Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences

, Volume 13, Issue 2, pp 217–238 | Cite as

Explaining social norm compliance. A plea for neural representations

  • Matteo Colombo


How should we understand the claim that people comply with social norms because they possess the right kinds of beliefs and preferences? I answer this question by considering two approaches to what it is to believe (and prefer), namely: representationalism and dispositionalism. I argue for a variety of representationalism, viz. neural representationalism. Neural representationalism is the conjunction of two claims. First, what it is essential to have beliefs and preferences is to have certain neural representations. Second, neural representations are often necessary to adequately explain behaviour. After having canvassed one promising way to understand what neural representations could be, I argue that the appeal to beliefs and preferences in explanations of paradigmatic cases of norm compliance should be understood as an appeal to neural representations.


Neural representations Computational neuroscience Representationalism Dispositionalism Social norm compliance Explicit Implicit Tacit mental states 



I am sincerely grateful to Andy Clark, Dave Des Roches-Dueck, Angelica Kaufmann, Julian Kiverstein, Suilin Lavelle, Ray Debajyoti and Mark Sprevak for their generous feedback on previous versions of this paper, and/or for fun discussion of specific ideas in the paper. A special thank you to two anonymous reviewers of this journal for their constructive comments and helpful suggestions. This work was supported by a grant from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) as part of the priority program “New Frameworks of Rationality” (SPP 1516). The usual disclaimers about any error or mistake in the paper apply.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Tilburg Center for Logic and Philosophy of ScienceTilburg UniversityTilburgThe Netherlands

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