Part of Jagiellonian University in Kraków
Part of Jagiellonian University in Kraków

Explanations in cognitive science: Unication versus pluralism


The debate between the defenders of explanatory unification and explanatory pluralism has been ongoing from the beginning of cognitive science and is one of the central themes of its philosophy. Does cognitive science need a grand unifying theory? Should explanatory pluralism be embraced instead? Or maybe local integrative efforts are needed? What are the advantages of explanatory unification as compared to the benefits of explanatory pluralism? These questions, among others, are addressed in this Synthese’s special issue. In the introductory paper, we discuss the background of the questions, distinguishing integrative theorizing from building unified theories. On the one hand, integrative efforts involve collaboration between various disciplines, fields, approaches, or theories. These efforts could even be quite temporary, without establishing any long-term institutionalized fields or disciplines, but could also contribute to developing new interfield theories. On the other hand, unification can rely on developing complete theories of mechanisms and representations underlying all cognition, as Newell’s “unified theories of cognition”, or may appeal to grand principles, as predictive coding. Here, we also show that unification in contemporary cognitive science goes beyond reductive unity, and may involve various forms of joint efforts and division of explanatory labor. This conclusion is one of the themes present in the content of contributions constituting the special issue.

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Cite as:
Miłkowski, M., Hohol, M. (2021). Explanations in cognitive science: Unication versus pluralism. Synthese, 199(Suppl. 1), S1–S17.
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