in- knowing-how-capacities, and go on to highlight
tuitive ways, identifies kinds of knowledge with some of the explanatory virtues of such a pro-
ways of representing knowledge. This indeed is posal. For the last step we use a theory that
our main issue of disagreement with the anti-in- characterizes conceptual abilities by specific be-
tellectualists (Glauer mentions this on p. 3). havioral traits (Newen & Bartels 2007).
What about the “shift from a personal- Our approach to the problem leaves open
level perspective to a level at which the cognit- by what types of mental representations those
ive system is described” that Glauer mentions conceptual abilities may be supported, if at all.
Bartels, A. & May, M. (2015). Preparing the Ground for an Empirical Theory of Knowing-How - A Reply to Ramiro Glauer.
In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 2(R). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570863 2|3

It cannot even be guaranteed that the distinc- References

tions drawn within our conceptual framework
coincide with any distinctions between repres- Bartels, A. & May, M. (2015). What a theory of know-
entational formats. What we aim at is not an ledge-how should explain. In T. Metzinger & J. M.
empirical theory of knowing-how, but a frame- Windt (Eds.) Open MIND. Frankfurt a. M., GER:
work that would be useful for cognitive scientific MIND Group.
research on the phenomena of knowing-how. Glauer, R. (2015). The semantic reading of propositional-
Thus, it may turn out to be useful to fill that ity and its relation to cognitive-representational ex-
framework with psychological or neurological planations: A commentary on Andreas Bartels & Mark
hypotheses concerning representational mechan- May. In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds.) Open
isms that may produce the epistemic capacities MIND. Frankfurt a. M., GER: MIND Group.
characterizing knowing-how. In Section 7 of our Matthews, R. J. (2007). The measure of mind. Oxford,
paper (Bartels & May this collection, pp. 16– UK: Oxford University Press.
17) we have provided different empirical ex- Newen, A. & Bartels, A. (2007). Animal minds and the
amples of mainly psychological research that possession of concepts. Philosophical Psychology, 20
has already been undertaken in this line. (3), 283-308. 10.1080/09515080701358096
We are looking at the subject not so much Stanley, J. (2011). Know how. Oxford, UK: Oxford Uni-
from the perspective of philosophers of mind, versity Press.
but from the perspectives of philosophy of sci-
ence and psychology. We therefore do not see
good reasons to go into any detail of the specific
theory that Ramiro Glauer explores in the
second part of his commentary (this collection,
pp. 6–7), namely the measurement view of pro-
positional attitudes (Matthews 2007). Since our
contribution does not intend to propose a new
theory of knowing-how, it would be quite point-
less to compare the potential merits of such a
theoretical view with our own account. What
we suggest is that psychological research, or
cognitive scientific research more generally, may
work along the path we have outlined, and thus
make progress in explaining knowing-how.

2 Conclusion

We agree to the commentary concerning our

main arguments against both, intellectualist
and anti-intellectualist accounts of knowing-
how. But we disagree with it concerning the
picture that it draws of the aim of our account.

Bartels, A. & May, M. (2015). Preparing the Ground for an Empirical Theory of Knowing-How - A Reply to Ramiro Glauer.
In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 2(R). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570863 3|3
Introspective Insecurity
Tim Bayne

This paper examines the case for pessimism concerning the trustworthiness of in- Author
trospection. I begin with a brief examination of two arguments for introspective
optimism, before turning in more detail to Eric Schwitzgebel’s case for the view
Tim Bayne
that introspective access to one’s own phenomenal states is highly insecure. I ar-
tim.bayne @
gue that there are a number of ways in which Schwitzgebel’s argument falls short
of its stated aims. The paper concludes with a speculative proposal about why The University of Manchester
some types of phenomenal states appear to be more introspectively elusive than Manchester, United Kingdom
Cognitive phenomenology | Emotion | Freestanding judgments | Imagery | Intro- Maximilian H. Engel
spection | Introspection-reliant | Optimism | Pessimism | Scaffolded judgments | M.H.Engel.1 @
Schwitzgebel Rijksunversiteit Groningen
Groningen, Netherlands


Thomas Metzinger
metzinger @
Johannes Gutenberg-Universität
Mainz, Germany

Jennifer M. Windt
jennifer.windt @
Monash University
Melbourne, Australia

1 Introduction

There is a curious ambivalence in current atti- kind of epistemic access to one’s experiences
tudes towards our epistemic relationship to simply by having them. 1
consciousness. Some theorists hold an optim- Running alongside this vein of optimism is a
istic view of the powers of introspection, re- rather more pessimistic strand of thought, accord-
garding judgments about one’s current experi- ing to which the epistemic credentials of intro-
ences as epistemically secure—perhaps some spection are chronically insecure. Far from regard-
of the most secure judgments that we make. ing introspection as a light that illuminates every
Optimists rarely claim that we have exhaust- corner of consciousness, pessimists suspect that
ive and infallible access to consciousness, but significant swathes of experience are accessible to
they do hold the epistemic credentials of in- introspection only with great difficulty if at all.2
trospection in high regard, at least when in-
trospection is directed towards the phenom- 1 Theorists inclined towards optimism include Chalmers (2003),
Gertler (2012), Goldman (2004), Horgan et al. (2006), Horgan &
enal character of consciousness. Those inclined Kriegel (2007), Siewert (2007), and Smithies (2012).
to optimism don’t doubt that it is possible to 2 The contrast between “optimists” and “pessimists” is far from sharp,
for optimists often grant that epistemic access to consciousness can
mis-remember or mis-report one’s experiences, be (very) challenging, and pessimists often allow that there are ex-
but they tend to assume that one has some periential domains with respect to which introspection is trust-

Bayne, T. (2015). Introspective Insecurity.

In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 3(T). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570214 1 | 18


Introspection An unmediated judgment that has as its intentional object a current psychological
or phenomenal state of one’s own.
Discrimination The capacity to attentively single the state out from amongst the other experi-
ences that one has at the time in question.
Categorize To categorize a phenomenal state is to locate it within a taxonomy of some kind.
Directly and indirectly introspect- A direct introspective judgment concerns the phenomenal character/content of
ive judgments one’s current phenomenal state(s) and is grounded in a single act of introspective
attention, whereas an indirect introspective judgment concerns the general nature
of one’s conscious experience and is not grounded in a single act of introspective
Scaffolded judgments An introspective judgment is scaffolded if and only if it is accompanied by a dis-
position to make a first-order judgment (e.g., a perceptual judgment) whose con-
tent broadly corresponds to the judgment of the introspective judgment. For ex-
ample, the judgment that one has a visual experience as of a red tomato in front
of one is scaffolded insofar as it is accompanied by a disposition to make the per-
ceptual judgment that there is a red tomato in front of one.
Freestanding judgments An introspective judgment is freestanding if and only if it is not accompanied
by a disposition to make a first-order judgment (e.g., a perceptual judgment)
whose contents broadly corresponds to the judgment of the introspective judg-

According to Dan Haybron, “[…]even the gross flecting about minor matters, or about
qualitative character of our conscious experience the past, or only for a moment, or when
can elude our introspective capacities” (Haybron fine discrimination is required. We are
2007, p. 415). Sounding a similar note, Maja both ignorant and prone to error. There
Spener has argued that “philosophers and psycho- are major lacunae in our self-knowledge
logists routinely overestimate the epistemic cre- that are not easily filled in, and we make
dentials of introspection in their theorizing” gross, enduring mistakes about even the
(Spener unpublished; see also Spener 2011a, most basic features of our currently on-
2011b, and 2013). But perhaps the most thor- going conscious experience (or “phe-
oughgoing pessimist is Eric Schwitzgebel: nomenology”), even in favourable circum-
stances of careful reflection, with dis-
Most people are poor introspectors of tressing regularity. (2008, p. 247)
their own ongoing conscious experience.
We fail not just in assessing the causes of Although Schwitzgebel’s pessimism is tempered
our mental states or the processes under- by moments of optimism, the dominant theme
writing them; and not just in our judg- in his work is that introspection cannot be trus-
ments about nonphenomenal mental ted to reveal anything other than the most
states like traits, motives and skills, and mundane features of consciousness. Descartes,
not only when we are distracted, or pas- Schwitzgebel argues, “had it quite backwards
sionate or inattentive or self-deceived, or when he said the mind—including especially
pathologically deluded or when we’re re- current conscious experience—was better known
than the outside world” (2008, p. 267).
worthy. Nonetheless, these terms are useful insofar as they capture
the overarching attitude that the two groups of theorists express
I feel the pull of both optimism and pess-
with regard to introspection. imism. In my optimistic moments I find it hard
Bayne, T. (2015). Introspective Insecurity.
In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 3(T). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570214 2 | 18

to take seriously the suggestion that I might be sonal modes of access to consciousness—can
guilty of “gross and enduring mistakes” about easily accommodate introspective ignorance and
the basic features of my current phenomenology. error, but they struggle to account for the epi-
But the arguments for pessimism are powerful stemic security that often seems to characterize
and not easily dismissed, and I worry that introspection. In short, an account of introspec-
Schwitzgebel is right when he suggests that the tion’s epistemic profile would function as a use-
allure of optimism might be due to nothing ful constraint on accounts of its nature.
more than the fact that “no-one ever scolds us
for getting it wrong” (2008, p. 260). 2 Motivating optimism
A central aim of this paper is to provide
an overview of Schwitzgebel’s case for intro- By “introspection” I mean an unmediated judg-
spective pessimism, and to chart a number of ment that has as its intentional object a current
ways in which the optimist might respond to it. psychological state of one’s own. Introspection
But although this paper can be read as a de- can take as its object a wide variety of psycho-
fence of a kind of optimism, my central concern logical states, but here I am concerned only
is not so much to take sides in this debate as to with the introspection of phenomenal states—
advance it by noting various complexities that states that there is “something it is like” for the
have perhaps been overlooked. But before turn- subject in question to be in. In principle one
ing to the debate itself let me make a few com- could have any number of reasons for self-
ments about its importance. An account of the ascribing a phenomenal state—for example, it is
trustworthiness of introspection is likely to have possible to self-ascribe pain on the basis of
a bearing on two important issues. Most obvi- neural or behavioural evidence—but introspec-
ously, it has implications for the use of intro- tion involves the self-ascription of phenomenal
spection as a source of evidence regarding philo- states on the basis of seemingly “direct” contact
sophical and scientific debates about conscious- with them.3
ness. Whether or not introspection is our sole There are many aspects of consciousness
form of access to consciousness, there is no with respect to which we clearly have little to
doubt that it is currently treated as a central no introspective access. For example, introspec-
form of such access, and thus doubts about the tion is clearly not a source of information about
reliability of introspection engender doubts the neural basis of consciousness or its func-
about the viability of the study of conscious- tional role. But surely, one might think, intro-
ness. A second issue on which the trustworthi- spection can provide trustworthy answers to
ness of introspection has an important bearing such questions as, “Am I now in a conscious
concerns debates about the nature of introspec- state with such-and-such a phenomenal charac-
tion, and in particular the relationship between ter?” Roughly speaking, to regard introspection
introspection and consciousness. Some accounts as able to reveal the phenomenal character of
of introspection take a person to be necessarily one’s conscious states is to have an optimistic
acquainted with his or her conscious states, attitude towards it. But there is more than one
where acquaintance is an epistemic relationship sense in which introspection might be said to
of a particularly intimate kind (Gertler 2012; reveal the character of consciousness, and thus
Horgan et al. 2006; Smithies 2012). It is fair to more than one way to be an introspective op-
say that such approaches are optimistic by timist.
nature, and although advocates of such ac- One way in which introspection can reveal
counts have attempted to accommodate the a phenomenal state is by allowing one to dis-
possibility of introspective ignorance and error criminate it from its phenomenal neighbours. I
(see e.g., Horgan 2012), the success of such at- take discrimination to be bound up with the ca-
tempts is very much an open question. Other
accounts of “introspection”—such as those that 3 Introspection may involve direct access to consciousness at a per-
sonal level and yet also be inferential and indirect at sub-personal
deny that there are any distinctively first-per- levels of description.

Bayne, T. (2015). Introspective Insecurity.

In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 3(T). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570214 3 | 18

pacity to single the state out from amongst the pessimism can be more or less radical depend-
other experiences—e.g., thoughts, perceptual ing on whether its scope is restricted to categor-
experiences, and bodily sensations—that hap- ical access (moderate) or includes both categor-
pen to populate one’s field of consciousness. ical and discriminative access (radical). In what
Discriminative access to an experience allows follows, I use the terms “introspective optim-
one to direct one’s attention towards it and to ism” and “introspective pessimism” to refer to
thus make it the potential target of demonstrat- the moderate versions of these views unless
ive thought—“I wish that this experience would noted otherwise.
stop”. A second mode of introspective access to
consciousness involves the deployment of cat- 2.1 The phenomenological argument
egories. To categorize a phenomenal state is to
locate it within a taxonomy of some kind. Cat- Although introspective optimism is often as-
egorical access to the experience of an itch, for sumed rather than explicitly argued for, I think
example, involves recognizing it as a phenom- it is possible to discern two lines of argument
enal state of a certain type—a state, perhaps, for it in the literature. Neither argument is con-
that has a certain intensity, bodily location, and clusive, but taken together they go some way
relations to other experiences. Categorical ac- towards justifying the widespread endorsement
cess is a more sophisticated form of access than of introspective optimism.
discriminative access. Just as it is possible to The first argument is phenomenological:
discriminate a bird from its surroundings introspection seems to reveal itself as providing
without being able to recognize it as a bird— a trustworthy source of information about con-
perhaps all one can do is bring it under the sciousness. In other words, the epistemic secur-
demonstrative, “that thing there in the sky”— ity of introspection seems to be something that
so too it may be possible to discriminate a phe- is manifest in its very phenomenology. Consider
nomenal state without being able to recognize it Brie Gertler’s description of what it is like to
as the kind of phenomenal state it is. Mature attend to the experience that is generated by
human beings enjoy some degree of categorical pinching oneself:
and discriminative access to their phenomenal
states, but many conscious creatures—non-lin- When I try this, I find it nearly impossible
guistic animals and young children, for example to doubt that my experience has a certain
—may enjoy only discriminative access to con- phenomenal quality—the phenomenal
sciousness.4 quality it epistemically seems to me to
With this in mind, we can distinguish two have, when I focus my attention on the ex-
forms of introspective optimism. Moderate in- perience. Since this is so difficult to doubt,
trospective optimism holds that being in a phe- my grasp of the phenomenal property
nomenal state typically brings with it the capa- seems not to derive from background as-
city to discriminate that state from its phenom- sumptions that I could suspend: e.g., that
enal neighbours, while a more radical form of the experience is caused by an act of
introspective optimism holds that being in a pinching. It seems to derive entirely from
phenomenal state typically brings with it the the experience itself. If that is correct, my
capacity to both discriminate and accurately judgment registering the relevant aspect of
categorize it. By the same token, introspective how things epistemically seem to me (this
phenomenal property is instantiated) is
4 This claim would need to be tempered if as seems plausible discrim-
inative access requires a minimal form of categorical access. Consider directly tied to the phenomenal reality
again the case of discriminating a bird but failing to recognize it as a that is its truthmaker. (2012, p. 111)
bird. This counts as a failure of categorical access insofar as one fails
to bring it under the concept <bird> (or related concepts such as
<robin>), but it is arguable that in order to discriminate it from its I suspect that Gertler’s comments will strike a
perceptual background one (or one’s visual system) must bind the
various visual features together as the features of a single object,
chord with many readers—they certainly reson-
which may require a minimal form of categorical access to the object. ate with me. Introspection seems not merely to
Bayne, T. (2015). Introspective Insecurity.
In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 3(T). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570214 4 | 18

