Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences

, Volume 13, Issue 2, pp 241–256 | Cite as

Neural representations not needed - no more pleas, please

  • Daniel D. Hutto
  • Erik Myin


Colombo (Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, 2012) argues that we have compelling reasons to posit neural representations because doing so yields unique explanatory purchase in central cases of social norm compliance. We aim to show that there is no positive substance to Colombo’s plea—nothing that ought to move us to endorse representationalism in this domain, on any level. We point out that exposing the vices of the phenomenological arguments against representationalism does not, on its own, advance the case for representationalism one inch—beyond establishing its mere possibility. We criticize the continual confounding of constitutive and explanatory claims and the lack of recognition of a Hard Problem of having to provide a naturalistic account of content, coupled with an inability to face up to it. We point at the inadequacy of various deflationary moves that end up driving representationalists towards the idea of neural representations with non-standard contents or without content altogether, both of which either render neural representationalism unfit for purpose or vacuous. Referring to possibilities for neural manipulation and control, or to established scientific practice does not help representationalism either.


Neural representation Mental representation Mental content Social norm compliance 



This work was supported by the Australian Research Council Discovery Project, “Embodied Virtues and Expertise” (DP: 1095109); the Marie-Curie Initial Training Network, “TESIS: Towards an Embodied Science of InterSubjectivity” (FP7-PEOPLE-2010-ITN, 264828); and the (Ministerio de Economía e innovación) Spanish Department of Economy and Innovation: “Agency, Normativity and Identity: the Presence of the Subject in Actions” (FFI-2011-25131).

Erik Myin is grateful to the Research Foundation Flanders for financial support (project “Computation reconsidered”, G0B5312N).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Philosophical Psychology, School of HumanitiesUniversity of HertfordshireHatfieldUK
  2. 2.Centre for Philosophical Psychology, Department of PhilosophyUniversity of AntwerpAntwerpenBelgium

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