European Journal for Philosophy of Science

, Volume 5, Issue 3, pp 315–338 | Cite as

Modular architectures and informational encapsulation: a dilemma

  • Dustin Stokes
  • Vincent BergeronEmail author
Original paper in the Philosophy of the Cognitive Sciences


Amongst philosophers and cognitive scientists, modularity remains a popular choice for an architecture of the human mind, primarily because of the supposed explanatory value of this approach. Modular architectures can vary both with respect to the strength of the notion of modularity and the scope of the modularity of mind. We propose a dilemma for these modularity approaches, no matter how they vary along these two dimensions. First, if a modular architecture commits to the informational encapsulation of modules, as it is the case for modularity theories of perception, then modules are on this account impenetrable. However, we argue that there are genuine cases of the cognitive penetrability of perception and that these cases challenge any strong, encapsulated modular architecture of perception. Second, many recent massive modularity theories weaken the strength of the notion of module, while broadening the scope of modularity. These theories do not require any robust informational encapsulation, and thus avoid the incompatibility with cognitive penetrability. However, the weakened commitment to informational encapsulation greatly weakens the explanatory force of the approach and, ultimately, is conceptually at odds with the core of modularity.


Cognitive architecture Modularity Informational encapsulation Cognitive penetrability Dissociation 



The authors gratefully acknowledge helpful comments and criticism from members of audiences at Carleton University and the Canadian Philosophical Association and in particular from Steve Downes, Matt Haber, Matthew Ivanowich, Susanna Siegel, Wayne Wu, and two anonymous referees.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of UtahSalt Lake CityUSA
  2. 2.University of OttawaOttawaCanada

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