provide one with information about one’s exper- and unobstructed view of the objects before
iences, it seems also to “say” something about one. In short, it seems not implausible to sup-
the quality of that information. This point can pose that vision—and perceptual experience
be illuminated by contrasting introspection with more generally—often contains clues about its
other forms of access to consciousness. Suppose own evidential value. As far as I can see there is
that you believe that you have the phenomeno- no reason to dismiss the possibility that what
logy associated with anger because a friend has holds of visual experience might also hold true
pointed out that you are behaving angrily. In of introspection: acts of introspection might
cases like this, testimony provides one with a contain within themselves information about
form of access to one’s phenomenal states, but the degree to which their content ought to be
this access surely lacks the epistemic security trusted.
that introspective access typically possesses—or The foregoing addresses the first of the
at least seems to possess. It would be very odd two questions identified above but not the
to put more faith in “third-person” evidence second, for nothing in what I have said provides
concerning one’s own conscious states than any reason to think that introspection is a reli-
“first-person” evidence. able witness to its own veracity. It is one thing
Now, one might think that even if the phe- for introspection to represent its deliverances as
nomenological consideration just surveyed can trustworthy but it is another for those deliver-
explain why optimism seems so compelling, it ances to be trustworthy. But this being noted, it
surely can’t provide any justification for it. Ap- seems to me not unreasonable to think that the
pealing to introspection itself in order to estab- claims introspection makes on its own behalf
lish its epistemic credentials would be as futile should be afforded some degree of warrant. In
as attempting to pull oneself up by one’s own general, we regard perceptual testimony as in-
shoelaces. If it’s introspection itself that is in nocent unless proven guilty, and even if intro-
the dock, how could its own testimony exoner- spection is not itself a form of perception it
ate it? seems reasonable to apply that same rule here.
In considering this objection we need to (After all, it is not clear why we would have ac-
distinguish two questions. One question is quired a cognitive capacity if its deployment
whether introspection makes claims about its routinely led us astray.) The phenomenological
own veracity. A second question is what to argument certainly doesn’t provide any kind of
make of such claims should they exist—that is, proof for introspective optimism, but it seems
whether to regard them as providing additional to me to do more than merely explain why op-
reasons for thinking that introspection is trust- timism is so attractive: it also provides it with
worthy. Beginning with the first question, it some degree of justification.
seems to me not implausible to suppose that in-
trospection could bear witness to its own epi- 2.2 The conceptual argument
stemic credentials. After all, perceptual experi-
ence often contains clues about its epistemic A rather different argument for optimism takes
status. Vision doesn’t just provide information as its point of origin the very notion of a phe-
about the objects and properties present in our nomenal state. By definition, a phenomenal
immediate environment, it also contains inform- state is a state that there is “something that it’s
ation about the robustness of that information. like” for the subject in question to be in. Con-
Sometimes vision presents its take on the world scious creatures enjoy mental states of many
as having only low-grade quality, as when ob- kinds, but it is only phenomenal states that
jects are seen as blurry and indistinct or as sur- bring with them a subjective perspective. But—
rounded by haze and fog. At other times visual so the argument runs—if a phenomenal state is
experience represents itself as a highly trust- a state that there is something it is like to be
worthy source of information about the world, in, then the subject of that state must have epi-
such as when one takes oneself to have a clear stemic access to its phenomenal character. A
Bayne, T. (2015). Introspective Insecurity.
In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 3(T). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570214 5 | 18

state to which the subject had no epistemic ac- that in the relevant sense of the phrase there
cess could not make a constitutive contribution couldn’t be anything “that it’s like” for the sub-
to what it was like for that subject to be the ject to have the relevant experiences.
subject that it was, and thus it could not qual- Although attractive, this argument is not
ify as a phenomenal state. Call this the concep- without its problems. One challenge comes in
tual argument.5 the form of creatures that lack introspective ca-
How compelling is this argument? It seems pacities. A creature without introspective capa-
to me that a lot depends on what is implied by cities might be able to use its conscious states
the notion of “epistemic access”. There is little to discriminate some features of the world from
to recommend the conceptual argument if “epi- others, but it would not be able to make its
stemic access” is understood in terms of cat- conscious states themselves objects of its own
egorization, for it seems fairly clear that a sub- discriminative activities. And yet—the objection
ject need not possess the capacity to accurately runs—it would be implausible to hold that
categorize its phenomenal states in order for creatures that lack the capacity for introspect-
them to contribute to its phenomenal perspect- ive discrimination cannot have phenomenal
ive. Of necessity any phenomenal state will fall states. Intuitively, having phenomenal states is
under categories of various kinds, but the one thing and being able to discriminate one’s
nature of these categories need not be transpar- phenomenal states for each other is another—
ent to the creature experiencing it. and more sophisticated—thing. Thus—the argu-
But suppose that we construe epistemic ment runs—discriminative access to a phenom-
access in terms of categorization, rather than enal state cannot be a necessary condition for
identification. Might the conceptual argument being in that state.
justify a moderate form of optimism, according I certainly agree that it would be implaus-
to which subjects must have discriminative ac- ible to restrict phenomenal states to creatures
cess to their phenomenal states? To make this that possess introspective capacities, but per-
clearer, suppose that it is possible for phenom- haps the objection can be met without making
enal states to occur within the modules of early such a restriction. What we can say is that
vision of the kind that are concerned with de- when a creature does acquire introspective ca-
termining (say) texture or colour constancy. pacities those capacities bring with them the
Such phenomenal states—assuming that they ability to discriminate its phenomenal states
are possible—would be completely inaccessible from one another (at least under epistemically
to the subject in question. The creature in ques- benign conditions). So, we can grant that being
tion would be unable to contrast the phenom- in a phenomenal state doesn’t require discrimin-
enal character of these states with the phenom- ative access to that state, but also hold that
enal character of any of its other experiences; it creatures with introspective capacities will be
would be unable to single such states out for at- able to discriminate their phenomenal states
tention, and it would be unable to make them from one another (again, at least when condi-
the objects of demonstrative thought. As such, tions are epistemically benign).
it seems to me that it is very plausible to hold A second objection to the conceptual argu-
that they couldn’t be genuinely ascribed to the ment concerns states that occupy the “margins”
subject in question, but could at best be of consciousness—such as the unnoticed hum of
ascribed only to one of the subject’s perceptual the refrigerator or the background phenomeno-
modules. The root of this intuition, I suspect, logy of mood experiences. It is arguable that in
lies with the thought that a phenomenal state some cases experiences like this not only fail to
to which the subject has no discriminative ac- fall within the scope of introspection but in fact
cess couldn’t be anything “to” the subject— cannot be brought within its scope, for to at-
tend to them would be to bring them into the
5 There are echoes here of the claim that phenomenal consciousness
entails a certain kind of “access consciousness”. For some relevant
“centre” of consciousness and thus change their
discussion see Church (1997) and Clark (2000). phenomenal character. Such states serve as po-
Bayne, T. (2015). Introspective Insecurity.
In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 3(T). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570214 6 | 18

tential counter-examples to the claim that second distinction concerns the scope of pessim-
creatures with introspective capacities must be ism. At one end of the spectrum are local forms
able to discriminate their phenomenal states of pessimism that concern only a relatively cir-
from one another. cumscribed range of phenomenal states (say, im-
In response, one might grant that even if agery experiences), while at the other end of the
the phenomenal states that occur in the mar- spectrum are forms of pessimism that are unres-
gins of consciousness cannot be singled out for tricted in scope. Perhaps no theorist has ever em-
introspective attention, there is still a sense in braced a truly global form of pessimism—even
which they can be the objects of discrimination. Schwitzgebel grants that introspection is trust-
Not only can they be discriminated from one worthy with respect to certain aspects of con-
another, they can also be discriminated from sciousness—but some forms of pessimism are
those phenomenal states that do fall within the clearly wider in scope than others. These two dis-
scope of attention. Indeed, if such states cannot tinctions are, of course, orthogonal to each other.
be discriminated from their phenomenal neigh- One could be a moderate but global pessimist; al-
bours in any way then it is unclear what reason ternatively, one could endorse a radical but highly
we could have for thinking of them as falling local form of pessimism.
within the margins of consciousness at all, So much for the varieties of pessimism—
rather than being completely unconscious. how might one argue for the view? One influen-
Where do these considerations leave us? I tial line of argument for pessimism—or at least
have suggested that the phenomenological argu- something very much like it—appeals to the al-
ment provides some reason to take at least a leged privacy of introspection. Because an indi-
moderate form of optimism seriously. It doesn’t, vidual’s introspective judgments cannot be
of course, establish that our access to all kinds checked by anyone else, it follows—so the argu-
of phenomenal states is robust—indeed, one ment runs—that it would be inappropriate to
might even appeal to phenomenological consid- trust them. This argument is often used to mo-
erations to motivate the idea that our epistemic tivate the view that introspection is scientific-
access to significant regions of phenomenal ally illegitimate, but it could also be used to
space is very poor. (I return to this topic motivate the view that one should adopt a scep-
shortly.) The conceptual argument provides tical attitude towards one’s own introspective
little reason to think that we will always be able capacities.6 Although it has been influential, I
to categorize our phenomenal states, but it does will leave this argument to one side in order to
provide some motivation for the idea that being focus on a trio of arguments that aim to estab-
in a phenomenal state brings with it the ability lish not merely that there is no positive reason
to discriminate that phenomenal state, at least to trust introspection (as the argument just out-
when it comes to creatures with introspective lined attempts to do), but that there is positive
capacities. In short, optimism of at least a mod- reason not to trust it. My presentation of these
erate form is not merely a holdover from arguments will draw heavily on Schwitzgebel’s
Cartesianism but can be provided with some work, for he has done more than any other au-
degree of support. With these considerations in thor to develop and defend them.7
mind let us turn now to the case for pessimism. But before I examine those arguments, I
want to consider the overall structure of
3 Motivating pessimism
6 For critical discussion of this argument see Goldman (1997, 2004) and
Piccinini (2003, 2011). In my view the most plausible response to it in-
Two distinctions will prove helpful in what fol- volves denying that introspection is private in the sense required for the
lows. One distinction is between forms of pessim- argument to go through. I touch briefly on this idea in section 4.
7 Schwitzgebel is clearly attracted to a fairly global form of introspect-
ism that concern only our capacity to identify our ive pessimism, but (to the best of my knowledge) he doesn’t distin-
phenomenal states and forms of pessimism that guish between discriminative and categorical access, and thus it is
call into question our capacity to both discrimin- unclear whether his version of pessimism is radical or merely moder-
ate. Generally, however, he seems to have something akin to radical
ate and categorize our phenomenal states. A scepticism in mind.

Bayne, T. (2015). Introspective Insecurity.

In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 3(T). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570214 7 | 18

Schwitzgebel’s case for global scepticism. As I take both the hard and easy cases into consider-
read him, Schwitzgebel employs a two-step ation. Arguably, generalizing beyond the obvi-
strategy (2008, p. 259). The first step involves ously easy and hard cases requires an account of
attempting to establish a form of local pessim- what makes the hard cases hard and the easy
ism via one (or more) of the three argumentat- cases easy. Only once we’ve made some progress
ive strategies to be explored below. The second with that question will we be in a position to
step involves generalizing from the kinds of phe- make warranted claims about introspective ac-
nomenal states that are the targets of local cess to consciousness in general. What this sug-
pessimism to phenomenal states in general. The gests is that although there is a formal distinc-
second step is clearly required, for without it we tion between the two steps of Schwitzgebel’s ar-
would have no reason to regard introspection in gument, the steps are not entirely independent
general as “faulty, untrustworthy, and mislead- of each other, for the fortunes of the second
ing”—“not just possibly mistaken, but step rest in part on the case that can be made
massively and pervasively” (Schwitzgebel 2008, for the first step. With that thought in mind,
p. 259).8 let us now turn to the arguments for pessimism.
I will consider both steps in due course,
but the crucial point to note for now is that, 3.1 The argument from dumbfounding
considered in the abstract, the second step of
the argument looks somewhat suspect (Bayne & One line of argument that features prominently
Spener 2010). Even if there are hard cases for in Schwitzgebel’s work is what I call the argu-
introspection—that is, cases in which intro- ment from dumbfounding.9 Arguments of this
spective access to phenomenology is insecure— form involve posing introspective questions that
there also easy cases—that is, cases in which in- allegedly stump us—questions that we find
trospective access to phenomenology is clearly ourselves unable to answer with any significant
secure. Indeed, Schwitzgebel himself grants that degree of confidence. Here’s an example of such
introspection “may admit obvious cases” and an argument:
that some aspects of visual experience “are so
obvious it would be difficult to go wrong about Reflect on, introspect, your own ongoing
them” (Schwitzgebel 2008, p. 253). But if that’s emotional experience at this instant. Do
the case, then one might well ask why we you even have any? If you’re in doubt,
shouldn’t generalize from those cases rather vividly recall some event that still riles
than from the hard cases on which he focuses. you until you’re sure enough that you’re
Schwitzgebel complains that to generalize about suffering from renewed emotion. Or maybe
introspection only on the basis of the easy cases your boredom, anxiety, irritation, or
“rigs the game”. That’s true. But it’s equally whatever in reading this essay is enough.
true that to generalize only on the basis of the Now let me ask: Is it completely obvious
hard cases—as Schwitzgebel seems to do— to you what the character of that experi-
would also rig the game. In fact, it would seem ence is? Does introspection reveal it to you
pretty clear that any comprehensive account of as clearly as visual observation reveals the
the epistemic landscape of introspection must presence of the text before your eyes? Can
8 Another reconstruction of Schwitzgebel’s overarching argumentative
you discern its gross and fine features
strategy proceeds as follows. Although the arguments from dumb- through introspection as easily and as con-
founding, dissociation, and variation establish only local forms of in- fidently as you can, through vision, discern
trospective pessimism when considered on their own, when taken col-
lectively they provide a good case for a relatively global form of pess- the gross and fine features of nearby ex-
imism given that each of the three arguments concerns distinct (al- ternal objects? Can you trace its spatiality
beit, perhaps, overlapping) domains of phenomenology. Thus under-
stood, Schwitzgebel does not need to appeal to a generalization from (or non-spatiality), its viscerality or cog-
the “hard cases” to introspection in general. Although this construal nitiveness, its involvement with conscious
provides an alternative route to pessimism, I regard it as less prom-
ising than the one outlined in the text—both as a reading of 9 Following Hohwy (2011), Schwitzgebel (2011) calls this “the argu-
Schwitzgebel’s work and as an argument in its own right. ment from uncertainty”.

Bayne, T. (2015). Introspective Insecurity.

