Project 2 (Hutto, Rucinska)

Non-Representational Theory of Pretence in Social Cognition

Context and motivation

Most of what sentient beings do and experience is best understood in terms of dynamically unfolding interactions with the environment. Many philosophers and cognitive scientists now acknowledge the critical importance of situated, environment-involving embodied engagements as a means of understanding basic minds – including basic forms of human mentality. Yet many of these same theorists hold fast to the view that all minds are necessarily or essentially contentful – that they represent conditions the world might be in. In Radicalizing Enactivism (forthcoming), Hutto and Myin promote the cause of a radically enactive, embodied approach to cognition which holds that some kinds of minds – basic minds – are neither best explained by processes involving the manipulation of contents nor inherently contentful. These authors oppose the widely endorsed thesis that cognition always and everywhere involves content. They defend the counter–thesis that there can be intentionality and phenomenal experience without content and demonstrate the advantages of their approach for thinking about scaffolded minds and consciousness.

The Research

Our purpose is to apply the lessons that follow from Radical Enactivism and embodiment theories to pretence and imagination. Pretending is an activity in which adults and children engage in on a daily basis. In developmental and clinical psychology, it is one of the benchmarks of a standard development of social cognition, while it is lacking or subdued in Autism Spectrum Disorders. In the philosophical tradition, pretence is often identified with an imaginative capacity, and it is associated with being a representational state of mind. Pretence has been traditionally defined as requiring representational capacities, such as i.e. imaginations, symbolism, belief-/desire-like states, concepts or double knowledge of what is real vs. not real. Current meta-representational and behaviourist accounts share the idea that “pretence is similar to false belief in that actions stemming from both mental states are directed at situations that do not actually obtain” (Harris & Kavanaugh, 1993). This comparison implies representational capacities of the actors who pretend. However, as children grasp false beliefs at around the age of  four, a closer look at pretend play, which shows already at the age of two,  bears important implications for an alternate account of pretence.

In their research Hutto and Rucinska aim at exploring two claims. First is that pretending is a consequence of the ability to represent an alternative scenario, and act upon it, which implies having highly developed cognitive capacities and the so-called “mindreading skills” or a Theory of Mind (ToM). We challenge this approach to pretence with rejecting the claim that pre-linguistic infants possess a representational theory of mind and instead focus on the influence of environment and intersubjectivity in the development of social cognition, which includes engagement in pretence. We build upon works of i.e. De Jaegher & Di Paolo (2007) on participatory sense making and Reddy’s (2008) How Infants Know Minds. Moreover, we look at alterative accounts of imagination that are non-mentalistic, such as Currie & Ravenscroft’s (2002) recreative imaginings, and explore an idea that it is embodied action of pretending that allows for the development of imagination as a complex, multidimensional activity rather than endorse a popular view that imagination understood as mental representation abilities necessarily underlie the ability to pretend.


Building on the theory of content-less basic cognition, this project has potential to be truly revolutionary. The model of pretence that focuses on embodiment (the necessity of acting and not just, if at all, imagining a possible scenario, with crucial use of tools and artifacts), as well as social embeddedness (pretending first from imitation and following social routines before becoming innovative), is a novel approach that moves beyond current theories of pretence. This research aims to shed light on the current approaches to social cognition within interdisciplinary circles. For example, studying imaginative capacities that develop from, and not underlie, pretending, has a potential to make an impact in developmental psychology and psychiatry, focusing on the social and therapeutic relevance of pretend play.


Books/Edited Books

Radicalizing Enactivism: Basic Minds without Content

In press. (with E Myin). The MIT Press. Bradford Books

Folk Psychological Narratives The Sociocultural Basis of Understanding Reasons

2008. MIT Press. Bradford Books

Narrative and Understanding Persons

Contributors Gregory Currie, Peter Goldie, Galen Strawson, Peter Lamarque, Kathy Behrendt, Marya Schechtman, Owen Flanagan, Dan Zahavi, Shaun Gallagher

Narrative and Folk Psychology

2009. Imprint Academic. Contrributors: David Herman, Katherine Nelson, Michelle Scalise Sugiyama, Matthew K. Belmonte,  William Turnbull, Jeremy I.M. Carpendale and Timothy P. Racine, Chris Sinha, Jill de Villiers and Jay Garfield, Jonathan D. Hill, David A. Leavens and Timothy P. Racine, Kristin Andrews, Shaun Gallagher, Corrado Sinigaglia, Marc Slors,  Heidi Maibom,  Matthew Ratcliffe

Radical Enactivism Intentionality, Phenomenology and Narrative Focus on the philosophy of Daniel D. Hutto

2006. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins. Special yearbook of Consciousness and Emotion. Edited and Introduced by Richard Menary. Contributors:  Daniel D. Hutto, Erik Myin and Lars De Nul, Anthony Rudd, Tim Crane,  Peter Goldie, R. Peter Hobson, Shaun Gallagher

Folk Psychology Re-Assessed

2007. Dordrect: Springer. Edited and Introduced by Matthew Ratcliffe and Daniel Hutto  Contributors: Dan Zahavi, R. Peter Hobson, Shaun Gallagher, Beata Stawarska, Peter Goldie,  Daniel D. Hutto, Victoria McGeer, Joshua Knobe, Martin Kusch,  Kristin Andrews, Adam Morton, Matthew Ratcliffe


Intersubjective Engagements without Theory of Mind: A Cross-Species Comparison

To appear in “Humans and Other Animals: Rethinking the Species Interface”,
Lanjouw, A. and Corbey, R. (eds). Cambridge University Press.

