Social Understanding

In the debate about the nature of social cognition we see a shift towards
theories that explain social understanding through interaction.

In two papers with Tobias Schlicht we discuss autopoietic enactivism and the we-mode approach in the light of such developments. We also take a closer look at the the role of representation in social cognition/perception, comparing enactivists and representationalists.

We argue that a problem seems to arise for these theories: an interactionist account of social cognition makes the capacity of shared intentionality a presupposition of social understanding, while the capacity of engaging in scenes of shared intentionality in turn presupposes exactly the kind of social understanding that it is intended to explain.

The social capacity in question that is presupposed by these accounts is then analyzed in the second section via a discussion and further development of Searle’s ‘sense of us’ and ‘sense of the other’ as a precondition for social cognition and joint action. After a critical discussion of Schmid’s recent proposal to analyze this in terms of plural pre-reflective selfawareness, we develop an alternative account.

Starting from the idea that infants distinguish in perception between physical objects and other agents we distinguish between affordances and social affordances and cash out the notion of a social affordance in terms of interaction-oriented representations, parallel to the analysis of object affordances in terms of action-oriented representations. By characterizing their respective features we demonstrate how this approach can solve the problem formulated in the first part.

A representationalist analysis of the presumed ability to view others as potential cooperation partners is developed, using Millikan’s Teleosemantic. This theory, and especially her Pushmi-Pullyu representations, provides us the adequate terms to develop embodied, action-oriented representations for the analysis of affordances, as well as embodied interaction-oriented representations for the analysis of social affordances.