In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 3(T). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570214 8 | 18

imagery, thought, proprioception, or range of cases this assumption may be unjusti-

whatever, as sharply and infallibly as you fied. With respect to the phenomenology of
can discern the shape, texture and color of emotion it is natural to assume that the bound-
your desk? (Or the difference between 3 aries between the phenomenal states associated
and 27?) I cannot, of course, force a par- with emotion are as clean and sharp as the
ticular answer to these questions. I can boundaries between our standard ways of cat-
only invite you to share my intuitive sense egorizing emotional states. We regard boredom,
of uncertainty. (Schwitzgebel 2008, p. 251) anxiety, and irritation as distinct emotional
states, and we also regard each of these states
This argument does not appeal to independent as associated with distinctive forms of phe-
evidence in order to motivate pessimism. nomenology. On the basis of these two thoughts
Rather, it appeals to first-person considerations: we assume that the phenomenal states associ-
introspection itself seems to suggest that there ated with these categories can themselves be
are aspects of our own conscious experience cleanly distinguished from one another. Thus,
that elude our grasp. As Schwitzgebel puts it, when one finds oneself at a loss to know
“it’s not just language that fails us—most of whether one is in the phenomenal state associ-
us?—when we confront such questions […] but ated with boredom, anxiety, or irritation one
introspection itself. […] in the case of emotion, naturally assumes that the fault lies with one’s
the very phenomenology itself—the qualitative introspective capacities. But perhaps the mis-
character of our consciousness—is not entirely take was to assume that the phenomenology of
evident” (Schwitzgebel 2008, pp. 249–250). emotion can be cleanly demarcated into states
Before examining the force of this argu- that are uniquely associated with either bore-
ment, let us first consider what kind of pessim- dom, anxiety, or irritation. Perhaps the phe-
ism it aims to establish. Does the above passage nomenal states associated with these emotional
call into question our capacity to accurately states overlap and interpenetrate each other. If
categorize our emotional phenomenology, or is this were the case, then although there might
the claim rather that we lack even the capacity be certain contexts in which one’s emotional
to discriminate our emotional experiences from phenomenology is purely that of (say) boredom,
one another and from the rest of our phenom- there may also be other contexts in which one’s
enal states? Although Schwitzgebel’s concern emotional phenomenology involves a complex
seems to include questions of discriminative ac- mix of the phenomenal states associated with
cess—after all, the passage begins by asking if boredom, anxiety and irritation. And if one
we can even tell whether or not we have any were in a context like this, one might be at
emotional phenomenology—I take his worries to something of a loss to know just how to cat-
centre on our capacity to accurately categorize egorize one’s emotional state. The only categor-
our emotional phenomenology. As I read him, ies that might come to mind would be those as-
Schwitzgebel’s questions focus on our ability to sociated with the folk psychology of emotion—
determine how our emotional experience is <boredom>, <anger> and <irritation>—but
structured, both internally and in terms of its these categories might fail to cut the phenomen-
relations to phenomenal states of other kinds. ology of emotion at its joints. In other words,
I think that the questions Schwitzgebel emotional phenomenology may pose a particular
raises are difficult to answer. However, it is not introspective challenge not because introspec-
clear to me that this fact provides quite as tion does a poor job of acquainting us with
much support for introspective pessimism as emotional phenomenology, but because the
Schwitzgebel thinks it does. Lying behind the structure of the phenomenology of emotion fails
dumbfounding strategy is the assumption that to map onto the structure of our folk categories
the questions being posed have determinate an- of emotions in a straightforward manner.
swers—that they are appropriate questions to Other versions of the argument from
ask. However, I suspect that in an important dumbfounding raise a different set of challenges
Bayne, T. (2015). Introspective Insecurity.
In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 3(T). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570214 9 | 18

for introspective optimism. Consider the ques- But perhaps the dumbfounding challenge
tion of introspective access to visual imagery. can be met in another way. As Jakob Hohwy
Schwitzgebel asks his readers to form a visual (2011) has noted, one striking feature of visual
image of the front of his or her house, and to imagery is its instability:
then consider the following questions:
In the absence of specific goal parameters
How much of the scene are you able for simulations there will be much phe-
vividly to visualize at once? Can you keep nomenal variability because in such condi-
the image of your chimney vividly in mind tions subjects must themselves make up
at the same time you vividly imagine (or the purposes for which they imagine
“image”) your front door? Or does the im- things, or engage in ‘simple’ free-wheeling
age of your chimney fade as your attention imagery. For example, there is an indefin-
shifts to the door? If there is a focal part ite number of purposes for which you can
of your image, how much detail does it imagine the front of your house (walking
have? How stable is it? Suppose that you up to it, standing close by, assessing its
are not able to image the entire front of shape, its prettiness, flying around it, how
your house with equal clarity at once, does the postman sees is, smelling it, repairing
your image gradually fade away towards it, buying it, selling it etc), each of these
the periphery, or does it do so abruptly? Is purposes will constrain the imagery, and
there any imagery at all outside the imme- thus the introspected phenomenology, in
diate region of focus? If the image fades different ways. This means that subjects
gradually away toward the periphery, does probably do have variable phenomenology,
one lose colours before shapes? Do the and introspectively report so reliably.
peripheral elements of the image have (2011, p. 279)
color at all before you think to assign color
to them? Do any parts of the image? If Hohwy’s comments are intended to explain the
some parts of the image have indetermin- variability in the introspective reports that indi-
ate colour before a colour is assigned, how viduals give, but they also bear on the dumb-
is that indeterminacy experienced—as founding argument. Perhaps we are not sure
grey?—or is it not experienced at all? If how best to describe the phenomenology of im-
images fade from the centre and it is not a agery because it is so variable. Imagery experi-
matter of the color fading, what exactly ences cannot be pinned down, but are con-
are the half-faded images like? stantly shifting in response to our own imagistic
(Schwitzgebel 2002, pp. 38–39) activity. Precisely how much of the scene we
vividly visualize “all at once” depends on the
I think that this line of questioning poses one of goals that constrain the act of visualization.
the most significant challenges to optimism. And, as Hohwy suggests, when we have no such
Further, it is doubtful whether this challenge goals our imagery may end up “freewheeling”,
can be resisted in the way that the previous such that we move from one state to another.
version of the dumbfounding challenge can, for Hohwy grounds his analysis in a predictive-cod-
these questions don’t seem to rest on any prob- ing account of cognition, but his fundamental
lematic assumptions. Schwitzgebel isn’t assum- point is independent of that theoretical frame-
ing that visual imagery must be pictorial in work and should be fairly uncontentious: im-
nature, or that it will always be fully detailed agery surely is more labile than perceptual ex-
and determinate. Rather, one issue that he ex- perience or bodily sensation. No wonder, then,
plicitly puts on the table is whether the phe- that its phenomenal structure is that much
nomenology of visual imagery can be purely more difficult to articulate.
“generic” or “gisty”, or whether it must instead I have suggested that the optimist has the
always be specific in some way or another. resources to meet (or at least “problematize”)
Bayne, T. (2015). Introspective Insecurity.
In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 3(T). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570214 10 | 18

two of the leading versions of the dumbfounding Draw a card from a normal deck without
argument. But suppose that my responses are looking at it. Keeping your eyes fixed on
found wanting, and that the pessimist is able to some point in front of you, hold the card
show that our introspective access to both emo- at arm’s length just beyond your field of
tional and imagery phenomenology is insecure view. Without moving your eyes, slowly
and impoverished. Even so, there would be a rotate the card toward the centre of your
further question as to how such a finding would visual field. How close to the centre must
motivate global pessimism. It is certainly true you bring it before you can determine the
that questions about the nature of certain kinds colour of the card, its suit, and its value?
of experiences (e.g., emotional and imagery ex- Most people are quite surprised at the res-
periences) strike us as difficult to answer and ult of this little experiment. They substan-
may leave us flummoxed, but it is equally true tially overestimate their visual acuity out-
that many introspective questions strike us as side the central, foveal region. When they
easily answered. Indeed, as the quotation from can’t make out whether it’s a Jack or a
Gertler makes vivid, many of our introspective Queen though the card is nearly (but only
judgments appear to be accompanied by a sense nearly) dead centre, they laugh, they’re
of epistemic certainty. Why should we general- astounded, dismayed. (Schwitzgebel 2008,
ize from the first set of cases rather than the pp. 254–255)
second? Without an account of why certain in-
trospective questions leave us dumbfounded it is How might we explain the dissociation between
difficult to see why pessimism about a particu- subjects’ introspective judgments and their
lar range of introspective questions should un- first-order judgments? One explanation is that
dermine the epistemic credentials of introspec- the subjects’ introspective beliefs are false, and
tion more generally. So even if the threat posed that people wrongly take themselves to have de-
by dumbfounding arguments were able to estab- tailed visual phenomenology outside of the fo-
lish a form of local pessimism, that threat cus of attention. This is the explanation that
would appear to be easily quarantined. Schwitzgebel endorses. But as Schwitzgebel
(2008, p. 255) himself notes, it is possible to ex-
3.2 Dissociation arguments plain this dissociation by supposing that indi-
viduals are wrong not about which phenomenal
A very different case for introspective pessim- states they are in but only about the origin of
ism is provided by what I call dissociation ar- that state. With respect to the card trick ex-
guments. Such arguments appeal to a lack of ample, the proposal is that subjects do indeed
congruence between a subject’s introspective have detailed visual phenomenology outside of
judgments and their capacity to produce reli- the origin of attention, but that this phenomen-
able first-order judgments—that is, judgments ology derives from background expectation
about the objects and properties in their envir- rather than environmental input—that is, it is
onment. An example of this kind of argument “illusory”.
is provided by Schwitzgebel’s treatment of the Schwitzgebel’s account of the dissociation
so-called “grand illusion” (Noë 2002). Most may have more intuitive appeal than the ac-
people, Schwitzgebel claims, hold that a broad count I have just outlined, but it is not clear
swathe of their environment—perhaps thirty or how the data furnished by the dissociation ar-
more degrees—is clearly presented within gument allows us to choose between them.
visual experience with its “shapes, colours, tex- However, reasons to favour Schwitzgebel’s ac-
tures all sharply defined”. Schwitzgebel argues count can be gleaned noting that the judgment
that we have good reason to regard such claims on which we have focused—“thirty or more de-
as false. In making the case for this claim, he grees of my visual field presents itself to me
appeals to an example first popularized by clearly in experience with its shapes, colours,
Dennett (1991): textures all sharply defined”—is available to
Bayne, T. (2015). Introspective Insecurity.
In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 3(T). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570214 11 | 18

introspection only indirectly. This judgment is Let us turn now to the second step of the
not the direct reflection of any one introspect- dissociation argument: the inference from local
ive act, but is a belief about the nature of pessimism to general pessimism. Suppose that
one’s visual experience that one forms by we were to find a dissociation between a certain
tracking one’s introspective capacities over range of introspective judgments and the sub-
time. Call such judgments indirectly introspect- ject’s capacity to make the corresponding first-
ive. Indirectly introspective judgments can be order judgments. Suppose, furthermore, that
contrasted with directly introspective judgments one could show that this dissociation is best ex-
—that is, judgments of the kind that one plained by assuming that the introspective
makes in the very context of the card trick ex- judgments in question were false. Would one
periment, such as “I am now experiencing the have any reason to think that introspection in
shape, colour, and texture of this card (which general ought to be regarded with suspicion?
is presented to me slightly off centre) in sharp Not as far as I can see. It seems to me that our
detail”. We can now see that although there is faith in the robustness of introspective access to
a dissociation between the first-order judg- domains in which such dissociations are not to
ments that subjects make and their indirect in- be found ought to remain completely un-
trospective judgments, there is no such dissoci- troubled by such a finding. In fact, one might
ation between their first-order judgments and even argue that coherence between first-order
their direct introspective judgments. Subjects judgments and (direct) introspective judgments
in the card-trick experiment don’t report exper- would provide evidence in favour of introspect-
iencing the shape, colour, and texture of cards ive optimism. If dissociations between a per-
that are presented slightly off centre to them son’s introspective capacities and their first-or-
“in sharp detail”—rather, they claim to lack der capacities can disconfirm their introspective
sharp and detailed experiences of such objects. judgments (as the dissociation argument as-
Direct introspective judgments clearly have sumes), then associations between a person’s in-
more warrant than indirect judgments, and trospective judgments and their first-order ca-
thus there is good reason to prefer pacities ought to confirm them (Bayne &
Schwitzgebel’s explanation of the dissociation Spener 2010). In other words, the fact that a
over the alternative account. person’s introspective judgments cohere with
But although we have found reasons to their capacity to produce reliable reports of
support Schwitzgebel’s analysis of the dissoci- their environment ought to provide us with pos-
ation, we have seen that these very reasons un- itive reason to trust those judgments. 10 And a
dermine his pessimistic attitude to introspection great number of our introspective reports
in general, for the evidence in favour of clearly do cohere with our first-order capacities.
Schwitzgebel’s account involves an appeal to in- Although there are cases in which such coher-
trospection. In other words, the pressure that ence fails to obtain—for example, Schwitzgebel
the dissociation argument puts on indirect in- (2011, Ch. 3) provides a plausible case for the
trospective judgments assumes that direct intro- claim that introspective reports of visual im-
spective judgments are trustworthy. The card agery are only weakly correlated with the kinds
trick case does indeed cast doubt on the epi- of first-order cognitive capacities that one would
stemic security of our background beliefs about expect visual imagery to subserve—such cases
our own visual experience, but there is no
reason to extend such doubts to include our dir- 10 This argument is closely related to an argument presented by Spener
(2013) in defence of the idea that we can provide principled reasons for
ect introspective judgments; and it is surely dir- trusting introspection in certain contexts. Spener argues that certain
ect introspective judgments that are at the everyday abilities, such as adjusting a pair of binoculars or ordering food
in a restaurant, are introspection-reliant—that is, their successful execu-
heart of debates about the trustworthiness of in- tion requires that the subject have accurate introspective judgments. I
trospection. (Indeed, indirect introspection find Spener’s argument plausible, but, as Schwitzgebel (2013) notes, it is
judgments are not really a genuine form of in- something of an open question just how many of our everyday abilities
are reliant on introspection. At any rate, the argument I have given here
trospection at all.) makes no appeal to that notion.

Bayne, T. (2015). Introspective Insecurity.

