Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Body Language

Body Language: Representation in Action

Mark Rowlands
Copyright Date: 2006
Published by: MIT Press,
Pages: 256
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Body Language
    Book Description:

    In Body Language, Mark Rowlands argues that the problem of representation--how it is possible for one item to represent another--has been exacerbated by the assimilation of representation to the category of the word. That is, the problem is traditionally understood as one of relating inner to outer--relating an inner representing item to something extrinsic or exterior to it. Rowlands argues that at least some cases of representation need to be understood not in terms of the word but of the deed. Activity, he claims, is a useful template for thinking about representation; our representing the world consists, in part, in certain sorts of actions that we perform in that world. This is not to say simply that these forms of acting can facilitate representation but that they are themselves representational. These sorts of actions--which Rowlands calls deeds--do not merely express or re-present prior intentional states. They have an independent representational status.After introducing the notion of the deed as a "preintentional act," Rowlands argues that deeds can satisfy informational, teleological, combinatorial, misrepresentational, and decouplability constraints--and so qualify as representational. He puts these principles of representation into practice by examining the deeds involved in visual perception. Representing, Rowlands argues, is something we do in the world as much as in the head. Representing does not stop at the skin, at the border between the representing subject and the world; representing is representational "all the way out."

    eISBN: 978-0-262-28274-1
    Subjects: Philosophy, Psychology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. 1 Representation: The Word and the Deed
    (pp. 1-18)

    This book is about theproblem of representation: how is it possible for one item to represent another? We might equally call it the problem ofcontent: how is it possible for an item to possess another as its content? Or the problem ofmeaning: how is it possible for one item to mean another? Or the problem ofintentionality: how is it possible for one item to take another as its intentional object? Or the problem ofaboutness: how is it possible for one item to be about another? The central contention of the book is that the problem...

  5. 2 Content Externalism
    (pp. 19-28)

    The idea that action can play at least some role in explaining the nature of representation is one associated with views of the mind that fall under the broad rubricexternalism. Externalism, however, takes different forms, and these differences are not only important in themselves but also crucial for our purposes. This chapter and the next, therefore, are concerned with distinguishing the relevant forms. This chapter deals withcontentexternalism: externalism about the content of mental states. Content externalism is less relevant to the overall purposes of this book than the other major form of externalism—externalism about thevehicles...

  6. 3 Vehicle Externalism
    (pp. 29-50)

    The idea thatactioncan play a central role in explaining, or explaining away, our ability to represent the world, is one that has become increasingly popular in recent years. The idea informs much recent work, both in empirical disciplines such as perceptual psychology, developmental psychology, robotics and artificial life, and numerous and variegated recent connectionist attempts at cognitive modeling, and also in philosophical interpretations of the foundations of such disciplines. The latter, in effect, attempt to provide a conceptual framework within which, in the attempt to understand representation, the appeal to action makes sense. This framework goes by a...

  7. 4 The Myths of the Giving
    (pp. 51-66)

    As we saw in the previous chapter, the appeal to action, in some form, is essential to the vehicle-externalist account of cognition. On this account, part of the burden of representing the world can be offloaded onto appropriate forms of action: the manipulation, exploitation, and transformation of information-bearing structures in the environment. There is disagreement as to how much of this burden can be thus offloaded. Eliminativist interpretations of vehicle externalism think that the entire function of representations, traditionally construed, can be taken over by appropriate forms of action. Other, less sanguine, interpretations think that some, but not necessarily all...

  8. 5 Enacting Representation
    (pp. 67-92)

    This chapter examines an influential recent version of vehicle externalism: O’Regan and Noë’senactiveorsensorimotoraccount of visual perception. This is not simply because the account is important in itself, but also because I want to use the account as a means for developing the paradox, identified in the previous chapter, concerning the role played by action in an explanation of representation. The paradox is that we bothneedandcannotuse a representational conception of action. We require what we are disqualified from having. On pain of begging the question, of assuming an undischarged concept of representation, we...

  9. 6 Actions, Doings, and Deeds
    (pp. 93-112)

    I have argued that the attempt to involve the concept of action in one’s account of representation needs to satisfy two desiderata:

    1. The concept of action employed cannot presuppose any other prior intentional or representational states. A corollary of this is that if an action were deemed to share a feature or features—such asnormativity—with intentional states, it must not have acquired or inherited this feature from those states. If either of these conditions are not met, then the attempt to use the concept of action to cast light on the concept of representation would becircular....

  10. 7 The Informational Constraint
    (pp. 113-126)

    The notion ofbody languageis usually taken to be a metaphor. I am going to argue that it should, in some cases, be understood quite literally. Certain types of behavior can,in at least one clear sense, constitute a language. That is, at least some sorts of behavior can form a genuinely representational part of the overall process of representing the world. And it can form such a part quite independently of its connection to prior intentional—hence, representational—states. The type of behavior on which I shall focus is, for reasons explained in the previous chapter, the category...

  11. 8 The Teleological Constraint
    (pp. 127-156)

    Many people suppose that any adequate account of representation must satisfy a teleological constraint. Roughly:

    Teleological condition An itemrqualifies as representational only if it has theproper functioneither of tracking the feature or state of affairssthatproducesit, or of enabling an organism or other representationalconsumerto achieve some (beneficial) task in virtue of trackings.

    This will, of course, take considerable unpacking; and this section attempts to do so.

    Absolutely central to teleological approaches is the concept ofproper function. The proper function of some mechanism, trait, state, or process is what it...

  12. 9 Decouplability and Misrepresentation
    (pp. 157-176)

    It is often thought that for an item to be regarded as genuinely representational it must bedecouplablefrom its wider environment and, in particular, from the state of affairs that it purports to represent. The guiding insight is that whatever else a representation might be, it must be the sort of thing that can be used, by an organism, to guide its behavior in theabsenceof the feature of which it is a representation. So, as John Haugeland puts it, to count as a genuinely representation-using system, that system must (i) be able to coordinate its behavior with...

  13. 10 The Combinatorial Constraint
    (pp. 177-200)

    It is often claimed that for any item to count as representational, it must form part of a general representational scheme or framework (Haugeland 1991: 62). That is, a representational stand-in must be part of a larger scheme of stands-ins. This allows the standing in to occur systematically, and for a variety of related representational states. In other words, representational items are subject to what we might call acombinatorial requirement. This gives us our final constraint on the concept of a representational system:

    Combinatorial condition For an itemrto qualify as representational, it must occur not in isolation...

  14. 11 Representation in Action
    (pp. 201-224)

    The arguments developed in chapters 7 through 10 have been concerned, in effect, with providing anexistence prooffor the thesis of representation in action. That is, they have tried to show that there are at least some deeds that can satisfy all the relevant conditions of, or constraints on, representation: they carry information about items extrinsic to them; they have the function of tracking such items, or enabling an organism to accomplish some task in virtue of tracking such items; they are, in the relevant sense, decouplable from the items they track, and can misrepresent those items; they have...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 225-228)
  16. References
    (pp. 229-236)
  17. Index
    (pp. 237-242)