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Pages 665-670
First published 2 September 2013

The only wrong cell is the dead one: On the enactive approach to normativity

Manuel Heras-Escribano, Jason Noble, Manuel De Pinedo


In this paper we challenge the notion of 'normativity' used by some enactive approaches to cognition. We define some varieties of enactivism and their assumptions and make explicit the reasoning behind the co-emergence of individuality and normativity. Then we argue that appealing to dispositions for explaining some living processes can be more illuminating than claiming that all such processes are normative. For this purpose, we will present some considerations, inspired by Wittgenstein, regarding norm-establishing and norm-following and show that attributions of normativity to non-social agents are deeply paradoxical. The main conclusions of our discussion are: (1) circular and internal explanations centred on the stability of living systems are insufficient to account for processes where the environment plays an important role, such as adaptation. Enactivism is not an explanatory alternative to evolutionary biology but needs it as a complement to accounts focused on the internal self-assembly of organisms; (2) though we share enactivism's anti-representational spirit, we argue that ecological psychology can offer a better account of perception.