Why can’t we say what cognition is (at least for the time being)




Mark of the Cognitive
Cognition wars
Necessary conditions
minimal congition
embodied cognition

How to Cite

Facchin, M. (2023). Why can’t we say what cognition is (at least for the time being). Philosophy and the Mind Sciences, 4. https://doi.org/10.33735/phimisci.2023.9664 (Original work published April 11, 2023)


Some philosophers search for the mark of the cognitive: a set of individually necessary and jointly sufficient conditions identifying all instances of cognition. They claim that the mark of the cognitive is needed to steer the development of cognitive science on the right path. Here, I argue that, at least at present, it cannot be provided. First (§2), I identify some of the factors motivating the search for a mark of the cognitive, each yielding a desideratum the mark is supposed to satisfy (§2.1). I then (§2.2) highlight a number of tensions in the literature on the mark of the cognitive, suggesting they’re best resolved by distinguishing two distinct programs. The first program (§3) is that of identifying a mark of the cognitive capturing our everyday notion of cognition. I argue that such a program is bound to fail for a number of reasons: it is not clear whether such an everyday notion exists; and even if it existed, it would not be able to spell out individually necessary and jointly sufficient conditions for cognition; and even if it were able to spell them out, these conditions won’t satisfy the desiderata a mark of the cognitive should satisfy. The second program is that of identifying a mark of the cognitive spelling out a genuine scientific kind. But the current state of fragmentation of cognitive science, and the fact that it is splintered in a myriad of different research traditions, prevent us from identifying such a kind. And we have no reason to think that these various research traditions will converge, allowing us to identify a single mark. Or so, at least, I will argue in (§4). I then conclude the paper (§5) deflecting an intuitive objection, and exploring some of the consequences of the thesis I have defended.



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