Against cognitive artifacts: extended cognition and the problem of defining 'artifact'

Andres Pablo Vaccari*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


In this paper I examine the notion of ‘artifact’ and related notions (namely, ‘cognitive artifact’) in the dominant version of extended cognition theory (ECT) grounded on extended functionalism. Although the term is ubiquitous in the literature, it is far from clear what ECT means by it. How are artifacts conceptualized in ECT? Is ‘artifact’ a meaningful and useful category for ECT? If the answer to the previous question is negative, should we worry? Is it important for ECT to have a coherent theory of artifacts? And what are the demands and constraints that ECT imposes on this theory? I distinguish between two aspects of ECT, one narrow, aligned with extended functionalism (EF); and one broad or pluralistic, in which EF is combined with other theoretical resources in the context of diverse research programs. I begin by determining the problems in conceptualizing artifacts from EF. Then I address the question of why a concept of artifact may be relevant to ECT. Next, I examine the efforts of Richard Heersmink to combine ECT with dominant theories of artifacts in the philosophy of technology (ECT in its broad aspect). I argue that both approaches fail to yield a meaningful notion of artifact, let alone one of ‘cognitive’ artifact. Finally, I argue that narrow ECT places rather strong constraints on a theory of artifacts, since it locates the specificity of ‘artifact’ in material aspects of realization that are, by definition, outside its theoretical purview. I examine, then discard, the possibility that a materialist and objectivist theory of artifacts may be of help. And finally I briefly explore some ways in which a broad, pluralistic ECT may address some of these shortcomings.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)879-892
Number of pages14
JournalPhenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Cognitive artifacts
  • Extended cognition
  • Extended functionalism
  • Metaphysics of artifacts


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