Biblio help needed: Social theories of human cognition

I’m trying to discover who has taken what we might call a social approach to human cognition. By this I mean who has seen our place in a social world as essential to explaining how seemingly individual cognition succeeds in getting at truth, understanding, and so on.

Faced with the news that our vision is more partial than we think it is, we might say that our ordinary reports of what we see are wrong. Alternatively, we might say that such reports draw on much more than just internal visual happenings. We draw on a public language, the ways in which our caretakers ‘taught us to see’ as toddlers, and so on.

Let’s say that the above thought appeals to social setting to show how a possibly error prone individual can get true outcomes, such as true reports of what is seen that leave no hint of the gaps. Sue Campbell has used this approach for memory, and Helen Longino has appealed to community in explaining success in science. I used this approach for vision in a chapter in Neurofeminism and more generally in Keeping the world in Mind.

In The Commons of the Mind, Annette Baier takes a Wittgensteinian approach to our acquisition of truth. Other writers – such an Shaun Gallagher and Daniel Hutton – have also taken a social approach to the mind.

Who else??  Please help!

11 thoughts on “Biblio help needed: Social theories of human cognition

  1. Doesn`t almost everyone in the field of critical pegagogy hold this, from Paolo Friere right down to now? or am I misunderstanding the question?

  2. Kate, I may well have been relying on the ‘essential’ to do more work that it can. Most people would hold that social influence is very important. The claim I am trying to track is quite a bit stronger. It says that the actions and programs of one’s society partially or even wholly constitute what one sees, remembers, etc. In the Wittgensteinian idea that truth is agreement in judgment, you have a version of the idea: without agreement, truth simply does not exist. It isn’t that agreement influences one’s beliefs, but rather agreement is necessary if one is to have any truth-bearing attitudes at all.

    There are, of course, common sense phenomena that are socially constituted – e.g., one can’t have a reputation without there being a society. The idea that vision, memory and other mental phenomena are like that is for some people very far from common sense. But what cognitive psychology and neuroscience are suggesting is that there is much, much less to our psychological repertoire than our self- (and other-) ascriptions suggest. And actually we can make mistakes that seem quite astonishing, like not seeing a gorilla in a room. A counter-move to this idea that we are in fact radically wrong about ourselves is to say that the psychological states we ascribe to ourselves are partially or wholly constituted by social factors.

    Here’s how the Invisible Gorilla people sum up our fragility:

    We all believe that we are capable of seeing what’s in front of us, of accurately remembering important events from our past, of understanding the limits of our knowledge, of properly determining cause and effect. But these intuitive beliefs are often mistaken ones that mask critically important limitations on our cognitive abilities. . . . As we go through life, we often act as though we know how our minds work and why we behave the way we do. It is surprising how often we really have no clue.

  3. Thank you, but I think that’s different, though I see my explanation was deficient, to say the least. There are all sorts of ways in which society influences our beliefs, actions, etc. But what I’m looking at is the idea that social practices, etc., do something like form part of our psychology, which ‘part’ is meant pretty literally. Some people embrace the idea of an extended mind and mean that one’s mind can be found outside one’s body. That’s in the ball park that I’m looking at.

  4. In tandem with Dewey, there’s GH Mead, whose account of cognition — including self-knowledge — is profoundly social. It’s so structurally social that philosophers haven’t bothered to read Mead much, and have left him to sociologists… but it’s really an account of psychology on which mind *as such* is social (not just for humans or language-users, etc., but for a wide array of social animals).

  5. You might look at:

    Sneddon, _Like-Minded_
    Paul Bloom, _Just Babies_
    All of the extended mind stuff (Clark, Chalmers, a bunch of people up at Edinburgh, et al.)

  6. Thanks so much. Oddly enough, not all of the extended mind stuff is really the sort of thing I’m looking for, since many of them think that plenty of our thought is not socially constituted. Only some is. Sneddon I don’t know at all, so that is a really useful ref.

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