Minds and Machines

, Volume 21, Issue 1, pp 33-39

First online:

The Covering Law Model Applied to Dynamical Cognitive Science: A Comment on Joel Walmsley

  • Raoul GervaisAffiliated withUniversiteit Gent Email author 
  • , Erik WeberAffiliated withUniversiteit Gent

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In a 2008 paper, Walmsley argued that the explanations employed in the dynamical approach to cognitive science, as exemplified by the Haken, Kelso and Bunz model of rhythmic finger movement, and the model of infant preservative reaching developed by Esther Thelen and her colleagues, conform to Carl Hempel and Paul Oppenheim’s deductive-nomological model of explanation (also known as the covering law model). Although we think Walmsley’s approach is methodologically sound in that it starts with an analysis of scientific practice rather than a general philosophical framework, we nevertheless feel that there are two problems with his paper. First, he focuses only on the deductivenomological model and so neglects the important fact that explanations are causal. Second, the explanations offered by the dynamical approach do not take the deductive-nomological format, because they do not deduce the explananda from exceptionless laws. Because of these two points, Walmsley makes the dynamical explanations in cognitive science appear problematic, while in fact they are not.


Explanation Covering law Dynamical cognitive science Cognition Causal asymmetry Dynamicism