In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 3(T). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570214 12 | 18

are striking precisely because they stand out fairly radical introspective error: introspection
against the backdrop of coherence that charac- either fails to inform conservatives of a wide
terizes the relationship between our normal in- range of phenomenal states that they enjoy on a
trospective reports and our first-order percep- regular basis, or it misleads liberals into think-
tual capacities. ing that they enjoy a wide range of phenomenal
states that they don’t enjoy. Either way, intro-
3.3 Arguments from introspective variation spection would seem to be untrustworthy with
respect to what is clearly a central feature of
Perhaps the strongest case for introspective phenomenology.12
pessimism derives from the phenomenon of in- But before we follow Schwitzgebel (and
trospective variation. Such arguments have as many others) in embracing this conclusion, we
their starting point a disagreement about how need to consider alternative explanations of the
best to describe some aspect of phenomenology. cognitive phenomenology dispute. One possible
Pessimists then argue that the best explanation explanation appeals to group differences in phe-
for the introspective dispute is that at least one nomenology. Perhaps the descriptions of con-
of the two groups is mistaken about its own scious thought that both liberals and conservat-
phenomenology, and thus that introspective ac- ives give are right when applied to themselves
cess to the relevant phenomenal domain is in- but wrong when taken to describe conscious
secure: despite their best efforts, at least one of thought in general. In other words, perhaps
the two parties to the dispute is wrong about both parties to the dispute are guilty of over
its own phenomenology. over-hasty generalization rather than introspect-
Schwitzgebel (2008) examines a number of ive error.
arguments from introspective variation, but his Although an appeal to group differences
central case study concerns a debate about the might explain (away) some instances of intro-
nature of conscious thought—the so-called “cog- spective disagreement, it is unlikely to provide
nitive phenomenology” debate (Bayne & the best explanation of the cognitive phenomen-
Montague 2011; Smithies 2013).11 On one side of ology dispute. First, this account requires a de-
this dispute are those who deny that thought gree of variation in phenomenology for which
has a distinctive phenomenal character. Those there are few (if any) parallels. This is not to
who hold this view typically allow that con- say that phenomenal differences between indi-
scious thought has a phenomenology of some viduals might not run much deeper than com-
kind, but they regard that phenomenology as mon-sense tends to assume—consider, for ex-
purely sensory—as limited to the phenomeno- ample, the phenomenal differences that charac-
logy of inner speech, visual imagery, and so on. terize synaesthesia (Robertson & Sagiv 2005)—
We might call this the conservative account of but the kinds of phenomenal differences that we
conscious thought, for it treats phenomenal con- already recognize are nowhere near as funda-
sciousness as limited to sensory aspects of the mental as the kinds of differences required by
mind. On the other side of this dispute are this explanation of the cognitive phenomenology
those who adopt a liberal conception of con- debate, for liberals claim that conscious thought
scious thought, according to which conscious is characterized by a sui generis kind of phe-
thought is characterized by a range of non-sens- nomenology—a kind that is non-sensory in
ory phenomenal states—states of “cognitive nature. Second, the group difference proposal
phenomenology”. It is tempting to conclude that predicts that there are cognitive and behavi-
at least one of these two sides is guilty of a oural differences between the advocates of cog-
nitive phenomenology and their detractors that
11 Other examples of recent introspective disagreement concern the ap-
parent shape of the objects of visual experience (e.g., Siewert 2007; simply don’t appear to obtain. In sum, it seems
Schwitzgebel 2011, Ch. 2), the existence of high-level perceptual phe-
nomenology (Siegel 2006; Bayne 2009), and the satisfaction condi- 12 The conservative view is also known as the “restrictive” (Prinz 2011) or
tions of the phenomenology of free will (e.g., Horgan 2012; Nahmias “exclusivist” (Siewert 2011) view, while the liberal view is also known as
et al. 2004). the “expansionist” (Prinz 2011) or “inclusivist” (Siewert 2011) view.

Bayne, T. (2015). Introspective Insecurity.

In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 3(T). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570214 13 | 18

highly unlikely that the debate about the exist- There are, of course, other introspective
ence of cognitive phenomenology can be ex- disagreements besides that concerning the phe-
plained by supposing that what it is like to be a nomenology of thought, and nothing that I have
liberal is different from what it is like to be a said here goes any way towards showing that
conservative. they too succumb to a deflationary analysis. In-
But there is another deflationary explana- deed, I suspect that certain introspective dis-
tion of the debate about cognitive phenomeno- putes—for example, those relating to the rich-
logy that cannot be so easily dismissed. Perhaps ness of visual imagery—may well be best ex-
the parties to the debate are operating with plained by appeal to introspective error. But
very different conceptions of what it would take even if the argument from variation succeeds in
for thought to possess distinctive phenomenal establishing a local form of pessimism, it seems
character, and are thus talking passed each to me there is little reason to think that this
other (Bayne unpublished). On this proposal, pessimism generalizes. Indeed, domains that
liberals are willing to extend the notion of phe- feature disagreement in introspective reports
nomenal consciousness beyond its sensory stand out against a general backdrop of intro-
paradigms in a way that conservatives are not. spective agreement. Arguably many domains of
If this account is right, then the dispute sur- consciousness exhibit a great deal of uniformity
rounding the existence of cognitive phenomeno- with respect to introspective reports once indi-
logy is largely verbal. Rather than disagreeing vidual differences and verbal disputes are taken
about what introspection reveals, the two sides into account. Now, although inter-subjective
instead disagree about how the term “phenom- agreement doesn’t entail that the individuals in
enal consciousness” and its cognates ought to be question are right, it does need to be explained,
employed. and it seems plausible to suppose that leading
Why take this proposal seriously? Well, explanations of inter-subjective agreement will
one argument for it is that it would provide a appeal to the trustworthiness of introspection.
good explanation of why there is such wide-
spread disagreement about the nature of con- 4 Elusive phenomenology
scious thought—the very terms in which the de-
bate are couched are contested. It is also widely In the previous section I argued that there are
acknowledged that there are different notions of good reasons for resisting Schwitzgebel’s case
“what it’s likeness” (see e.g., Tye 1996; for global pessimism. However, we also saw that
Flanagan 1992; Georgalis 2005). Although this there are domains in which our introspective ac-
proposal clearly needs much more defence and cess to phenomenal consciousness is rather less
development than I can give it here, I think it is secure than we might have pre-theoretically as-
not unreasonable to suppose that the disagree- sumed. In other words, we saw that there is
ment surrounding the existence of cognitive reason to think that certain kinds of phenom-
phenomenology might turn out to be largely enal states are introspectively elusive. In this fi-
verbal. At any rate, it seems to me that this ac- nal section I want to sketch an account of why
count provides at least as good an explanation certain types of phenomenal states are elusive
of the dispute as that which is required by the and others are not.
argument from variation.13 Let me begin by distinguishing the form of
phenomenal elusiveness with which I am con-
13 Of course, the pessimist might argue that, even if the disagree- cerned from another notion of phenomenal elu-
ment surrounding the phenomenology of thought is fundament-
ally semantic, it doesn’t follow that the optimist is off the hook. siveness that I want to set to one side. In a re-
After all, using introspection to ground a science of consciousness cent paper, Kriegel uses the label “elusive phe-
doesn’t merely require the reliability of introspection, it also re -
quires intersubjective agreement about its deliverances. And—the fair challenge, but in my view the prospects for securing a solu-
pessimist might continue—dispute about how to apply the term tion to the cognitive phenomenology dispute, should it turn out
“phenomenal consciousness” and its cognates threatens to under- to be fundamentally semantic, are quite high. For further discus -
mine intersubjective disagreement about what introspection re- sion of phenomenal disputes and introspective disagreement see
veals just as surely as introspective unreliability does. This is a Hohwy (2011) and Siewert (2007).

Bayne, T. (2015). Introspective Insecurity.

In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 3(T). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570214 14 | 18

nomenology” to describe phenomenal states than it is to others tells us more about intro-
“whose very essence requires the absence of in- spection than it tells us about phenomenal con-
trospective attention” (2013, p. 1171). Among sciousness (as it were).
the examples that he gives of elusive phenomen- It is, I think, premature to speculate
ology are the phenomenal states that occur at which of these two accounts might be the
the fringes or margins of consciousness. As more plausible; indeed, it is possible that a
Kriegel notes, such states are elusive in that any full explanation of elusiveness will have to
attempt to make them the object of attentive draw on both ideas. But rather than pursue
introspection would change their nature. Al- that thought, I want instead to sketch one
though Kriegel’s notion of elusiveness is closely way in which the structural features of intro-
related to the one that I employ here, the two spection might go some way towards explain-
notions are not identical. (One way of seeing ing why certain types of introspective judg-
that they are distinct is that Kriegel’s elusive- ments are more secure than others. The ac-
ness is primarily a matter of the phenomeno- count in question appeals to a distinction
logy, whereas my elusiveness is a matter of one’s between two kinds of introspective judgments:
introspective access to the phenomenology.) Un- scaffolded judgments and freestanding judg-
like Kriegel, I am interested in a type of elusive- ments (Bayne & Spener 2010). The distinction
ness that is independent of attention. Consider is perhaps best grasped by means of examples.
again visual imagery. Although particular in- Contrast an introspective judgment that is
stances of visual imagery might be elusive in directed towards one’s visual experience of
Kriegel’s sense because they happen to occupy looking at a red tomato with an introspective
the margins of consciousness, I am interested judgment that is directed towards an experi-
here in the fact that visual imagery as such ap- ence of visual imagery involving a red tomato
pears to be introspectively elusive.14 in front of one. In the former case, there is a
Why might certain types of phenomenal perceptual judgment that one is disposed to
states be elusive in a way that other types of make (“There is a red tomato in front of me”)
phenomenal states are not? Broadly speaking, whose content corresponds (broadly speaking)
there are two places in which we might look for to the content of one’s introspective judgment
an answer to this question. On the one hand we (“I have an experience as of a red tomato in
might appeal to intrinsic features of the phe- front of me”). In the latter case, however,
nomenal states themselves. Perhaps there is there is no such first-order judgment that one
something inherent in the very nature of certain is disposed to make whose content might cor-
kinds of phenomenal states that renders them respond to the content of one’s introspective
relatively opaque to introspective access. An- judgment. In a sense, the former judgment is
other possibility is that the elusiveness of cer- “scaffolded” by a perceptual disposition in a
tain types of phenomenal states has nothing to way that the latter judgment is not.
do with their intrinsic nature but instead re- I suggest that scaffolded judgments are
flects the structure of our introspective capacit- typically more secure than freestanding ones
ies. Just as our perceptual system is geared to- precisely because they are scaffolded. At the
ward the identification of certain kinds of envir- very least, it is a striking fact that many of
onmental states rather than others, so too it is the most epistemically insecure introspective
possible that our introspective system is geared judgments appear to be freestanding. Further,
towards the identification of certain kinds of one can tell an attractive story about why in-
phenomenal states rather than others. On this trospective scaffolding might contribute to
view, the fact that our introspective access to epistemic security. In making scaffolded judg-
some types of phenomenology is more secure ments, the subject is able to both exploit the
resources that it has for making freestanding
14 Phenomenal domains that are at least somewhat elusive include the phe-
nomenology of agency (Metzinger 2006; Bayne 2008; Horgan et al. 2006)
judgments and calibrate those resources by
and high-level perceptual phenomenology (Siegel 2006; Bayne 2009). drawing on its dispositions to make first-order
Bayne, T. (2015). Introspective Insecurity.
In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 3(T). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570214 15 | 18

perceptual judgments. 15 Just as beliefs that best only a very small part of a much larger ac-
are derived from multiple (independent) count of introspective insecurity. There is cer-
sources are typically more secure than beliefs tainly a lot more work to be done before we
derived from just a single source, so too scaf- have a good grip on the epistemic structure of
folded introspective judgments might typically introspection.
be more secure than their freestanding
brethren. Acknowledgements

5 Conclusion An earlier version of this paper was presented

at a graduate workshop on perception at the
This paper provides a partial response to City University of New York, and I am grateful
Schwitzgebel’s case for global pessimism with to the members of the audience on that occa-
respect to introspection. I began by outlining sion for their comments. I also gratefully ac-
two arguments for optimism; the first argument knowledge the support of European Research
turned on an appeal to the phenomenology of Council Grant The Architecture of Conscious-
introspection, while the second drew on a con- ness (R115798).
ceptual connection between the notions of intro-
spective access and phenomenality. Neither ar-
gument comes close to being decisive, but taken
together they provide some explanation for—
and justification of—the widespread appeal of
optimism. I then turned to a detailed examina-
tion of Schwitzgebel’s case for pessimism, ar-
guing that although his arguments go some way
towards justifying local pessimism (particularly
with respect to imagery), there is little reason
to generalize that pessimistic attitude to intro-
spection more generally.
But perhaps the central lesson of this pa-
per is that the epistemic landscape of introspec-
tion is far from flat but contains peaks of secur-
ity alongside troughs of insecurity. Rather than
asking whether or not introspective access to
the phenomenal character of consciousness is
trustworthy, we should perhaps focus on the
task of identifying how secure our introspective
access to various kinds of phenomenal states is,
and why our access to some kinds of phenom-
enal states appears to be more secure than our
access to other kinds of phenomenal states. I
have suggested that the notion of introspective
scaffolding might play a role in answering this
second question, but that that proposal is at
15 An influential account of introspection holds that introspection in-
volves a semantic ascent routine in which one redeploys rather than
represents one’s introspective target (Byrne 2005; Evans 1982;
Fernández 2013). Although I am not endorsing this account of intro-
spection in general (or indeed of introspective access to perceptual
phenomenology in particular), I am suggesting that such procedures
might be implicated in introspective access to certain kinds of phe-
nomenal states.

Bayne, T. (2015). Introspective Insecurity.

In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 3(T). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570214 16 | 18

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Bayne, T. (2015). Introspective Insecurity.

In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 3(T). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570214 18 | 18
“I just knew that!”: Intuitions as
Scaffolded or Freestanding Judgements
A Commentary on Tim Bayne

Maximilian H. Engel

How reliable are intuitive or introspective judgments? This question has produced Commentator
lively debates in two respective discussions. In this commentary I will try to show
that the two phenomena of introspective and intuitive judgments are very closely
Maximilian H. Engel
related, so that the two separate philosophical debates about them can substan-
tially inform each other. In particular, the intuition debate can profit from concep-
tual tools that have already been introduced to discussions about the reliability of Rijksunversiteit Groningen
introspection. Especially the distinction between scaffolded and freestanding Groningen, Netherlands
judgements, which has been developed by Tim Bayne & Maja Spener (2010), can
be used to more carefully investigate intuitions with respect to their epistemic re- Target Author
liability. After briefly applying this framework to some paradigm cases of “philo-
sophically interesting” intuitions, I will come to the conclusion that most of these Tim Bayne
must be regarded as freestanding judgments and thus cannot play the role of reli - tim.bayne @
able sources of evidence that they are supposed to play in some discussions in The University of Manchester
contemporary epistemology and methodology. Manchester, United Kingdom

Keywords Editors
Epistemic reliability | Experimental philosophy | Global pessimism | Local pessim-
ism | Phenomenology of certainty | Philosophical intuitions | Scaffolded vs. freest-
Thomas Metzinger
anding judgments | Thought experiments
metzinger @
Johannes Gutenberg-Universität
Mainz, Germany

