, Volume 28, Issue 1, pp 63–73 | Cite as

Enactivism and the Unity of Perception and Action

  • Nivedita Gangopadhyay
  • Julian Kiverstein


This paper contrasts two enactive theories of visual experience: the sensorimotor theory (O’Regan and Noë, Behav Brain Sci 24(5):939–1031, 2001; Noë and O’Regan, Vision and mind, 2002; Noë, Action in perception, 2004) and Susan Hurley’s (Consciousness in action, 1998, Synthese 129:3–40, 2001) theory of active perception. We criticise the sensorimotor theory for its commitment to a distinction between mere sensorimotor behaviour and cognition. This is a distinction that is firmly rejected by Hurley. Hurley argues that personal level cognitive abilities emerge out of a complex dynamic feedback system at the subpersonal level. Moreover reflection on the role of eye movements in visual perception establishes a further sense in which a distinction between sensorimotor behaviour and cognition cannot be sustained. The sensorimotor theory has recently come under critical fire (see e.g. Block, J Philos CII(5):259–272, 2005; Prinz, Psyche, 12(1):1–19, 2006; Aizawa, J Philos CIV(1), 2007) for mistaking a merely causal contribution of action to perception for a constitutive contribution. We further argue that the sensorimotor theory is particularly vulnerable to this objection in a way that Hurley’s active perception theory is not. This presents an additional reason for preferring Hurley’s theory as providing a conceptual framework for the enactive programme.


Perception Action Sensorimotor Enactivism 



This work was supported by the AHRC (Grant Number AH/E511139/1) and forms a part of the CONTACT (Consciousness in Interaction) Project. The CONTACT project is a part of the ESF Eurocores Consciousness in the Natural and Cultural Context scheme. We both benefited enormously from discussing the ideas in this paper with Susan Hurley in the early days of the CONTACT project. Her loss continues to be felt but her ideas live on. We are also extremely grateful to Michael Madary and Andy Clark for many helpful criticisms and suggestions.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of BristolBristolUK
  2. 2.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of EdinburghEdinburghScotland, UK

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