István Danka Associate professor, Department for Philosophy and History of Science, Budapest University of Technology and Economics, Budapest

Enactivism and the mind-body gap

Enactivism is often characterised as a radically anti-Cartesian view about cognition and the mind. Though it is a fair characterisation, anti-Cartesianism is not specific about enactivism since most of the 20th-century philosophy of mind was about anti-Cartesianism from Peirce via Wittgenstein and Heidegger to Quine and beyond. It is also problematic what radicalism means in this context: the ontologically most radical version of anti-Cartesianism, namely eliminative materialism, does not explain but explains away the mental.
Compared with some other (mainly materialist) forms of anti-Cartesianism, enactivism is radical in its anti-ontological stance: enactivists are much less interested in what elements human cognitive capacities consist of than how human minds interact with their environment. Though often derived from phenomenology, enactivism can also be seen as a logical continuation of Davidson-style non-reductive physicalism, a significant departure from behaviourism and eliminative materialism as ontologically radical anti-Cartesian strategies to a more moderate version in this respect.
Davidson argues that the mental-physical distinction is a linguistic dichotomy between types of descriptions rather than an ontological difference between forms of existence. Hence, there is no reason to talk about mental entities at the ontological level. Davidson’s argument is inconclusive, though, as the same must be applicable to physical entities as well. Insofar as the mental and the physical (to use the old terminology) are in constant interaction, to describe cognition, it is no more meaningful to talk in purely physical terms than in dualistic terms.
A possible solution is a shift of vocabulary from physicalist to enactivist descriptions: applying non-reductivism not only to the physical and the mental but also the physical and the biological, taking humans as describable primarily in biological terms. This way, enactivism can be seen as a response to the old mind-body problem that can manoeuvre between the Scylla of Cartesianism and the Charybdis of materialism.
Finally, I shall briefly discuss a shortcoming of enactivism, placing insufficient emphasis on the social character of humans. This aspect can be a fruitful extension of the theory in the future that is also not without precursors.