Shaun Gallagher is an American philosopher known for his work on embodied and social cognition, perception, agency and the philosophy of psychopathology. He holds (since 2011) the Lillian and Morrie Moss Chair of Excellence in Philosophy at the University of Memphis and was awarded the Anneliese Maier Research Award by the Humboldt Foundation (2012-2017). His secondary appointments include Research Professor of Philosophy and Cognitive Science at the University of Hertfordshire in England, Honorary Professor of Philosophy at the University of Copenhagen, Honorary Professor of Philosophy at Durham University (UK), and affiliated research faculty member at the Institute of Simulation and Training at the University of Central Florida and the Institute for Intelligent Systems, University of Memphis. He co-edits the journal Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, and is the author of several books, including How the Body Shapes the Mind (2005), Phenomenology (2012, Hermeneutics and Education (1992), The Inordinance of Time (1998), Brainstorming (2008), and (with Dan Zahavi), The Phenomenological Mind (2008; 2nd edition, 2012). He is also editor of The Oxford Handbook of the Self (2011) and several other volumes.
He has held visiting positions at the Humboldt University in Berlin, the Centre de Recherche en Epistémelogie Appliquée in Paris; the Ecole Normale Supérieure, Lyon; the University of Copenhagen; and the Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit at the University of Cambridge. His previous positions include Professor of Philosophy and Cognitive Sciences at the University of Central Florida. He received his Ph.D in philosophy from Bryn Mawr College. He also studied philosophy at Villanova University and Leuven, and economics at the State University of New York–Buffalo.
Philosophy and research
Gallagher's research covers a number of fields, including phenomenology, philosophy of mind, cognitive science, and hermeneutics, especially the topics of embodied cognition and intersubjectivity. In How the Body Shapes the Mind (2005), and more recent work, he draws from phenomenology and empirical cognitive sciences, to provide a detailed account of embodied cognition, developing distinctions between body image and body schema, the sense of agency and sense of ownership. In this work he explores philosophical implications of embodied cognition with respect to topics such as perception, social cognition, agency, and free will. He also develops a critique of current standard theories of social cognition (including 'theory theory' and 'simulation theory') and develops an approach (termed 'interaction theory') which emphasizes embodied interaction. Interaction theory draws on developmental studies, social psychology, neuroscience and narrative theory to develop an integrated theory that recognizes the importance of bodily movements, gesture, facial expression, action, and communicative and narrative practices for understanding other persons.
For Gallagher's interaction theory (IT) the minds of others are understood primarily through our interactive relations. IT supports the notion of the direct perception of the other's intentions and emotions during intersubjective encounters. Gallagher argues that most of what we need for our understanding of others is based on our interactions and perceptions, and that very little mindreading (mentalizing) occurs or is required in our day-to-day interactions. Rather than first perceiving another’s actions and then inferring the meaning of their actions (as in theory theory), the intended meaning is apparent to perception. Mental states (like intentions) are not hidden away from view, but are apparent in the action movements that constitute them. We can see the meaning of another's behavior through their actions and expressive movements. For example, upon seeing an angry face an observer does not see first a face that is contorted into a scowl and then infer that the target is angry. The anger is immediately apparent on the face of the other. The overwhelming majority of interactions in our daily lives are face-to-face so it makes sense that our primary way of understanding one another is from a second-person perspective rather than a detached, theoretical, third-person perspective.
"In most intersubjective situations, that is, in situations of social interaction, we have a direct perceptual understanding of another person’s intentions because their intentions are explicitly expressed in their embodied actions and their expressive behaviors. This understanding does not require us to postulate or infer a belief or a desire hidden away in the other person’s mind. What we might reflectively or abstractly call their belief or desire is expressed directly in their actions and behaviors."