Jennifer M. Windt
jennifer.windt @
Monash University
Melbourne, Australia

1 Introduction

What is the evidential status of introspective hand optimists consider the wide-ranging use of
mental states? Can they be used as a source of introspection in philosophical debates unprob-
knowledge like other classical candidates, e.g. lematic, pessimists on the other hand are very
experimental data, induction, or visual percep- skeptical about the same subject matter. But
tion? Over the last few decades these questions how far can their skepticism go? Is it really the
have been addressed in philosophy of mind and case that introspective insights are not only
epistemology in particular.1 While on the one sometimes misleading, but generally false?
1 In fact, Eric Schwitzgebel (2008) points out that there is a new These are the questions underpinning Tim
trend of relying on introspection, even though this method itself Bayne’s article “Introspective Insecurity”. Here
is not new and its disadvantages were pointed out with the fail-
ure of introspective psychology at the beginning of the 20 th cen-
Bayne argues that a total dismissal of introspec-
tury (c.f. Lyons 1986). tion as a tool for gaining information about
Engel, M. H. (2015). “I just knew that!”: Intuitions as Scaffolded or Freestanding Judgements - A Commentary on Tim Bayne.
In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 3(C). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570382 1|8

one’s own conscious states (global pessimism) ducting survey studies collecting lay intuitions
would not only be tremendously hard to ima- Weinberg et al. 2008; Knobe 2007), others have
gine, but is also not warranted by the argu- even gone so far as to argue that we do not use
ments raised in favour of that position. What any intuitions at all in philosophical theorizing
these pessimistic arguments show, however, is (Cappelen 2012). In any case, it is still open to
that not all kinds of introspection can be used debate whether intuitions can be used as reliable
without thorough examination of their truth- sources of evidence or not. Here I will first argue
tracking capacities. The resulting milder form of that this debate can be substantially informed by
skepticism is what Bayne calls local pessimism. Bayne and Spener’s idea of scaffolded versus
This distinction is what I consider Bayne’s most freestanding judgments; this will be referred to as
important contribution to the introspection de- the Scaffolded vs. Freestanding Intuitions Thesis
bate, because it helps to avoid an overhasty dis- (SFIT). I will try to show that this is the case by
missal of a source of information that is used highlighting some close connections and similarit-
widely, not only in theorizing, but also in every- ies between intuitions and introspection. Second, I
day life. He points out that what the global will argue that in fact intuitions are often made
skeptic is missing is the idea that there are dif- accessible to the debates by introspection, namely
ferent kinds of introspective judgments, where in form of introspective insight about one’s own
not all are equally insecure. To distinguish private concepts.2 This will be called the Intro-
between more secure cases of introspection and spection of Private Concepts View (IPCV).
less secure ones, Bayne emphasizes a distinction Thereafter I will make my third claim, namely
introduced by him and his colleague Maja that many intuitions, at least those relevant in
Spener in their paper Introspective Humility the debates in epistemology and methodology, are
(2010), namely that of scaffolded versus freest- best regarded as freestanding judgments and thus
anding judgments. While scaffolded judgments should not count as reliable sources of evidence in
about one’s introspective states are quite reli- philosophical debates. This third and last claim
able, because their contents match closely with will be what I call the Unreliable Freestanding In-
the contents of the non-introspective processes tuitions Thesis (UFIT). As in the case of intro-
at work (e.g., visual experience), freestanding spection, a total dismissal of intuitions is not
judgments lack this sort of reliability due to (yet) warranted, but neither is their wide-ranging
their abstract character. Simply put, the con- use in contemporary methodology. By applying
tents of freestanding judgments lack the close Bayne’s framework, i.e., the distinction between
connection to what one wants to find out about scaffolded vs. freestanding judgments, to the phe-
the world or one’s own mental states. nomenon of intuitive judgments, I will try to use
Another prominent, but also controversial this new conceptual tool to find a possible answer
candidate for being an epstemically useful source to the question of which kinds of intuitions are
of evidence is intuition. Much like in the case of trustworthy and which should not be considered
introspection, there is a large debate about the as reliable in philosophical debates.
reliability and usefulness of intuitions in philo-
sophical theorizing. This debate not only concerns 2 Some connections and similarities
epistemology and philosophy of mind, but also between intuition and introspection
methodology, since many people claim that what
philosophy does at its core is conceptual work on If one takes a look at the literature on intro-
the basis of our rational (or conceptual) intuitions spection, one can find many metaphors that are
(Bealer 1997; Goldman 2007). In the last few derived from visual perception, i.e. that describe
years, however, this idea of how to do philosophy
2 While in this commentary I will only concentrate on the influence of
has been harshly criticized from many different introspection on intuitive judgments, it is also worth noticing that
perspectives. While proponents of the fairly new both phenomena can also influence each other in the opposite direc-
project called experimental philosophy have tried tion. One factor that makes introspective insights feel so reliable at
first glance is their intuitiveness. This would be a case in which intu-
to investigate the reliability of intuitions by con- ition influences introspection.

Engel, M. H. (2015). “I just knew that!”: Intuitions as Scaffolded or Freestanding Judgements - A Commentary on Tim Bayne.
In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 3(C). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570382 2|8

the phenomenon as a sort of peering into one’s Where this Perception is, there is Know-
own consciousness,3 as well as direct comparis- ledge, and where it is not, there, though
ons with visual perception, i.e., stating that the we may fancy, guess, or believe, yet we al-
evidential status of introspection is or should be ways come short of Knowledge. (1975, p.
on a par with seeing the outside world. For ex- 525, italics in the original)
ample, in his depiction of the central idea be-
hind optimism towards introspection, Bayne But contemporary discussions concerning intu-
says that: itions also suggest a similarity to perception.
Take for example this short description by Ern-
Roughly speaking, to regard introspection est Sosa:
as able to reveal the phenomenal character
of one’s conscious states is to have an op- Intuition gives us direct insight into the
timistic attitude towards it. (Bayne this general and abstract. (1998; my italics)4
collection, my italics)
For George Bealer, who is maybe the most rad-
Or take Schwitzgebel, who, in his arguments ical proponent of an intuition-based philosoph-
against the accuracy of introspection, assesses ical methodology, the two phenomena are so
the phenomenon by the standards of visual per- closely related that he mentions them both as
ception: equal sources of evidence in philosophical theor-
Does introspection reveal it to you as
clearly as visual observation reveals the So in this terminology, the standard justi-
presence of the text before your eyes? Can ficatory procedure counts as evidence, not
you discern its gross and fine features only experiences, observations, and testi-
through introspection as easily and confid- mony, but also intuitions. […] When one
ently as you can, through vision, discern has an intuition, however, often one is in-
the gross and fine features of nearby ex- trospectively aware that one is having that
ternal objects? (2008, my italics) intuition. On such an occasion, one would
then have a bit of introspective evidence as
If one compares this to intuitions, one can see well, namely, that one is having that intu-
that they are treated in almost the same way. ition. (1997, my italics)
Here, the most prominent historical root of this
equal treatment of not only intuitions and per- This similarity in the way of speaking about the
ception, but also intuitions and introspection, two phenomena and their obvious entanglement
might be the work of John Locke, who at the in the debate about what counts as evidence5
beginning of the fourth book of his Essay Con- gives us information about the explananda them-
cerning Human Understanding states that all selves. Both intuition and introspection can be
knowledge is at its core introspective and intuit- consciously experienced by the subject that uses
ive and can thus be regarded as the perception them to make a judgement.6 Furthermore, they
of agreement or disagreement between two are judged to be epistemically unproblematic, be-
ideas: cause the subject has direct access to them.

Knowledge then seems to me to be nothing 4 Here again the Latin origin ‘intueri‘, which can be translated as ‘to
view’ or also as ‘to examine’, underlines not only the folk psycholo-
but the perception of connexion and agree- gical connection between intuition and perception but also the simil-
ment, or disagreement and repugnancy of arity between introspection and intuition.
5 For a general discussion of what counts, or should count as evidence,
any of our Ideas. In this alone it consists. see Williamson (2007).
6 This does not mean that one always deliberately introspects or intu-
3 A further hint at the equal treatment of introspection is the Latin its. This would be trivially false (Sosa 1998). What is meant is that
origin of the term ‘introspicere‘, which can be translated as ‘to exam- one can in principle guide one’s attention to the relevant mental
ine’ or ‘to look into’. state if necessary.

Engel, M. H. (2015). “I just knew that!”: Intuitions as Scaffolded or Freestanding Judgements - A Commentary on Tim Bayne.
In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 3(C). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570382 3|8

A good example is a classical Gettier-style So then what can the two phenomena in-
intuition, such as “It simply seems to me that form a subject about? The least controversial
the person in that scenario does know that she description of what introspective states are
is getting the job” (Gettier 1963). Not only the would be along the lines of (Schwitzgebel’s de-
immediate reaction to Gettier cases, but also scription:
the way in which Gettier’s conclusion (i.e. that
his thought experiments show that justified true A word about ‘introspection’. I happen to
belief does not sufficiently describe knowledge) regard it as a species of attention to cur-
were widely accepted among philosophers indic- rently ongoing conscious experience, but I
ates that intuitive judgements are treated as won’t defend that view here. The project
unproblematic and reliable. The same holds for at hand stands or falls quite independ-
introspective judgements that do not only occur ently. Think of introspection as you will—
in philosophical debates but also in everyday- as long as it is the primary method by
life belief formation. An example of such a be- which we normally reach judgments about
lief could be expressed by a sentence like: “I our experience in cases of the sort I’ll de-
surely can’t be mistaken in believing that I am scribe.8 (2008)
consciously experiencing a red object in front of
me at this very moment.” In the same way as in Thus construed, introspection mainly informs a
the case of intuitions, the results of introspec- subject about the qualitative aspects of her ex-
tion do not seem to require further questioning. perience. Simply put, what we do when we in-
In short, the act of introspecting something and trospect is to pay attention to the what-it-is-
the act of intuiting something both have a phe- likeness of our experience.9 This aspect of exper-
nomenal aspect that makes them appear epi- ience, however, is extremely subjective and
stemically secure. In the course of this com- private. It is (if even possible) not easy to arrive
mentary this aspect will be referred to as a phe- at scientifically informative generalizations10
nomenology of certainty.7 In fact, I would say from such subjective data.11 What is needed to
that this phenomenal aspect is the reason why secure information of that kind is the right kind
the introspection as well as the intuition debate of embeddedness in other, more secure ways of
are as controversial as they are. Both phenom- gaining knowledge about a subject matter. Such
ena come at first glance with a seeming of epi- judgments about a subject’s experience are
stemic security (or even infallibility), and only what Bayne and Spener, at least by the way I
after close examination are some insecurities re- understand them, refer to as scaffolded judg-
vealed. This phenomenology of certainty, how- ments (2010; Bayne this collection). For ex-
ever, does not immediately show that intuitions 8 The cases he describes in that paper are from the same domains of
and introspection inform a subject securely experience that Bayne discusses in his article for this volume namely
about the truth of a matter. My introspective emotion, visual perception, and cognitive phenomenology.
9 Note that due to restrictions of space I will cover only, the most rel-
judgment about the what-it-is-likeness of under- evant interpretation of introspection, which can be described as a
standing a sentence in a foreign language or my sort of inward perception. The word “perception” here is to be read
in a metaphorical way. It is not meant to express a commitment to
intuitive judgment about whether a person has something along the lines of a higher-order perception view on intro-
knowledge or not are always in need of further spection (Güzeldere 1995). Rather this inward “perception” can be
justification. It would be a very hasty step to go understood as kind metacognition that helps a subject to conceptual-
ize her own experiences. For a more detailed distinction between dif-
from the phenomenology of certainty to full- ferent kinds and qualities of introspection, see Metzinger (2003, p.
fledged certainty (Metzinger & Windt 2014). 35).
10 Though this might not be a problem for relying on introspection in
7 It is important to notice that the “phenomenology of certainty” pre- the case of perception, it becomes more pressing when it comes to
supposes a “phenomenology of knowing”. This is best regarded as the using introspective data to inform epistemology or methodology.
“phenomenology of knowing that one knows”. For my purposes here 11 A further methodological problem that needs to be taken into con-
the “phenomenology of knowing”, though important, is not the inter- sideration is the fact that when collecting data about introspective or
esting phenomenal aspect of intuitions or introspective insights. I intuitive states one has to rely on a subject’s report about the relev-
hold the “phenomenology of certainty” far more interesting, because ant mental state. This can be a possible source of contamination,
I think that it is that phenomenology that leads to the strong sense which makes an investigation of the phenomena even more difficult
of infallibility of intuitive, as well as introspective judgments. (Cummins 1998).

Engel, M. H. (2015). “I just knew that!”: Intuitions as Scaffolded or Freestanding Judgements - A Commentary on Tim Bayne.
In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 3(C). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570382 4|8

ample, my introspective judgment about my red fairly new field of experimental philosophy,
experience is not exhaustively justified by itself, though highly controversial (Cullen 2010), in-
but by the close match of the content of my in- dicate that conceptual intuitions that have been
trospective state and the non-phenomenal as- treated as general intuitions, like those in Get-
pects of my visual observation. Only then can tier cases, are in fact highly idiosyncratic, and
introspection play an evidential role,12 and thus thus it is still an open question whether they
contribute to knowledge about one’s own con- can lead to generalizations about the concept at
scious states. But what if there is no such hand (Alexander 2012).13 In other words, one
match? If introspection is concerned with more could argue that conceptual intuitions are the
abstract contents, like, for example, the basic reflections of a subject’s idiosyncratic history of
structures of intentionality or thought in gen- concept acquisition (Bieri 2007).
eral, the lack of embeddedness at least increases So intuitions—or more precisely their con-
the insecurity of the judgment and thus makes tents—reflect upon a person’s individual, highly
it an unreliable source of knowledge. Judgments subjective concepts. Just like in the case of in-
of that kind, again following Bayne and Spen- trospection (which has been shown to be very
cer, are called freestanding judgments. subjective as well), we need to investigate
Let us now turn to intuitions. What are whether it is possible to move from those per-
intuitions about? First of all, it is important to sonal concepts to general claims about their
say that not all kinds of intuitions are relevant contents in a reliable way.
to philosophical debates. Cases of intuitive con- I take all of the above-mentioned similarit-
trols on a smartphone, for example, are not at ies between introspection and intuition to be
the core of the debate. What is meant by philo- sufficient for investigating the reliability of intu-
sophically interesting intuitions can be most ap- itions with conceptual tools and insights that
propriately expressed by the term conceptual have already been introduced and established to
intuition. In short, intuitions in a philosophic- the introspection debate. Thus, I will in the
ally relevant sense are judgments that are next section try to clarify what counts as an
shaped by the concepts a person has of some epistemically reliable intuition by applying the
subject matter or phenomenon. Usually those distinction between scaffolded and freestanding
intuitions are tested by conducting thought ex- judgments from the introspection debate to in-
periments in which a case is described that tuitions. In other words, I will investigate intu-
should (or should not) fulfil all necessary and itions as scaffolded vs. freestanding intuitions
sufficient conditions of a concept. Then one is (SFIT).
supposed to take that very concept and check if
it applies to the case (or not). This is why Alvin SFIT =Df Due to the similarities between
Goldman also refers to philosophical intuitions introspection and intuition, one can also
as “application intuitions” (2007). Probably the distinguish between scaffolded and freest-
most prominent examples of such intuition-test- anding intuitions.
ing thought experiments are Gettier cases. Go-
ing back to Edmund Gettier’s famous paper, 3 Philosophical intuitions as
Gettier cases describe scenarios in which a per- freestanding judgments
son appears to lack knowledge, despite the fact
that the classical conditions for having know- Before we examine whether philosophical intu-
ledge, namely, having a justified true belief, are itions are best understood as scaffolded or
met (1963). But can these conceptual intuitions freestanding judgments, it will be helpful to
in fact inform us about what knowledge is in
13 In addition to these findings, it is also an advantage of treating intu-
general, or do those cases simply inform us itions as reflections on personal concepts, because such a view is
about our personal concepts? Findings from the likely to be naturalized (Goldman 2007). Arguments from obscurity
or empirical implausibility of the type that have been raised against
12 Even if this role is then obviously a minor one in forming a belief other construals of intuition, such as Platonic insights into the laws
about the world. of nature (Brendel 2004), can thus be avoided.

