Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences

, Volume 9, Issue 4, pp 465-481

First online:

Minds: extended or scaffolded?

  • Kim SterelnyAffiliated withPhilosophy and Tempo and Mode, Australian National UniversityPhilosophy, Victoria University of Wellington Email author 

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This paper discusses two perspectives, each of which recognises the importance of environmental resources in enhancing and amplifying our cognitive capacity. One is the Clark–Chalmers model, extended further by Clark and others. The other derives from niche construction models of evolution, models which emphasise the role of active agency in enhancing the adaptive fit between agent and world. In the human case, much niche construction is epistemic: making cognitive tools and assembling other informational resources that support and scaffold intelligent action. I shall argue that extended mind cases are limiting cases of environmental scaffolding, and while the extended mind picture is not false, the niche construction model is a more helpful framework for understanding human action.


Extended mind Externalism Niche construction Social learning