With their paper, Hutto et al. (2014) seek to contribute to the century-long debate that engages both philosophers, and cognitive scientists regarding the extent of human cognition. In particular, Hutto et al. (2014) make an argument in support of the theory of radical enactivism that is often considered ill-conceived or too vague to present any interest. In cognitive and neuroscience, enactivism is a cluster of theories that revolve around the dynamic interaction between an actor and its environment, as opposed to the passive reception of information from the outside world. In this sense, informational interactions are juxtaposed against transformational interactions. The authors of the enactivism theory argue that humans “enact” the environment through their cognitive capacities. Therefore, human cognition is best understood through dynamically unfolding engagements with the “world offerings” and not their static representations in the human mind.
Firstly, Hutto et al. (2014) present the opposing point of view that they dub “internalism.” From the perspective of internalists, exogenous factors do play a role in shaping human cognition, but this role is supporting at best. All the contributions that the environment makes are purely causal, which denies the existence of a two-way interaction between the environment and the acting agent. The opponents of enactivism point out the insufficiency of the theoretical resources that could explain the “cognitive architecture” better than internalism does. Another scholar cited by Hutto et al. (2014) argues that the very existence of mental representations is orthogonal to the dichotomy and debate over internalism and externalism. Cognitive science can move forward without an excessive focus on representationalism that may as well exist independently from distributed cognitive activities.
Hutto et al. (2014) strongly disagree with both arguments provided in the previous paragraph. First and foremost, the authors claim that the notions of externalism and internalism depend on the theory of mental representation. It is representationalism that gives rise to all the varieties of internal and external processes and their combinations. For instance, some schools of thought put forward the idea that human cognition creates content through internalistic processes while the “vehicles” of cognition remain externalistic. The opposite is also held to be true by other scholars; others take the position of both content and vehicle being purely internalistic or externalistic. Hutto et al. (2014) support their views by drawing an analogy with a political process of drafting a taxation plan. None of the parties involved deny that taxation is a valid concept – they are rather concerned about the various ways of how taxes may work.
In the process of defending enactivism, Hutto et al. (2014) prove the inadequacy of another approach to human cognition, empirical functionalism. From an empirical functionalist view, to determine the nature of human mental states, one needs to investigate them empirically. But by doing so, the qualitative aspects of human experience would be lost. Hutto et al. (2014) go as far as suggesting that functionalism is imposed on psychology largely due to intuition than commonsense. When one looks at mental processes, he or she may discover the lack of boundaries between cognitive phenomena. Alternatively, the spatial and timely boundaries are rough-edged, barely defined, and extensive. These properties make Hutto et al. (2014) believe that human minds are extensive by nature and that cognitive processes encompass “embodiment, action, and world-involving resources.”