Material engagement theory and its philosophical ties to pragmatism

Antonis Iliopoulos

pp. 39-63

Material Engagement Theory (MET) is currently driving a conceptual change in the archaeology of mind. Drawing upon the dictates of enactivism and active externalism, it specifically calls for a radical reconceptualization of mind and material culture. Unpersuaded by the common assumption that cognition is brain-bound, Malafouris argues in favour of a process ontology that situates thinking in action. In granting ontological primacy to material engagement, MET seeks to illuminate the emergence of human ways of thinking through the practical effects of the material world. Considering that this is a characteristic example of a pragmatic take on cognition, this contemporary theoretical platform appears to share a lot with pragmatism. As of late, scholars working at the intersection of philosophy, semiotics, and cognitive science have made important steps towards the rapprochement between pragmatism and externalism. Looking to contribute to this growing corpus of work, the present paper focuses on MET's relation to the pragmatism of Peirce, Dewey, and Mead. Having elsewhere recognized the overlap and complementarity between Malafouris' and Peirce's theories in particular, I developed a pragmatic and enactive theory of cognitive semiotics that is suitably geared to trace the nature, emergence, and evolution of material signs. Therefore, besides noting some obvious historical connections, I hereby aim to establish (at least part of) the theoretical backdrop upon which this composite theory is supposed to function, while also exploring new potential avenues. Given that this cognitive semiotic framework can be seen as a pragmatic extension of Malafouris' enactivist approach to archaeology, the current paper delves into MET's theoretical underpinnings, seeking to complement its working hypotheses and concepts with philosophical notions and ideas advanced long ago. This synthesis ultimately concludes with a call for the reconceptualization of "representation' as a heuristic concept.

Publication details

DOI: 10.1007/s11097-018-9596-5

Full citation:

Iliopoulos, A. (2019). Material engagement theory and its philosophical ties to pragmatism. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 18 (1), pp. 39-63.

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