Jan Halák Assistant professor, Palacký University, Olomouc

The Challenges of Relationality

In contrast to naturalistic accounts, enactivists have long argued that cognition depends on the inherent organisation and sense-making of a cognitive agent and that it is therefore a relational phenomenon. More recently, it has been clarified that cognition emerges from the confluence of material processes and the sense-making of the cognitive agent, rather being unilaterally dependent on one of these factors. In this view, cognition is relational in a stronger sense because sense-making and relevant causal factors dynamically shape each other. My presentation will explore some of the challenges implied by the ambition to provide a comprehensive, strongly relational account of cognition. I will focus on three issues that seem to remain unsettled. First, some proponents of the enactive/embodied theories of cognition argue that some cognitive structures cannot be strongly relational because this would undermine their specific epistemic value. For example, the universality and necessity of mathematical insights may be incompatible with relational status. Second, scientific observations and third-person explanations are frequently used to support enactivist arguments, but not much effort is invested in explaining how to reconcile these views with the proclaimed relational character of cognition. More generally, it remains unclear how sense-making agents, including enactivist theorists themselves, ought to interact with the results of natural sciences without thereby falling back into an objectivist stance. Finally, accepting the enactive paradigm implies that the cognitive results presented by the enactivists should themselves be viewed as correlates of a process of enaction. In other words, enactivist accounts must systematically implement into themselves that they are interventions into the configuration of the problem, or interactions with it, rather than neutral descriptions. I will explore these issues by building on examples from recent enactivist literature. To articulate a path forward, I will also return to some of Merleau-Ponty’s ideas, in particular his insights related to the phenomenon of cognitive transponibility.