Engel, M. H. (2015). “I just knew that!”: Intuitions as Scaffolded or Freestanding Judgements - A Commentary on Tim Bayne.
In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 3(C). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570382 5|8

take a closer look at how intuitions are treated knowledge in our cultural niche (i.e.: “Only ascribe
in philosophical theorizing. For this we go back knowledge if a person is justified in the right way to
again to the paradigm case of intuition-based believe a proposition!”).14 So in the context of West-
philosophy: Gettier (1963) cases. The expected ern philosophy, the intuitive judgment can be re-
(and therefore long unchallenged) outcome of garded as a scaffolded and thus reliable judgment.
those thought experiments is that the person re- It is reliable because it is embedded in our conven-
flecting on the cases admits that they describe tional, everyday use of the word “knowledge”.15 But
instances of justified true belief that at the what about knowledge in general, i.e., outside the
same time fail to count as knowledge. How do context of Western culture? In that case, the con-
we know they’re not knowledge? We just know! tent of the intuition, due to its personal character,
Reflecting on that answer one can come to the would not match the context-free, abstract use of
conclusion that one has an intuition about the the concept of knowledge. The judgment would be
concept of knowledge. The next question that a freestanding judgment and thus an unreliable
then needs to be answered is how a person ar- source of evidence for making general claims about
rives at that conclusion. I claim that this is knowledge. This would perfectly fit the idea of intu-
done by introspection. As described above, in- itions as individually-acquired concepts and also ex-
trospection is best understood as the act of pay- plain findings from experimental philosophy, which
ing attention to one’s conscious states of experi- indicate that intuitions are highly variable among
ence, or in other words about the phenomenal different cultures (Weinberg et al. 2008). One could
aspects of experience. In the case of an intu- now argue that, even if I am correct about concep-
ition, this phenomenal aspect would be the tual intuitions like those in Gettier cases, there are
above-mentioned phenomenology of certainty. basic intuitions that are reliable. A candidate for
To summarize this, conceptual intuitions are re- such an intuition is presented by Bealer in the form
flected upon by introspecting on one’s own con- of rational intuitions:
cepts and their applicability conditions. This
practice is what I call the Introspection of Per- By contrast, when we have a rational intu-
sonal Concepts View of Intuitions (IPCV). ition—say, if P then not not P—it
presents itself as necessary: it does not
IPCV =Df Conceptual Intuitions are made seem to us that things could be otherwise;
accessible by introspecting one’s own phe- it must be that if P then not not P. (I am
nomenology of certainty towards the ap- unsure how exactly to analyze what is
plicability of a certain concept. meant by saying that a rational intuition
presents itself as necessary. Perhaps some-
Following IPCV, this practice is then of course thing like this: necessarily, if x intuits that
vulnerable to the same skeptical challenges that P, it seems to x that P and also that ne-
have been raised against introspection in gen- cessarily P […].) (1997)
eral. How accurately can I introspect what con-
stitutes my concept of knowledge? What about The reliability of such a basic intuition can also
modal aspects like the necessity of a proposi- be accommodated in the terminology of scaffol-
tion? These questions can be made more access- ded and freestanding judgments. Due to the
ible by thinking about intuitions in terms of close match between our intuition and the way
scaffolded or freestanding judgments.
Again taking the Gettier intuition about 14 Surely this is a very simplified and rough description of concept acquisi-
tion. Further details should be empirically investigated, but due to lim-
knowledge, what makes this intuition, even though ited space, and for and the purposes of my argument, this must suffice.
not universal, so astonishingly stable among West- 15 The scaffold here would be the proper use of a word or concept in its
respective culture or context. Further, notice that it is also possible
ern philosophers? I argue that this is due to the to have several types of scaffolding at the same time, like conceptual
close match between the content of the intuition expertise (i.e. cases in which a person has a significant amount of
(i.e. “She doesn’t know!”) and the rules that one background knowledge about special concept) plus the above-men-
tioned cultural scaffolding. For a defence of conceptual expertise, see
learns about how to successfully use the concept of Williamson (2011).

Engel, M. H. (2015). “I just knew that!”: Intuitions as Scaffolded or Freestanding Judgements - A Commentary on Tim Bayne.
In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 3(C). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570382 6|8

in which we learned to describe the world, in introspecting on one’s phenomenology of cer-

which it never is the case that p while simultan- tainty that typically accompanies intuitions, as
eously not p, we can regard that intuition as a well as introspection itself (IPCV). Bayne’s in-
scaffolded judgment. Concerning the intuition troduction of the scaffolded versus freestanding
about the necessity of this intuited content, judgments idea suggests that a global pessimism
however, the personal character of intuitions towards introspection is not warranted by the
again does not warrant the generalization. arguments that are raised by proponents of such
Statements about the modal status of the claim a position. I hope to have shown that the same
are perhaps secured by correctly applying the is true in the case of intuitions, which can also
laws of logic (like in the above mention example be reliable if they are embedded in the right
of the principle of contradiction), but not by my context, or if concerning the basic structures of
personal intuition (Alexander 2012; Pust 2014). our experience. The question for further discus-
But even if this is true and thus if such basic in- sion has now become how big the scope of both
tuitions are always reliable, it still needs to be scaffolded introspective and scaffolded intuitive
shown by general optimists, concerning the reli- judgments actually is. Is it possible to develop
ability of intuitions, how this extends to more clear-cut criteria for when a content is suffi-
complex phenomena like those often discussed ciently scaffolded? Must one draw further dis-
in the intuition debate (Cappelen 2012). I take tinctions and introduce different kinds, or at
the above-discussed cases of Gettier-intuitions least a gradual concept, of scaffolding? So far,
and Bealer’s rational intuitions as evidence that applied to often very abstract epistemic targets
we should at least doubt that most intuitions in philosophy, my predictions for the scope of
that are taken as reliable sources of evidence are scaffolded judgments in the on-going debates
sufficiently scaffolded. Until this is shown I are not very optimistic. I would advise that
would advise that we stay skeptical and regard without further argumentation for the scaffold-
those intuitions as Unreliable Freestanding Intu- ing of abstract intuitions they are best regarded
itions (UFIT). as freestanding judgments (UFIT). I agree with
Sosa when he says, about the skeptical chal-
UFIT =Df Many intuitions that are treated lenges to intuitions: “If that sort of considera-
as reliable sources of evidence in philo- tion is a serious indictment of intuition, there-
sophical theorizing lack the right scaffold- fore, it seems no less serious when applied to in-
ing and must thus be regarded as freest- trospection […]” (1998). The only difference
anding intuitions, which makes them epi- might be that I hold this to be bad news for
stemically unreliable. proponents of the widespread use of both phe-
nomena, rather than a convincing defence of
4 Conclusion their general reliability.

In this commentary I have tried to show that Acknowledgements

the connections between introspection and intu-
itions are so profound that the debates about I would like to thank Tim Bayne for his inspir-
the two phenomena can inform each other sub- ing target article, as well as two anonymous re-
stantially, and in particular how ideas from the viewers for their very helpful suggestions and
introspection debate can help to clarify open critical remarks. I would also like to thank
questions in the intuition debate (SFIT). I have Thomas Metzinger and Jennifer Windt for the
taken the idea of scaffolded and freestanding opportunity to contribute to this collection.
judgments from the introspection debate and
applied it to that about intuitions. In so doing,
I have tried to show that the wide-ranging skep-
ticism about introspection also concerns intu-
itions, since many intuitions are investigated by
Engel, M. H. (2015). “I just knew that!”: Intuitions as Scaffolded or Freestanding Judgements - A Commentary on Tim Bayne.
In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 3(C). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570382 7|8

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zinger & J. M. Windt (Eds.) Open MIND. Frankfurt a. GER: Suhrkamp.
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Philosophical Issues, 20 (1), 1-22.
10.1111/j.1533-6077.2010.00176.x Schwitzgebel, E. (2008). The unreliability of naïve intro-
Bealer, G. (1997). Intuition and the autonomy of philo- spection. Philosophical Review, 117 (2), 245-273.
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Bieri, P. (2007). Was bleibt von der analytischen Philo- 269). Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
sophie? Deutsche Zeitschrift für Philosophie, 55 (3), Weinberg, J., Nichols, S. & Stich, S. (2008). Normativity
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Brendel, E. (2004). Intuition pumps and the proper use of (Eds.) Experimental philosophy (pp. 17-45). Oxford,
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10.1111/j.1746-8361.2004.tb00293.x Williamson, T. (2007). The philosophy of philosophy.
Cappelen, H. (2012). Philosophy without intuitions. Ox- Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.
ford, UK: Oxford University Press. (2011). Philosophical expertise and the burden of
Cullen, S. (2010). Survey driven romanticism. Review of proof. Metaphilosophy, 42 (3), 215-229.
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sophical inquiry (pp. 113-127). Lanham, MD: Rowman
& Littlefield Publishers.
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Engel, M. H. (2015). “I just knew that!”: Intuitions as Scaffolded or Freestanding Judgements - A Commentary on Tim Bayne.
In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 3(C). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570382 8|8
Introspection and Intuition
A Reply to Maximilian H. Engel

Tim Bayne

This paper is a response to Maximilian H. Engel’s commentary on my target pa- Author

per, in which I provided a critical examination of pessimism accounts of the trust-
worthiness of introspection. Engel’s focuses on the distinction that I drew between
Tim Bayne
two kinds of introspective judgments, scaffolded judgments and freestanding judg-
tim.bayne @
ments, and suggests that this distinction might fruitfully illuminate the epistemo-
logy of intuitive judgments. I present some doubts about whether the distinction The University of Manchester
can be transferred to intuition in this way, and also sketch a more fundamental Manchester, United Kingdom
contrast between introspective judgments and intuitive judgments.
Free-standing judgments | Introspection | Intuition | Scaffolded judgments Maximilian H. Engel
M.H.Engel.1 @
Rijksunversiteit Groningen
Groningen, Netherlands


Thomas Metzinger
metzinger @
Johannes Gutenberg-Universität
Mainz, Germany

Jennifer M. Windt
jennifer.windt @
Monash University
Melbourne, Australia

1 Introduction

Let me begin by thanking Maximilian H. Engel introspection needs to take this landscape into
for his commentary. I take the heart of his pa- account, for although our pretheoretical views
per to consist in the suggestion that the distinc- concerning the epistemology of introspection are
tion between freestanding and scaffolded judg- not sacrosanct they do form a useful constraint
ments which Maja Spener and I (Bayne & on theorizing about introspection. Any account
Spener 2010) developed in connection with in- of introspection should explain why some intro-
trospection can be usefully applied to the epi- spective judgments strike us as highly secure
stemology of intuition. I will start by revisiting whereas others seem to be insecure.
the freestanding/scaffolded distinction, before This is where the distinction between scaf-
turning to Engel’s proposal. folded and freestanding judgments comes in.
The epistemology of introspection is that Both types of judgments have as their inten-
it is not flat but contains peaks of epistemic se- tional objects current conscious states that one
curity alongside troughs of epistemic insecurity. takes oneself to be in. (The notion could also be
Any attempt to understand the epistemology of applied to judgements concerning the states
Bayne, T. (2015). Introspection and Intuition - A Reply to Maximilian H. Engel.
In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 3(C). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570764 1|3

that one is not in.) An introspective judgment plication. Such judgments are concerned with the
is scaffolded when the subject is disposed to question of whether a certain concept (such as
make a first-order judgment whose content <knowledge>) ought to be applied to a certain
bears a rough correspondence to that of the in- state of affairs.
trospective judgment. For example, the judg- In explaining how the contrast between
ment that one is experiencing a red light in scaffolded and free-standing judgments might
front of one is scaffolded by the disposition to apply to intuitive judgments Engel writes:
judge that there is a red light in front of one,
whereas there is no such first-order disposition Again taking the intuition about know-
corresponding to the introspective judgment ledge, what makes this intuition, even
that one is merely imagining or thinking about though not universal, so astonishingly
a red light. Experiences that are the intentional stable among Western philosophers? I ar-
objects of scaffolded judgments are themselves gue that this is due to the close match
employed in world-directed first-order judg- between the content of the intuition (i.e.
ments, whereas that is not the case where free- “she doesn’t know!”) and the rules one
standing judgments are concerned. Contrary to learns to use [regarding] the concept of
what Engel suggests, there is no commitment knowledge in our cultural niche (i.e.:
here to the idea that only scaffolded judgments “Only ascribe knowledge if a person is ap-
are epistemically trustworthy. The idea, rather, propriately justified in believing a proposi-
is that scaffolded judgments have a certain kind tion!”). So in the context of Western philo-
of first-person warrant that free-standing judge- sophy, the intuitive judgment can be re-
ments tend to lack. garded as a scaffolded and thus reliable
judgment. (this collection, p. 6)
2 From introspection to intuition?
It is certainly true that an individual’s use of a
Engel argues that the distinction between scaf- concept is scaffolded by the practices of the cul-
folded and free-standing judgments can also be ture in which they are embedded. As Kant poin-
applied to the kinds of judgments deployed in ted out, we learn how to apply concepts by noting
debates about philosophical intuitions, and also how they are applied by those around us. Kant
suggests that most such judgments—or at least, (A134/B174) described examples as the “Gängel-
those which are of central philosophical interest wagen of thought”, where a Gängelwagen is a
—are best regarded as free-standing, and thus walking frame or go-kart that is harnessed to an
lack the kind of warrant that we might want for infant in order to help it learn to walk. But al-
them. though this form of support is indeed a kind of
Although I welcome Engel’s attempt to ex- scaffolding, it differs in important ways from the
tend the distinction between scaffolded and free- kind of scaffolding that I had in mind. In the
standing judgments beyond the domain of intro- sense of the term that Spener and I had in mind,
spection, I am not convinced that it does much to a scaffolded judgment is a judgment that is un-
illuminate the epistemology of intuition. The first derpinned by a disposition to make a first-order
issue that needs to be addressed is the fact that judgment who content roughly corresponds to the
intuitive judgments don’t form a single, well-be- content of the scaffolded judgments. As far as I
haved class. One kind of intuitive judgment that can see, intuitive judgments are not scaffolded in
is of philosophical interest concerns the modal this sense, in part because intuitive judgments are
structure of the world, as when one judges that it already “first-order”. So, although I would cer-
is necessarily true that 2+2=4 or that it is only tainly agree that the possession of such concepts
contingently true that Aristotle was a philo- as <knowledge> is supported by one’s cultural
sopher. But as far as I can tell, Engel is not con- niche, it doesn’t follow that the intuitive judg-
cerned with intuitive judgments of this kind, but ments about when it is and isn’t appropriate to
with what we might call intuitions of concept ap- apply this concept are scaffolded.
Bayne, T. (2015). Introspection and Intuition - A Reply to Maximilian H. Engel.
In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 3(C). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570764 2|3

