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Cognition in Practice: Conceptual Development and Disagreement in Cognitive Science

Akagi, Mikio S.M. (2016) Cognition in Practice: Conceptual Development and Disagreement in Cognitive Science. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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Cognitive science has been beset for thirty years by foundational disputes about the nature and extension of cognition—e.g. whether cognition is necessarily representational, whether cognitive processes extend outside the brain or body, and whether plants or microbes have them. Whereas previous philosophical work aimed to settle these disputes, I aim to understand what conception of cognition scientists could share given that they disagree so fundamentally. To this end, I develop a number of variations on traditional conceptual explication, and defend a novel explication of cognition called the sensitive management hypothesis.

Since expert judgments about the extension of “cognition” vary so much, I argue that there is value in explication that accurately models the variance in judgments rather than taking sides or treating that variance as noise. I say of explications that accomplish this that they are ecumenically extensionally adequate. Thus, rather than adjudicating whether, say, plants can have cognitive processes like humans, an ecumenically adequate explication should classify these cases differently: human cognitive processes as paradigmatically cognitive, and plant processes as controversially cognitive.

I achieve ecumenical adequacy by articulating conceptual explications with parameters, or terms that can be assigned a number of distinct interpretations based on the background commitments of participants in a discourse. For example, an explication might require that cognition cause “behavior,” and imply that plant processes are cognitive or not depending on whether anything plants do can be considered “behavior.” Parameterization provides a unified treatment of embattled concepts by isolating topics of disagreement in a small number of parameters.

I incorporate these innovations into an account on which cognition is the “sensitive management of organismal behavior.” The sensitive management hypothesis is ecumenically extensionally adequate, accurately classifying a broad variety of cases as paradigmatically or controversially cognitive phenomena. I also describe an extremely permissive version of the sensitive management hypothesis, arguing that it has the potential to explain several features of cognitive scientific discourse, including various facts about the way cognitive scientists ascribe representations to cognitive systems.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Akagi, Mikio S.M.mikio.akagi@gmail.comMSA34
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairBrandom, Robert B.rbrandom@pitt.eduRBRANDOM
Committee MemberMachery, Edouardmachery@pitt.eduMACHERY
Committee MemberWilson, Mark L.mawilson@pitt.eduMAWILSON
Committee MemberChirimuuta, Mazviitamac289@pitt.eduMAC289
Committee MemberWoodward, James F.jfw@pitt.eduJFW
Date: 1 June 2016
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 28 March 2016
Approval Date: 1 June 2016
Submission Date: 6 April 2016
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 228
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Philosophy
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: Cognitive science Conceptual analysis Mark of the cognitive Philosophy of science Scientific practice Disagreement
Date Deposited: 01 Jun 2016 13:09
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2016 14:32


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