James Forrest – The World from the Enactive Approach: Degrees of Transcendentalism

Here is the latest of our recordings from The British Society for Phenomenology’s 2018 Annual Conference ‘The Theory and Practice of Phenomenology’. James Forrest is from the University of Copenhagen, and his paper is titled ‘The World from the Enactive Approach: Degrees of Transcendentalism’.


Abstract: “Enactivism and embodied cognition movements at large are gaining influence in diverse fields ranging from cognitive science to philosophy, psychology, artificial intelligence, and anthropology (Hutto 2017, p.378). As Francisco Varela’s dream of extending and expanding Merleau-Ponty’s work intertwining empirical research with phenomenological investigations comes further to fruition, it’s pertinent to pause and ask the question: what do different branches of enactivism have to say about the status of the world we inhabit? This paper proposes a conceptual taxonomy of varieties of enactivism with respect to their metaphysical claims of mind-(in)dependence of the physical world. This taxonomy would be orthogonal yet compatible with others such as Ward, Silverman, and David’s differentiation of autopoietic, sensorimotor, and radical enactivisms (2017, p.369). Consider that one finds explicitly transcendental and anti-foundationalist perspectives on the existence of world in texts like The Embodied Mind (Varela et al, 1991), echoing what some have called the correlationist metaphysics of the later Husserl (Beck 1928; Zahavi 2017, p.114). In these cases, what’s being enacted is the real world itself. An alternative possible reading of some texts, e.g. Mind in Life, suggest that what’s enacted is a ‘selection’ or ‘interpretation’ of an environing world to create a phenomenal world (Thompson 2007). Other branches, for instance O’Regan’s work, lend themselves to objective realist interpretations, where sensorimotor activity is taken to offer objective determinations of enacted phenomenal qualia (O’Regan 2012, p.180). Still others more or less explicitly bracket metaphysical commitments altogether (cf. Gallagher). I propose to call these four kinds of enactivism, respectively; (1) correlationist, (2) phenomenal, (3) objective, and (4) bracketed. Using this heuristic outline I will further raise the question of how naturalism and transcendentalism, or realism and anti-realism, are taken to combine coherently in versions 1-3.”


The British Society for Phenomenology’s Annual Conference took place at the University of Kent, in Canterbury, UK during July, 2018. It gathered together philosophers, literary scholars, phenomenologists, and practitioners exploring phenomenological theory and its practical application. It covered a broad range of areas and issues including the arts, ethics, medical humanities, mental health, education, technology, feminism, politics and political governance, with contributions throwing a new light on both traditional phenomenological thinkers and the themes associated with classical phenomenology. More information about the conference can be found at:



The British Society for Phenomenology is a not-for-profit organisation set up with the intention of promoting research and awareness in the field of Phenomenology and other cognate arms of philosophical thought. Currently, the society accomplishes these aims through its journal, conferences and other events, and its podcast. You can support the society by becoming a member, for which you will receive a subscription to our journal:


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