Biology & Philosophy

, Volume 27, Issue 4, pp 545–570 | Cite as

How to demarcate the boundaries of cognition

  • David Michael KaplanEmail author


Advocates of extended cognition argue that the boundaries of cognition span brain, body, and environment. Critics maintain that cognitive processes are confined to a boundary centered on the individual. All participants to this debate require a criterion for distinguishing what is internal to cognition from what is external. Yet none of the available proposals are completely successful. I offer a new account, the mutual manipulability account, according to which cognitive boundaries are determined by relationships of mutual manipulability between the properties and activities of putative components and the overall behavior of the cognitive mechanism in which they figure. Among its main advantages, this criterion is capable of (a) distinguishing components of cognition from causal background conditions and lower-level correlates, and (b) showing how the core hypothesis of extended cognition can serve as a legitimate empirical hypothesis amenable to experimental test and confirmation. Conceiving the debate in these terms transforms the current clash over extended cognition into a substantive empirical debate resolvable on the basis of evidence from cognitive science and neuroscience.


Extended cognition Embodied cognition Mutual manipulability Intervention Mechanism 



Thanks to Jake Beck, Carl Craver, Philip Gerrans, Peter Langland-Hassan, Gerard O'Brien, and Gualtiero Piccinini for helpful comments on previous drafts of this paper. Thanks also to an anonymous reviewer and the editor at the journal for constructive feedback.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Anatomy and NeurobiologyWashington University School of MedicineSaint LouisUSA

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