, Volume 11, Issue 4, pp 487-506
Date: 10 Aug 2011

Unlikely allies: embodied social cognition and the intentional stance

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Abstract

I argue that proponents of embodied social cognition (ESC) can usefully supplement their views if they enlist the help of an unlikely ally: Daniel Dennett. On Dennett’s view, human social cognition involves adopting the intentional stance (IS), i.e., assuming that an interpretive target’s behavior is an optimally rational attempt to fulfill some desire relative to her beliefs. Characterized this way, proponents of ESC would reject any alliance with Dennett. However, for Dennett, to attribute mental states from the intentional stance is not to attribute concrete, unobservable mental causes of behavior. Once this is appreciated, the kinship between IS—understood as a model of our quotidian interpretive practices—and ESC is apparent: both assume that quotidian interpretation involves tracking abstract, observable, behavioral patterns, not attributing unobservable, concrete, mental causes, i.e., both assume social cognition is possible without metapsychology. I argue that this affinity constitutes an opportunity: proponents of ESC can use IS as a characterization of the subpersonal basis for social cognition. In the process, I make my interpretation of IS more precise and relate it to current empirical literature in developmental psychology.