This ability has been termed “primary intersubjectivity” and includes emotional, sensory-motor, perceptual, and nonconceptual embodied practices that are exhibited by pre-linguistic children. It is considered “primary” for two reasons: (1) Ontogenetically it is the earliest appearing intersubjective abilities in children, and (2) even into adulthood it remains the most essential ability that we utilize in interacting and understanding others. These abilities are multimodal and nonconceptual which is evidenced in the well-known experiments regarding neonate imitation. In these experiments the neonate is only minutes old and therefore does not have conceptual abilities; yet the neonate can imitate the facial expressions of others, which is a multimodal process that requires a nonconceptual connection between visual stimulus and the neonates own facial configuration.
Furthermore, the fact that most interactions take place in cooperative contexts leads to what is called “secondary intersubjectivity”. During most interactions, intentions are apparent based upon the pragmatic context of the situation in which they are occurring. We can instantly see what the other “intends” or “wants” based upon their actions and the current context; we do not need to infer their intentions as if they are hidden away. There is a “shared world” that we live in where we intuitively and instinctively perceive others as minded beings like ourselves. Dan Zahavi echoed these sentiments when he wrote, “it is not the case that we first see inanimate objects and then animate them through a subsequent addition of mental components. Rather, at first we see everything as expressive, and then we go through a process of de-animation.
The intuitive assumption that others are minded is an apparent tendency we all share. We anthropomorphize non-human animals, inanimate objects, and even natural phenomenon. Daniel Dennett referred to this tendency as taking an “intentional stance” toward things where we assume they have intentions in order to aid in the prediction of future behavior. However, there is an important distinction between taking an “intentional stance” toward something and entering a “shared world” with it. The intentional stance is a detached and functional theory we resort to during interpersonal interactions. A shared world is directly perceived and its existence structures reality itself for the perceiver. It is not just automatically applied to perception; it in many ways constitutes perception.
- Phenomenology (London: Palgrave-Macmillan, 2012)
- The Oxford Handbook of the Self - Editor (Oxford University Press; 2011)
- Handbook of Phenomenology and Cognitive Science. Co-edited with D. Schmicking (Berlin: Springer, 2010)
- The Phenomenological Mind (Routledge; 2008). Second edition (2012), co-authored with Dan Zahavi. Translations: Hungarian (2008); Italian (2009); Danish (2010); Japanese (2011)
- Brainstorming: Views and Interviews on the Mind (Imprint Academic, 2008)
- Does Consciousness Cause Behavior? An Investigation of the Nature of Volition. Co-edited with W. Banks and S. Pockett (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2006)
- How the Body Shapes the Mind (Oxford University Press; 2005) Chinese translation (2009)
- Ipseity and Alterity: Interdisciplinary Approaches to Intersubjectivity. Co-edited with S. Watson (Rouen: Publications de l'Université de Rouen, 2004)
- Models of the Self. Co-edited with J. Shear (Exeter, UK: Imprint Academic, 1999)
- The Inordinance of Time (Northwestern University Press; 1998)
- Hegel, History, and Interpretation. Editor (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1997)
- Merleau-Ponty, Hermeneutics, and Postmodernism. Co-edited with T. Busch. (Albany: State University of New York Press 1992)
- Hermeneutics and Education (SUNY Press; 1992)
- De Jaegher, Di Paolo & Gallagher (2010). Can social interaction constitute social cognition? Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 14 (10), 441-447.
- Gallagher, S., & Hutto, D. (2008). "Understanding others through Primary Interaction and Narrative Practice". In T. Zlatev, T. Racine, C. Sinha, & E. Itkonen, The Shared Mind: Perspectives on Intersubjectivity (pp. 17–38). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
- Gallagher, S. (2001). "The practice of mind: Theory, Simulation, or Interaction?", Journal of Consciousness Studies, 8, 83-107.
- Meltzoff, A., & Moore, M. (1983). "Newborn infants imitate adult facial gestures. Child Development", 54, 702-709.
- Trevarthen, C. (1979). "Communication and cooperation in early infancy: A description of Primary Intersubjectivity". In M. Bullowa, Before Speech (pp. 321-348). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- Zahavi, D. (2008). Simulation, projection, and empathy. Consciousness and Cognition, 17, 514-522. p.518
- Dennett, D. (1987). The Intentional Stance. Cambridge: MIT Press.