Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences

, Volume 17, Issue 1, pp 131–156 | Cite as

Enactivism, second-person engagement and personal responsibility

  • Janna van GrunsvenEmail author


Over the course of the past few decades 4E approaches that theorize cognition and agency as embodied, embedded, extended, and/or enactive have garnered growing support from figures working in philosophy of mind and cognitive science (Cf. Chemero 2009; Dreyfus 2005; Gallagher 2005; Haugeland 1998; Hurley 1998; Noë 2004; Thompson 2007; Varela et al. 1991). Correspondingly, there has been a rising interest in the wider conceptual and practical implications of 4E views. Several proposals have for instance been made regarding 4E’s bearing on ethical theory (Cf. Colombetti and Torrance, Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, 8(4), 505–526, 2009; Cash, Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, 9, 645–671 2010). In this paper I contribute to this trend by critically examining the enactive contribution made by Colombetti and Torrance, Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, 8(4), 505–526 (2009) and by laying the foundations for an alternative enactive approach. Building off recent enactive approaches to social interaction, Colombetti and Torrance, Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, 8(4), (2009, 518) maintain that many of our actions and intentions “and in particular the ethical significance of what we do and mean” are “emergent from the interactions in which we participate”. Taking this seriously, they argue, entails a radical shift away from moral theory’s traditional emphasis on individual or personal responsibility. I challenge their suggestion that accepting a broadly enactive 4E approach to cognition and agency entails the kind of wholesale shift they propose. To make my case I start by revisiting some of the general theoretical commitments characteristic of enactivism, including some relevant insights that can be gathered from Vasudevi Reddy’s broadly enactive approach to developmental psychology. After that I examine both the arguments internal to Colombetti and Torrance’s proposal and, in an effort to sketch the beginnings of an alternative view, I draw some connections between enactivism, the ethics of care and P.F. Strawson’s work on personal responsibility. I believe that a consideration of the commonalities but also the differences between these views helps advance the important conversation concerning the link between enactivism and questions of personal responsibility in ethical theory that Colombetti and Torrance have undeniably helped jumpstart.


Enactivism Second-person engagement Social interaction Participatory sensemaking Personal responsibility Ethics of care P.F. Strawson 


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.TU DelftDelftThe Netherlands

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