3 Intuitive disagreement take the possibility of performance errors into

account here, but such problems will typically
In closing, let me mention an important back- be minimized in philosophical contexts.) But I
ground issue concerning which Engel and I ap- wouldn’t want to commit myself to this account
pear to have different views. Engel, I take it, of all intuitive disputes. In particular, it seems
holds that the disagreement in intuitive judg- to me that introspective disputes concerning
ments regarding concept application should be modal matters are likely to to be substantive in
regarded as epistemically troublesome in much a way in which disagreements about intuitions
the way that disagreement about introspective regarding concept application are not.
judgment is regarded as epistemically trouble-
some. The idea is that in both cases there are 4 Conclusion
objective facts of the matter, and the existence
of widespread disagreement indicates that signi- In his commentary Engel suggests that the con-
ficant numbers of individuals are systematically trast between scaffolded and freestanding judg-
mistaken about what those facts are. ments that Spener and I applied to introspection
Although I am inclined to accept this dia- might also be usefully applied to intuition. Al-
gnosis when it comes to many introspective dis- though I welcome Engel’s attempt to extend the
agreements, I do not find it particularly plaus- distinction between scaffolded and freestanding
ible when it comes to disagreements concerning judgments beyond its original sphere of applica-
intuitions of concept application. Here’s why. tion, I have suggested that such a move might not
Suppose that Weinberg and his collaborators be quite as straightforward as Engel takes it to
are right when they suggest that low-socioeco- be, for there don’t appear to be any first-order
nomic status individuals are disposed to apply judgments that might scaffold intuitive judgments
the concept <knowledge> in contexts where in the way that first-order perceptual judgments
high-socioeconomic status (SES) individuals are scaffold certain kinds of introspective judgments.
disposed to withhold it (Weinberg et al. 2001). But although I cannot see how the distinction
Would it follow (as Engel seems to assume) that between scaffolded and freestanding judgments
at least one of these groups is mistaken about a might apply to intuition, I certainly share Engel’s
matter of objective fact? I don’t think so. It conviction that “comparing and contrasting” the
seems to me more plausible to assume that low- epistemology of introspection with that of intu-
SES subjects and high-SES subjects simply ition is a fruitful exercise, for both domains pose
have different concepts (or “conceptions”, if you the puzzle of how we might reconcile individual
prefer) of knowledge, and each of them is apply- certainty and apparent self-evidence with inter-
ing its own concept correctly. The two concepts subjective disagreement.
are similar enough to be both associated with
the single word “knowledge”, but there is no References
case for regarding one of these concepts as su-
perior to the other, or for thinking that only Bayne, T. & Spener, M. (2010). Introspective humility.
one of them truly captures the essence of know- Philosophical Issues, 20 (1), 1-22.
ledge. They are simply different concepts. 10.1111/j.1533-6077.2010.00176.x
If this is right, then apparent disagreement Engel, M. H. (2015). “I just knew that!”: Intuitions as
between the judgments of low-SES subjects and scaffolded or freestanding judgements: A commentary
high-SES subjects about whether or not S on Tim Bayne. In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds.)
knows that P is not substantive in the way in Open MIND. Frankfurt a. M., GER: MIND Group.
which most introspective disagreement appears Kant, I. (1781/1787). The critique of pure reason. Salt
to be. Moreover, it seems to me that something Lake City, UT: Project Gutenberg eBook.
similar should be said concerning many (if not Weinberg, J., Nichols, S. & Stich, S. (2001). Normativity
all) disputes about the application of other and epistemic intuitions. Philosophical Topics, 29
central philosophical concepts. (One needs to (1&2), 429-460. 10.5840/philtopics2001291/217

Bayne, T. (2015). Introspection and Intuition - A Reply to Maximilian H. Engel.

In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 3(C). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570764 3|3
Meaning, Context, and Background
Christian Beyer

It is widely held that (truth-conditional) meaning is context-dependent. According Author

to John Searle‘s radical version of contextualism, the very notion of meaning “is
only applicable relative to a set of […] background assumptions” (Searle 1978, p.
Christian Beyer
207), or background know-how. In earlier work, I have developed a (moderately
christian.beyer @ phil.uni-
externalist) “neo-Husserlian” account of the context-dependence of meaning and
intentional content, based on Husserl’s semantics of indexicals. Starting from this
semantics, which strongly resembles today’s mainstream semantics (section 2) I Georg-August-Universität
describe the (radical) contextualist challenge that mainstream semantics and Göttingen, Germany
pragmatics face in view of the (re-)discovery of what Searle calls the background
of meaning (section 3). Following this, and drawing upon both my own neo- Commentator
Husserlian account and ideas from Emma Borg, Gareth Evans and Timothy Willi-
amson, I sketch a strategy for meeting this challenge (section 4) and draw a so- Anita Pacholik-Żuromska
cial-epistemological picture that allows us to characterize meaning and content in anitapacholik @
a way that takes account of contextualist insights yet makes it necessary to tone Uniwersytet Mikołaja Kopernika
down Searle‘s “hypothesis of the Background” (section 5). Toruń, Poland

Keywords Editors
Background hypothesis | Borg | Content | Context | Contextualism | Evans | Ex-
ternalism | Husserl | Intentionality | Interpretation | Knowledge | Meaning | Min-
Thomas Metzinger
imalism | Reference | Searle | Williamson
metzinger @
Johannes Gutenberg-Universität
Mainz, Germany

Jennifer M. Windt
jennifer.windt @
Monash University
Melbourne, Australia

1 Introduction

“Meaning” is a popular term in philosophical 2. Does this context-dependence have an impact

slogans. Meaning is said to be normative; not to on the validity of Searle’s Background Hypo-
be in the head. The notion of meaning is (nev- thesis, which states that the intentional ex-
ertheless) said to be the key to the notion of in- periences expressed by assertive utterances,
tentional content, to only be applicable relative and bearing their respective meaning, and
to a set of background assumptions, and mean- the mental acts of grasping this meaning,
ing is said to be context-dependent. These slo- both require a non-intentional background on
gans are not unrelated, and all of them have a the part of the speaker/hearer, relative to
reading, I suppose, in which they are true. Here which the truth-conditional content and the
I shall mainly focus on the last two slogans, re- satisfaction conditions of the relevant experi-
garding background and context. My main ence are determined?
question will be twofold:
The upshot will be that (1) whilst there may be
1. In which sense, and to which extent, can the expressions lacking the context-sensitivity that
meaning of assertive utterances be said to be many expressions (namely, the indexicals) pos-
context-dependent? sess in virtue of their conventional linguistic
Beyer, C. (2015). Meaning, Context, and Background.
In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 4(T). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570221 1 | 18

meaning, there is a sense (to be explained in bestowing” or “meaning conferring act” (Husserl
terms of the background) in which context-de- 2001, p. 192) regarding the sentence uttered. This
pendence is ubiquitous; but that (2) this con- act is given voice to, or intimated, “in the narrow
text-dependence does not prevent competent sense” (Husserl 2001, p. 189)—it is the condition
language users who lack the sort of individual of sincerity of the speech act. However, in the
background in terms of which this particular present example (“One of my goals is to defend
context-dependence can be defined (the “con- contextualism”) the speaker also deliberately
sumers”) from grasping the literal truth-condi- presents herself as someone who wants to defend
tional meaning (the semantic content) which an contextualism; after all, she explicitly ascribes
assertive utterance expresses on a given occa- that intention to herself. This latter act (the in-
sion. tention in question) is given voice to “in the
broader sense” only (Husserl 2001, p. 189), as it
2 Three levels of meaning fails to be the meaning-bestowing act regarding
the sentence uttered and thus to be given voice to
An early proponent of the view that meaning is in the narrow sense. In other words, the speaker
context-dependent is Husserl. His thought on intentionally presents herself as performing or un-
meaning, as manifested in his first major work dergoing that act, but if the hearer does not re-
Logical Investigations, starts out from the prob- cognize that intention he does not thereby fail to
lem of what it is for a linguistic expression, as grasp the literal truth-conditional meaning of the
used by a speaker or (scientific) author, to func- utterance. Again, if you assert “This is a bloom-
tion as a meaningful unit.1 ing tree,” you give voice, in the narrow sense, to a
Husserl’s approach is to study the units of demonstrative judgment; but you also present
consciousness that the respective speaker deliber- yourself as perceiving (or having perceived) some-
ately presents herself as having—that she “intim- thing as a blooming tree, where the act of percep-
ates” or “gives voice to”—when expressing the tion is given voice to in the broader sense. This
meaning in question. This is what Searle refers to perceptual act verifies the unfulfilled judgment by
as the condition of sincerity of the relevant speech intuitively “fulfilling” it (Husserl 2001, p. 192).
act (Searle 1983, pp. 9-10). These units of con- Since the meaning-bestowing act finds its aim, so
sciousness Husserl labels INTENTIONAL EX- to speak, in this intuitive fulfilment, Husserl also
PERIENCES or ACTS, since they always repres- refers to it as the corresponding “meaning inten-
ent something—thus exhibiting what Brentano tion” (Husserl 2001, p. 192). Since any meaning
called intentionality. They are “about”, or “as of,” intention aims at its intuitive fulfilment, every
something. For instance, if you claim “One of my meaningful utterance can in principle be made to
goals is to defend contextualism,” you give voice give voice (in the broader sense) to such an act of
to a judgment or belief-state to the effect that de- fulfilment, provided its literal meaning is not
fending contextualism is among your goals. This evidently inconsistent. In sections 3 and 4 I shall
judgment is intentional, in that it represents a argue that only the group of speakers capable of
state of affairs, namely your having a particular both making and understanding such epistemic
goal; it is “about” that state of affairs, even if the implicitures (the “producers”) must meet the re-
latter does not exist (i.e., obtain) because you do quirements of Searle’s Background Hypothesis.
not have that goal. Now it is the content of this One does not have to meet these requirements in
judgment (which may be empty or unfulfilled, i.e., order to express, or correctly ascribe, a meaning
made in the absence of a corresponding intuition, intention and thus grasp the literal truth-condi-
such as a corresponding perception) that a hearer tional meaning of an (assertive) utterance.
has to know in order to understand your utter- The “original function” of linguistic ex-
ance, i.e., to grasp its literal meaning. Thus, the pressions is their communicative use in giving
(unfulfilled) judgment functions as the “meaning- voice to meaning-bestowing acts, or meaning in-
1 For the following presentation of Husserl’s theory of meaning cf.
tentions (Husserl 2001, p. 189). However, this
Beyer & Weichold 2011, p. 406. “indicating (anzeigende)” function is not essen-
Beyer, C. (2015). Meaning, Context, and Background.
In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 4(T). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570221 2 | 18

tial to their functioning as meaningful units, as means, as in the case of irony; or he may
they can also be employed “in [the] solitary life mean what the sentence means but mean
[of the soul] (im einsamen Seelenleben),” thanks something more as well, as in the case of
to meaning-bestowing acts not actually given conversational implications and indirect
voice to but experienced all the same (Husserl speech acts. […] For sentences in the indic-
2001, pp. 190-191). But these acts and the ative, the meaning of the sentence determ-
meanings they bear are constrained by semantic ines a set of truth conditions […] Some-
factors concerning the linguistic expressions em- times the meaning of a sentence is such
ployed, with these factors being determined by that its truth conditions will vary system-
linguistic conventions regarding the relationship atically with the contexts of its literal ut-
between their meaning and the features of non- terance. Thus the sentence ‘I am hungry’
linguistic reality they serve to represent: might be uttered by one person on one oc-
casion to make a true statement and yet
[...] it pertains to the usual [i.e., conven- be uttered by another person, or by the
tional; CB] sense of these classes of expres- same person on another occasion, to make
sions, that they owe their determinate a false statement. […] It is important to
meaning to the occasion […] [T]heir [re- notice however that the notion of the
spective] meaning is oriented in each case meaning of a sentence is absolutely con-
to the individual instance, though the text free. Even in the case of indexical sen-
manner of this orientation is a matter of tences the meaning does not change from
usage.2 (Husserl 2001, p. 221) context to context; rather the constant
meaning is such that it determines a set of
Husserl’s theory of meaning strongly resembles truth conditions only relative to a context
the mainstream view in philosophy of language of utterance.3 (Searle 1978, pp. 207-208)
attacked by Searle and other contextualists. In
the following passage Searle gives a concise To bring out the relevant semantic factors, con-
summary of that view: sider what Husserl calls “essentially occasional
expressions,” i.e., systematically context-sensit-
Sentences have literal meanings. The lit- ive, or indexical, expressions such as “I,” “here,”
eral meaning of a sentence is entirely de- “now,” “I am here now.” 4 In his pioneering dis-
termined by the meanings of its compon- cussion of these expressions in the first Logical
ent words (or morphemes) and the syn- Investigation, paragraph 26, Husserl introduces
tactical rules according to which these ele- the semantic distinction between, on the one
ments are combined. […] The literal mean- hand, an expression’s general meaning-function
ing of a sentence needs to be sharply dis- (i.e., the linguistic meaning of the expression,
tinguished from what a speaker means by roughly corresponding to what Kaplan calls
the sentence when he utters it to perform “character”) and, on the other hand, the pro-
a speech act […]. For example, in uttering positional, or sub-propositional,5 content – the
a sentence a speaker may mean something “respective meaning” – expressed in a given con-
different from what the sentence means, as text of utterance (Husserl 2001, p. 218). If, for
in the case of metaphor; or he may even example, you and I both say “I,” then our two
mean the opposite of what the sentence
3 For an overview of more recent developments in semantics and prag-
2 The German original runs: “Es gehört zur usuellen Bedeutung dieser matics, cf. Lepore & Smith 2006, and the entries in Barber & Stain-
Klassen von Ausdrücken, ihre Bedeutungsbestimmtheit erst der Gele- ton 2010.
genheit zu verdanken […] [Sie orientieren] ihre jeweilige Bedeutung 4 Unlike mainstream semantics, Husserl considers such expressions to be
erst nach dem Einzelfall, während doch die Weise, in der sie dies tun, ubiquitous in empirical thought and speech; cf. Husserl 2001, p. 7. The
eine usuelle ist.” (Hua XIX/1, pp. 91f.) So Husserl does not subscribe approach to meaning I shall sketch below supports this contention.
to a Humpty-Dumpty view of meaning, according to which the 5 A sub-propositional content is a non-propositional content (or re-
meaning of an expression in the mouth of a speaker is solely determ- spective meaning) that is a subpart of a propositional content. Sin-
ined by what the speaker wants the expression to mean on the re- gular and general terms may be used to express sub-propositional
spective occasion; cf. Beyer 2000, pp. 78-79. contents.

Beyer, C. (2015). Meaning, Context, and Background.

In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 4(T). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570221 3 | 18

utterances share the same general-meaning in a given utterance context is a function

function but express different respective mean- yielding a reference or extension for that
ings, with different referents. Again, if you and I expression as used in that context, given
both assert “I have blood type A,” our utter- particular circumstances of evaluation (see
ances share the same general meaning-function below).
but express different respective meanings, with
different truth conditions. These respective In the case of indexical expressions, the respect-
meanings, or truth-conditional contents, are of- ive meaning, alias semantic content, is a func-
ten referred to as propositions expressed by the tion of both the context of utterance and the
utterance of a sentence. general meaning-function of the expression
Husserl regards the general meaning-func- used, which differs from the respective meaning;
tion as fixed by common usage (Husserl 2001, p. in all other cases, the two levels can be said to
221). The respective meaning determines the ex- coincide.
pression’s reference, or truth condition, in the
sense that two expressions sharing that meaning Indexicality =Df An expression is used as
are thus bound to refer to the same object(s), an indexical if and only if it is used in
or to represent the same state of affairs, if any. such a way that its respective meaning is
Husserl construes “respective meanings” as two- dependent on both the utterance context
factored, with the general meaning function (see below) and its general meaning-func-
plus the relevant context of utterance (if any) tion, such that it may acquire different ref-
determining the meaning in question. Thus we erents or extensions in different utterance
have two levels of meaning6 being expressed contexts in virtue of its general meaning-
when a meaning intention is given voice to: function.