Social Cognition – Mindreading and its Alternatives

2011. (with Hersbach, M and Southgate, V). Review of Philosophy and Psychology: Volume 2, Issue 3, Page 375-395.

This is a preprint version. The final version is available at:

Radically Enactive Cognition in Our Grasp

To appear in The Hand: An Organ of the Mind, Radman, Z. (ed). MIT Press.

Truly Enactive Emotion

To appear in a special issue of Emotion Review, edited by Atkinson, A and Ratcliffe, M. Here is a link to the site where the article is published: ‘The final, definitive version of this paper will be published in Emotion Review, Vol. 4, Issue 2, 2012 by SAGE Publications Ltd, All rights reserved. © Daniel D. Hutto.

Understanding Reasons without Re-Enactment: Comments on Stueber

To appear in Emotion Review. Here is a link to the site where the article is published: ‘The final, definitive version of this paper will be published in Emotion Review, Vol. 4, Issue 1, January 2012 by SAGE Publications Ltd, All rights reserved. © Daniel D. Hutto.

Interpersonal Relating

To appear in the Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Psychiatry, Fulford, KWM, Davies, M., Graham, G. Sadler, J., Stanghellini, G. and T. Thornton (eds). Oxford University Press.

Exposing The Background: Deep and Local

2012. In Knowing without Thinking: The Background in Philosophy of Mind: Radman, Z. (ed). Basingstoke: Palgrave. 37-56.

Elementary Mind Minding, Enactivist-style

2011. In Joint Attention: New Developments in Philosophy, Psychology, and Neuroscience. Seemann, A. (ed). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. pp. 307-341.

Enactivism: Why be Radical?

2011 in Sehen und Handeln. Bredekamp, H. and Krois, J. M. (eds). Berlin: Akademie Verlag. 21-44.

Presumptuous Naturalism: A Cautionary Tale

2011 in American Philosophical Quarterly 48 (2) pp.129 – 145. To be translated into French and reprinted in a special issue of Recherches sur la Philosophie et le Langage.

Philosophy of Mind’s New Lease on Life: Autopoietic Enactivism meets Teleosemiotics

2011 in Journal of Consciousness Studies 18(5-6): 44-64. It is part of a special issue commenting on Evan Thompson’s book Mind in Life (Harvard 2007). Other contributors include: Daniel Dennett, Dan Zahavi, Bob Van Gulick, Rick Grush and Lucia Foglia, Barry Smith, Albert Newen, Charles Siewert, Susan Oyama and Michael Wheeler.

Radical Enactivism and Narrative Practice: Implications for Psychopathology

2010 in for Coherence and Disorders of the Embodied Self, Fuchs, T., Henningsen, P., Sattel, H. (eds). Stuggart, Schattauer. 43-66. (Reply by J. Krueger, same volume).

ToM Rules, but it is not OK!

2009. In Against Theory of Mind. Leudar, I. and Costall, A. (ads). Palgrave: Basingstoke.  p. 166-202

Folk Psychology as Narrative Practice

2009 Journal of Consciousness Studies. 16: 6-8, 9–  39

Interacting? Yes. But, of What Kind and on What Basis?

2009 Consciousness and Cognition 18:2, 543–546.

Lessons from Wittgenstein: Elucidating Folk Psychology

2009, New Ideas in Psychology. Special Issue: Mind, Meaning and Language: Wittgenstein’s Relevance for Psychology. 27, 197–212. Also translated into Italian and reprinted in Un Filosofo Senza Trampoli: Saggi sulla fi losofi a di Ludwig Wittgenstein. Perissinotto, L. (ed) Mimesis Edizioni Milan: Udine. 147-178, 2010.

Limited Engagements and Narrative Extensions

2008 International Journal of Philosophical Studies. 16:3, 419-444

First Communions: Mimetic Sharing without Theory of Mind

2008 in The Shared Mind: Perspectives on Intersubjectivity. Zlatev, J., Racine, T., Sinha, C. and Itkonen, E. (eds). John Benjamins. 245-276.

The Narrative Practice Hypothesis: Clarifications and Implications

2008 Philosophical Explorations. 11:3, 175-191

Understanding Others through Primary Interaction and Narrative Practice

2008 (co-authored with S. Gallagher) in The Shared Mind: Perspectives on Intersubjectivity. Zlatev, J., Racine, T., Sinha, C. and Itkonen, E. (eds). John Benjamins. 17-38.

The Narrative Practice Hypothesis: Origins and Applications of Folk Psychology

2007 Philosophy. Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplement. 82: 60. (Also appearing in Narrative and Understanding Persons. Hutto, D. (ed). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 43–68).

Folk Psychology without Theory or Simulation

2007in Folk Psychology Reassessed. Hutto, D. and Ratcliffe, M. (eds). Doredrecht: Springer. 115–135

The Limits of Spectatorial Folk Psychology

2004. Mind and Language. 19:5. 548–73.