Enactive Cognition and the Other: Enactivism and Levinas Meet Halfway


  • Geoffrey Dierckxsens Czech Academy of Sciences Prague




Enactivism, Levinas, Otherness, Social Justice, Naturalism


This paper makes a comparison between enactivism and Levinas’ philosophy. Enactivism is a recent development in philosophy of mind and cognitive science that generally defines cognition in terms of a subject’s natural interactions with the physical environment. In recent years, enactivists have been focusing on social and ethical relations by introducing the concept of participatory sensemaking, according to which ethical know-how spontaneously emerges out of natural relations of participation and communication, that is, through the exchange of knowledge. This paper will argue first that, although participatory sensemaking is a valuable concept in that it offers a practical and realistic way of understanding ethics, it nevertheless downplays the significance of otherness for understanding ethics. I will argue that Levinas’ work demonstrates in turn that otherness is significant for ethics in that we cannot completely anticipate others through participation or know-how. We cannot live the other’s experiences or suffering, which makes ethical relation so difficult and serious (e.g. care for a terminally ill person always falls short to a certain extent). I will argue next that enactivism and Levinas’ philosophy nevertheless do not exclude each other insofar they share a similar concept of subjectivity as a quality of naturally interacting with the external world to gain knowledge (Levinas speaks of dwelling). Finally, I will argue that enactivism’s notion of participatory sensemaking also offers something which Levinas’ insufficiently defines, namely a concept of social justice, based on equality and participation, that emerges out of natural relations.