Affordances in Dennett’s From Bacteria to Bach and Back

Avant, Vol. XI, No. 2, doi: 10.26913/avant.2020.02.05
published under license CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

Zuzanna Rucińska
Centre for Philosophical Psychology, Department of Philosophy
University of Antwerp, Belgium
zuzannaaleksandra.rucinska @

Received 6 June 2019; accepted 2 July 2019; published Online First 26 January 2020

Download full text

Abstract: The purpose of this commentary is to elucidate the various roles that affordances play in Dennett’s (2017) From Bacteria to Bach and Back. By looking at the multitude of ways that affordances are mentioned throughout the book, this commentary hopes to uncover the fruitful ways of talking about affordances in the philosophy of cognitive science.

Keywords: Daniel Dennett; From Bacteria to Bach and Back; affordances; cognitive science; explanation


Abramova, E., & Slors, M. (2019). Mechanistic explanation for enactive sociality. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, 18(2), 401-424.
Bickhard, M. H., & Richie, D. M. (1983). On the nature of representation. New York: Praeger.
Bruineberg, J., Kiverstein, J., & Rietveld, E. (2018). The anticipating brain is not a scientist: the free-energy principle from an ecological-enactive perspective. Synthese, 195(6), 2417-2444.
Chemero, A. (2003). An Outline of a Theory of Affordances. Ecological Psychology 15(2): 181-195.
Chemero, A. (2009). Radical Embodied Cognitive Science. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Dennett, D. C. (2017). What Scientific Term or Concept Ought to be More Widely Known?: Af-fordances. Edge. Retrieved from
Dennett, D. C. (2017). From bacteria to Bach and back: The evolution of minds. New York: WW Norton & Company.
Gallagher, S. (2018). New mechanisms and the enactivist concept of constitution. In M. P. Guta (ed.) The Metaphysics of Consciousness (pp. 207-220). London: Routlege.
Gibson, J. J. (1979). The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception. Boston, MA: Houghton Mif-flin.
Gibson, J. J. (1982). Notes on affordances. In E. Reed and R. Jones (Eds.), Reasons for realism: The selected essays of James J. Gibson (pp. 401-418). New Jersey: Law-rence Erlbaum Associates.
Gładziejewski, P. (2015). Explaining cognitive phenomena with internal representations: A mecha-nistic perspective. Studies in Logic, Grammar and Rhetoric 40(1): 63-90.
Golonka, S., & Wilson, A. D. (2012). Gibson’s ecological approach. Avant: Trends in Interdisci-plinary Studies 3(2), 40-53.
Heras-Escribano, M. (2019). The Philosophy of Affordances. Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmil-lan.
Krickel, B. (2018). Saving the mutual manipulability account of constitutive relevance. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 68: 58-67.
Leuridan, B. (2012). What are mechanisms in social science? Metascience 21(2): 395-398.
Miłkowski, M., Clowes, R. W., Rucińska, Z., Przegalińska, A., Zawidzki, T., Gies, A., Krueger, J., McGann, M., Afeltowicz, Ł., Wachowski, W. M., Stjernberg, F., Loughlin, V., Hohol, M. Stjernberg, F. (2018). From wide cognition to mechanisms: a silent revolution. Frontiers in psychology 9 (1-17).
Noë, A. (2004). Action in Perception. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Reed, E. S. (1996). Encountering the World: Toward an ecological psychology. New York: Oxford University Press.
Rietveld, E. & Kiverstein, J. (2014). A Rich Landscape of Affordances. Ecological Psychology 26(4), 325-352.
Rucińska, Z. (2017). The Role of Affordances in Pretend Play. In C. Durt, T. Fuchs, & C. Tewes (Eds.), Embodiment, Enaction, and Culture: Investigating the Constitution of the Shared World (pp. 257-277). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Turvey, M. T. (1992). Affordances and Prospective Control: An Outline of the Ontology. Ecologi-cal Psychology 4(3): 173-187.
Varela, F. J. (1988). Structural Coupling and the Origin of Meaning in a Simple Cellular Automa-ton. In E. E. Sercarz et al. (Eds.), The Semiotics of Cellular Communication in the Immune Sys-tem (pp. 151-161). Heidelberg: Springer.
Varela, F. J., Thompson, E., and Rosch, E. (1991). The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Withagen, R., H. J. de Poel, D. Arauja, and G. Pepping. (2012). Affordances can invite behaviour: Reconsidering the relationship between affordances and agency. New Ideas in Psychology 30: 250-258.

“Avant” journal – the task financed under the contract 711/P-DUN/2019 from the funds of the Minister of Science and Higher Education for the dissemination of science.
Czasopismo „Avant” – zadanie finansowane w ramach umowy 711/P-DUN/2019 ze środków Ministra Nauki i Szkolnictwa Wyższego przeznaczonych na działalność upowszechniającą naukę.

Comments are closed.