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9.1: Chapter Overview

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  • In the philosophy of G. W. F. Hegel, ideas developed by following a dialectical progression. They began as theses that attempted to explain some truth; deficiencies in theses permitted alternative ideas to be formulated. These alternatives, or antitheses, represented the next stage of the progression. A final stage, synthesis, approached truth by creating an emergent combination of elements from theses and antitheses. It has been argued that cognitive science provides an example of a dialectical progression. The current chapter begins by casting classical cognitive science as the thesis and considering both connectionist cognitive science and embodied cognitive science as viable antitheses. This argument is supported by reviewing some of the key differences amongst these three approaches. What remains is considering whether synthesis of these various approaches is possible.

    Some of the arguments from previous chapters, including the possibility of hybrid accounts of cognition, are used to support the claim that synthesis in cognitive science is possible, though it has not yet been achieved. It is further argued that one reason synthesis has been impeded is because modern cognitivism, which exemplifies the classical approach, arose as a violent reaction against behaviourist psychology. Some of the core elements of cognitive antitheses, such as exploiting associations between ideas as well as invoking environmental control, were also foundations of the behaviourist school of thought. It is suggested that this has worked against synthesis, because exploring such ideas has the ideological impact of abandoning the cognitive revolution.

    In this chapter I then proceed to consider two approaches for making the completion of a cognitive dialectic more likely. One approach is to consider the successes of the natural computation approach to vision, which developed influential theories that reflect contributions of all three approaches to cognitive science. It was able to do so because it had no ideological preference of one approach over the others. The second approach is for classical cognitive science to supplement its analytical methodologies with forward engineering. It is argued that such a synthetic methodology is likely to discover the limits of a “pure” paradigm, producing a tension that may only be resolved by exploring the ideas espoused by other positions within cognitive science.

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