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Hardcover | $47.00 Short | £39.95 | 358 pp. | 6 x 9 in | 7 figures | March 2012 | ISBN: 9780262017039
eBook | $33.00 Short | March 2012 | ISBN: 9780262302487
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Open Minds

The Social Making of Agency and Intentionality


In Open Minds, Wolfgang Prinz offers the novel claim that agency and intentionality are first perceived and understood in others, and that it is only through practices and discourses of social mirroring that individuals come to apply these features to themselves and to shape their architectures for volition and cognition accordingly. Developing a (social science) constructive approach within a (cognitive science) representational framework, Prinz argues that the architectures for agency (volition) and intentionality (cognition) arise from particular kinds of social interaction and communication. Rather than working as closed, individual systems, our minds operate in ways that are fundamentally open to other minds.

Prinz describes mirror systems and mirror games, particular kinds of representational mechanisms and social games that provide tools for aligning closed individual minds with other minds. He maps the formation of an architecture for volition, addressing issues of agency and intention-based top-down control, then outlines the ways the same basic ideas can be applied to an architecture for cognition, helping to solve basic issues of subjectivity and intentionality.

Addressing the reality and efficacy of such social artifacts as autonomy and free will, Prinz contends that our beliefs about minds are not just beliefs about their workings but powerful tools for making them work as we believe. It is through our beliefs that our minds work in a particular way that we actually make them work in that way.

About the Author

Wolfgang Prinz is Director Emeritus of the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Science in Leipzig, and the author of Open Minds: The Social Making of Agency and Intentionality (MIT Press, 2012).


“Excellent.... It is impossible not to be impressed by Prinz's empirical contributions to our understanding of topics such as imitation and ... representation of actions ... which he has pioneered.”—Philosophy in Review


“Wolfgang Prinz makes a powerful, well-argued and plausible case for the notion that social interaction, culture and communication design the very structure and operation of human minds as well as their selfhood and subjectivity. His core theory of social mirrors as the key designing mechanisms—at the action, perception, symbol and conceptual levels—is insightful, original, and has far reaching implications for many areas of cognitive science.”
Radu J. Bogdan, Professor of Philosophy and Cognitive Science, Tulane University; author of Predicative Minds, Our Own Minds, and others
“Wolfgang Prinz, the originator of the 'common coding' theory of perception and action, has written an amazing work that should appeal to a wide interdisciplinary audience. His theory of how the human mind emerges through social interaction exhibits an extraordinary depth of knowledge not only of cognitive science, but also of evolutionary biology, social science, philosophy and the history of human sciences.”
John Barresi, Dalhousie University
“This is a beautifully written, cleverly argued, inspiring, and even poetic book about one of the most interesting and important topics to human beings: how we become ourselves, and what it means to be a 'self.' Wolfgang Prinz—a renowned expert—takes us on a fascinating scientific journey that explores the complexity of the interplay between the self and the other, the mirroring and internalization that allow us to extract feelings of being an agent and of having our own volition. You should drop everything and read this work crafted by a brilliant scientist. As the title says, it will open your mind.”
Janet Metcalfe, Professor, Department of Psychology, Columbia University


Honorable Mention, 2017 PROSE Awards, Multivolume Reference/Humanities & Social Sciences