General meaning-function (conventional The level of respective meaning is subject to what

linguistic meaning, “character”) =Df The Husserl calls “pure grammar,” which is the study
general meaning-function of an expression of what distinguishes sense (i.e., respective mean-
is a function yielding a respective meaning ing) from nonsense.8 On this view, semantic con-
for a use of that expression in a given ut- tent displays something like formal, syntactic
terance context; where the assignment of structure. This idea helps to explain the composi-
this meaning-function to the relevant ex- tionality of meaning, which in turn explains how
pression is generally a matter of (implicit speakers and hearers, or interpreters, are able to
or explicit) linguistic convention. grasp the meaning of an infinite number of sen-
tences, many of which they have never heard be-
Respective meaning ([sub-]propositional fore, on the basis of a finite vocabulary and a fi-
content, semantic content)7 =Df The re- nite set of linguistic rules or conventions.
spective meaning of an expression as used It is at the level of respective meaning that
the bearers of truth-value (that is, of truth and
6 The corresponding idea of different levels (Stufen) of understanding,
which include the grasping of both character, content, and implicitures, falsity, respectively) are located—i.e., proposi-
is borrowed from Künne, who is also to be credited for pointing out the tions. In modern semantics, truth-value ascrip-
close similarity between Kaplan’s character/content distinction and
Husserl’s distinction beween general meaning-function and respective
tions are relativized to what Kaplan calls cir-
meaning; cf. Künne 1982. In Beyer 2000, I worked out the consequences cumstances of evaluation, consisting of possible
of this distinction for Husserl’s semantics and theory of intentional con- worlds and, according to Kaplan, also times, on
tent (“noematic sense”) in detail, arguing that the latter is to be ration-
ally reconstructed as a moderate version of externalism, and that it can occasion. To illustrate one of the theoretical
be fruitfully compared to Evans’ (radically externalist) neo-Fregean con- merits of this relativization to possible worlds,
ception of sense, among others. That Husserl’s view can be read this way
lends support to Dagfinn Føllesdal’s so-called Fregean interpretation of consider an utterance of mine of the sentence
Husserl’s notion of noema (cf. Føllesdal 1969).
7 Note that “semantic content” is used by some authors to refer to 8 Husserl’s investigations into pure grammar, especially his notion of a
conventional linguistic meaning rather than respective meaning syntactic meaning category, had an important impact on modern lin-
(which Kaplan calls “content”). guistics (due mainly to Ajdukiewicz 1935).

Beyer, C. (2015). Meaning, Context, and Background.

In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 4(T). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570221 4 | 18

(S0) I exist. What is implicated (suggested, indirectly

communicated) =Df By using an expression
If we make the relativization in question, we in an utterance context, a speaker implic-
can say two things: first, for every context of ut- ates the intentional contents of the mental
terance it holds that the respective proposition acts she gives voice to in the broader
expressed in an utterance of this sentence is sense. These contents can be made out on
true in the possible world of that context, so the basis of the respective meaning of the
that the sentence can be said to be a priori or expression in that context by applying cer-
logically true (Kaplan 1989). Second, the pro- tain conversational maxims (cf. Maibauer
position expressed in a particular utterance of 2010).
S0, the respective meaning, is only contingently
true – after all, the speaker need not exist: 3 A contextualist challenge
there are, in other words, possible worlds in
which the proposition in question is false. Note This, then, is more or less the received opinion,
that: which has been challenged by philosophers on
the basis of ideas that partly go back to Husserl
Context of utterance =Df The utterance —in particular the notion of background. Thus,
context consists of the possible world in in his 1978 essay on “Literal Meaning” Searle
which the utterance is (assumed to be) claims that:
performed, the speaker, the addressee, the
time and the place of utterance and/or all [...] for a large number of cases the notion
other entities that (according the general of the literal meaning of a sentence only
meaning-function of the expressions has application relative to a set of back-
uttered) have to be identified in order to ground assumptions, and furthermore
evaluate the utterance in terms of truth, these background assumptions are not all
falsity, or reference, relative to given cir- and could not all be realized in the se-
cumstances of evaluation. mantic structure of the sentence in the
way that presuppositions and indexically
Or thus goes the rather common definition of dependent elements of the sentence’s truth
“utterance context” I have used in earlier writ- conditions are realized in the semantic
ings (e.g., Beyer 2001, pp. 278-279). structure of the sentence. (Searle 1978, p.
It is generally agreed upon, in mainstream 210)
semantics, that the levels of meaning mentioned
so far – character and respective semantic con- On this view, the role of context is not simply
tent – do not exhaust what is communicated in that of fixing the reference of indexical expres-
speech. As Husserl puts it, there are mental sions in a semantically well-regulated manner.
states given voice to “in the broader sense,” and There is contextual content determination
their contents are candidates for what the everywhere, and correspondingly there is se-
speaker non-literally means or suggests, which mantic underdetermination all over the place.
Grice calls “implicature.” At the same time, There is no propositional meaning content at-
these contents are further candidates for what tached to a sentence independently of context;
the hearer grasps when understanding, or suc- and (some authors would add) context itself is
cessfully interpreting, the utterance. not a well-defined notion: there is no neat list of
This has been standardly regarded as a semantically fixed context-factors and context-
third level of meaning that is not the subject sensitive expressions. There is a huge and con-
matter of formal semantics but rather of prag- fusing background of assumptions, or know-
matics: the study of the use of language for pur- how, that we bring to a given linguistic utter-
poses of action other than the expression of lit- ance, without which the utterance would fail to
eral meaning. express any semantic content, and to thereby
Beyer, C. (2015). Meaning, Context, and Background.
In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 4(T). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570221 5 | 18

determine truth conditions; and there is no for one type of thing to be red is not what
hope of constructing a formal theory of this counts for another. (Lahav 1989, p. 264)
background (or “context”) and the way it de-
termines truth-conditional content. Thus runs So, in which way does the relevant meaning of
Searle’s radical contextualist challenge to main- S1 (“This is red”) depend on context? I want to
stream semantics and pragmatics. consider three options.
To motivate contextualism (so conceived)
about meaning and content, consider a situation 1. Speaker intentions: Are the referential inten-
in which an object is hidden in a box. All we tions of the speaker, such as their intention
know about that object is that it is the only ob- to refer to a particular bird by “this,” part of
ject in that box. Unlike us, the speaker knows the relevant context? One problem with this
which kind of object is in the box. She does not answer is that it prevents us from adopting a
know that we do not know this; she intends to conception of context according to which
refer to a particular object of that kind, the one shared knowledge of context is what (in addi-
she takes to be in the box, or to one of its as- tion to shared knowledge of conventional lin-
pects (dependent features). She utters the sen- guistic meaning) enables both speaker and
tence hearer to grasp one and the same respective
meaning in cases of successful communica-
(S1) This is red. tion. After all, context, thus understood, is
supposed to help the hearer make out the
to make a statement about the object or aspect, speaker’s referential intentions, among other
without implying or suggesting anything else. things. So the present answer does not help—
What statement does she make? What is the re- provided we conceive of context in a commu-
spective meaning expressed in this utterance? nication-theoretical way—as a means, so to
What does the speaker say? According to rad- speak, that in accordance with the relevant
ical contextualism, this depends on a wide vari- linguistic meaning enables the hearer to de-
ety of factors, not encoded in the linguistic termine the respective meaning expressed.9
meaning of the sentence uttered. 2. Object referred to: Is the relevant context
simply identical to what’s in the box? But
For a bird to be red (in the normal case), the speaker might only be referring to a par-
it should have most of the surface of its ticular aspect of the object in the box, rather
body red, though not its beak, legs, eyes, than to the whole object. So we are thrown
and of course its inner organs. Further- back to the speaker’s referential intentions—
more, the red color should be the bird’s which do not help us, as we saw above.
natural color, since we normally regard a 3. Background assumptions: Does the relevant
bird as being ‘really’ red even if it is context consist of background assumptions
painted white all over. A kitchen table, on about the object, or kind of object, in the box?
the other hand, is red even if it is only Which assumptions, exactly? It seems to be
painted red, and even if its ‘natural’ color impossible to make a comprehensive list, be-
underneath the paint is, say, white. cause every set of assumptions brings with it
Moreover, for a table to be red only its up- further assumptions. For example, suppose
per surface needs to be red, but not neces- that the speaker takes an apple to be in the
sarily its legs and its bottom surface. Sim- box. Apples normally count as red even if their
ilarly, a red apple, as Quine pointed out, skin is not completely red. However, consider a
needs to be red only on the outside, but a social group who have only encountered two
red hat needs to be red only in its external kinds of apples thus far (as far as their colour
upper surface, a red crystal is red both in-
side and outside, and a red watermelon is 9 The epistemic availability of this means may require further means,
to be found in a wider context itself not necessarily predelineated se-
red only inside. [...] In short, what counts mantically.

Beyer, C. (2015). Meaning, Context, and Background.

In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 4(T). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570221 6 | 18

is concerned): apples whose skin is completely mantic understanding, i.e., knowledge of what she
red and apples whose skin is completely green; calls “liberal” truth conditions, on the one hand,
imagine that their apples instantaneously turn and knowing how to “verify” (or knowing what
red when ripe. These people probably wouldn’t would make it the case) that the truth condition
classify an almost-ripe apple of the kind we is met, on the other hand (Borg 2004, p. 238).
know as “red.” In fact, they wouldn’t know Thus, the members of the social group who only
what to say, because they have always assumed know (what we would call) completely red-
that there are only two kinds of apple-colour, skinned and completely green-skinned apples are
and because this background assumption de- unable to know whether the truth condition of
termines the meaning they conventionally asso- the sentence “this [the speaker refers to an apple]
ciate with S1 as applied to apples. So shall we is red” is met regarding a not fully ripe apple, but
regard the assumption that there are grades of they nevertheless know the truth condition—
apple-redness corresponding to their ripeness namely that the object the speaker wants them to
as part of the context of our assertive uses of attend to be red—whatever the latter may re-
the sentence “this [the speaker refers to an quire in the case at hand. They have full se-
apple] is red”? But how many grades are relev- mantic knowledge but lack background know-how.
ant? What if there had been exactly three However, the latter is only required for “verifica-
apple colours? This would probably again lead tion,” or
to a different use, and hence respective mean-
ing, of S1, as applied to apples, and so on and 1. knowledge of the proposition p stated (i.e.,
so forth. knowledge that p),

Obviously these sorts of examples can easily be but not for the less demanding
multiplied. Is there any way to avoid the follow-
ing radical contextualist conclusion? 2. knowledge of which proposition was stated
(i.e., knowledge that p is the proposition lit-
Radical contextualism =Df There is no erally expressed by the speaker).
fixed relation between
(i) the linguistic or literal meaning of a The latter is sufficient for semantic knowledge
sentence S; regarding the statement.
(ii) a neatly defined set of context para- I like this answer to the contextualist chal-
meters; and lenge, but I think that it eventually leads to a
(iii) the respective meaning and truth con- more moderate version of contextualism, rather
dition of S in the context of utterance, than to a full-scale rejection: it leads to a ver-
such that (iii) is uniquely determined by sion that makes room for semantic knowledge
(i) and (ii). without background assumptions or know-how,
Rather, the respective meaning is always knowledge whose content can indeed be invest-
determined differently, from situation to igated by formal semantics.
situation, so that the notion of a conven- Clearly, the advocate of the present an-
tionally (co-)determined semantic content swer needs to explain how one can understand a
is untenable. sentence while lacking the kind of background
know-how regarding which Searle would claim
4 Two kinds of knowledge about truth that in the absence of such capacities the “no-
conditions tion of the meaning of the sentence” has no
clear “application” at all (see quotation above).
The best strategy I can think of to avoid this rad- Searle would stress that in the absence of ap-
ical conclusion draws upon a distinction made by propriate background assumptions or know-how
Emma Borg. In her 2004 book Minimal Se- we have no clear idea of how to understand a
mantics, Borg distinguishes between minimal se- sentence like “This (apple) is red;” which mani-
Beyer, C. (2015). Meaning, Context, and Background.
In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 4(T). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570221 7 | 18

fests itself in the fact that we do not, for in- […] John stands in the cutting relation to
stance, know how to follow the corresponding the sun. Now clearly any world which sat-
order “Bring me the red apple!” (cf. Searle isfies this condition is going to be pretty
1983, p. 147). In the light of Borg’s distinction, unusual (and there may be some vague
this can be described as lack of knowledge cases [...]) but there will be, it seems, some
about “verification,” but what about the strong pretty clear cases on either side of the di-
intuition that in the absence of such back- vide. For instance, any world where John’s
ground know-how the sentence fails to express a actions do not have any effect on the phys-
content that can be evaluated in terms of truth ical status of the sun is clearly going to be
and falsity? To strengthen this intuition, con- a world where the truth-condition is not
sider Searle’s examples S2–S4 (cf. Searle 1983, satisfied. While any world where John’s
Ch. 6): actions do result in some kind of severing
of the physical unity of the mass of the
(S2) Bill opened the mountain. sun is a world where the truth-condition is
(S3) Bill opened the grass. satisfied. (Borg 2004, p. 236)
(S4) Bill opened the sun.
This reply to Searle is unconvincing for at least
These sentences are syntactically well-formed two reasons.
and contain meaningful English expressions; yet First: To begin with, Borg here equates se-
they do not express clear semantic content—un- mantic knowledge concerning the verb phrase
less we imagine some background know-how re- “cut” with knowledge of the property it denotes
garding what it means to open a mountain, the (see the first brackets in the quotation). But ar-
grass, or the sun.10 The mere combination of the guably this phrase does not denote any prop-
literal meaning of the verb “opened” with the erty in isolation; it only does so in the context
literal meanings of other English expressions in of a sentence (by the “context principle”).11 And
accordance with the English syntax does not Searle’s parallel point about “opened” is that
seem to be enough to produce a clear truth- this verb phrase denotes quite different proper-
evaluable content, despite the fact that “to ties in S2–S4, respectively, without being am-
open” does not look like an indexical that yields biguous. That the verb is unambiguous in these
as reference a unique behavioural relation (or cases becomes intuitively plausible if we apply
type of action) referred to as “opening,” for a the “conjunction reduction” test (cf. Searle
neatly defined type of context—in the way that 1992, pp. 178-179). Instead of asserting the con-
“I” always yields the speaker of the utterance junction of S2–S4 we can just as well say: “Bill
context as its referent. Borg would disagree; she opened the mountain, the grass, and the sun”
says about an analoguous example by Searle and perhaps add: “he used a secret universal
(“John cut the sun”): device for the task recently developed by
NASA.” This may be a weird example, but its
If the competent language user under-
11 Cf. Beyer 1997, p. 341, where I raise the same point in order to criti-
stands all the parts of the sentence (she cize one of Searle’s arguments for the Background Hypothesis. As for
knows the property denoted by the term the precise content of the context principle, Robert Stainton distin-
‘cut’, she grasps the meaning of the refer- guishes between three readings:
“The first [is] merely methodological, a claim about how to find out
ring term ‘John’ and she understands the what particular words mean: To find word meanings, look at what
meaning of the definite description ‘the they contribute to sentences. The second reading [is] metasemantic, a
claim about why words have the meanings they do: words only have
sun’) and she understands this construc- meaning because of how they affect sentence meanings. The third
tion of parts, then she knows that the ut- reading of the Principle is interpretational/psychological. […] [T]he
idea underlying it is that the only things we are psychologically able
terance of this sentence is true just in case to understand are whole sentences.” (Stainton 2010, pp. 88-89)
In the present context, a consequence of the metasemantic reading is
10 Another option might be to admit category mistakes as semantic intended which follows from the conjunction of that reading and the
contents. (I wish to express my thanks to Adriana Pavic for remind- assumption that the meaning of a predicate (like “... cut …”) denotes
ing me of this option.) a property or relation, if anything.

Beyer, C. (2015). Me