CFP: Dehumanzing cognition, intelligence, and agency. A critical assessment between philosophy, ethics, and science

Submission deadline: September 30, 2023

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CALL FOR PAPERS (JOLMA 4 | 2 | 2022)

De-humanizing cognition, intelligence, and agency.  A critical assessment between philosophy, ethics, and science.

Editor: Filippo Batisti

A trend that calls into question several fundamental views has been recently rising in several disciplines. The core idea is that a number of notions traditionally associated with humans in the philosophical and scientific tradition, such as “cognition”, “intelligence”, and “agency”, should not instead be limited in their application to us humans only. On this view, new recipients of said concepts should be entities including various non-human animals, plants, or even inorganic materials. This issue of JoLMA aims to critically shed light on the implications of such a philosophical move. To be clear, we want both risks and merits to be discussed, without prejudice.

One key difference between the received view and the new ones may lie in the direction of the movement one could make in reconsidering “cognition”, “intelligence”, and “agency” as broader notions. For instance, let’s consider the extended mind model (Clark, Chalmers 1998). In that case the inclusion of extracranial elements in the account of human cognition was indeed conceived in an outward direction from the body of the individual. In other words, the focal point remained the human person and her abilities, like cognition, which was studied in that it could function through elements in her surroundings other than her own body and mind. That is, they were extending what was human to elements of a different nature.

What we want to discuss, instead, is the idea that there are good reasons to reconceive from the beginning the scope and the application of the three notions mentioned before. Those were almost exclusively “human”, while it now seems that rather than humanizing non-human external tools, e.g. by extension of the cognitive, the idea is to de-humanize notions traditionally predicated prototypically or exclusively on humans.

Thus we call for contributions especially centered on the concepts of “cognition”, “intelligence”, and “agency” within that discussion. While JoLMA is a philosophy journal, given the features of the topic, we will welcome papers from colleagues with expertise in other disciplines as long as they bear clear and well-stated theoretical relevance. 

The following are topical suggestions, not exclusive of other starting points for reflection.


Many animal species are now recognized (at least by some) as having full-blown “minds”; plants and vegetal formations display recognizable patterns of agency and cognitive properties like memory (Trewavas 2016, Baluska, Mancuso 2020, Mancuso 2021, Calvo et al. 2020, Segundo-Ortin, Calvo 2021); materials, both natural and artificial, are said to be “intelligent” in that they can timely adapt to environmental conditions and events (Tripaldi 2022). 

Where does all this leave the traditional notions of “mind”, “intelligence” and “agency”? Usually they were considered the distinctive mark of the human, at least in their respective highest forms. Should this change be framed in terms of a “deflation” of those definitions? May this be the beginning of an anti-anthropocentric trend in philosophy? How can humans redefine their distinctiveness – if any, in a strong sense – using arguments coming from the philosophy of mind and action? 

Critical voices are not rare in this respect (Mallat et al. 2021, Robinson et al. 2020, or even Marconi 2005) – are they just being reasonable, rather than conservative? Could a less heated reflection coming from philosophy possibly help to foster the dialogue (Katthar et al. 2022, Colaço 2022)?


One reason motivating the dehumanization of those notions is intrinsically ethical, may it be environmentalism, or animalism, or any other form of thinking that aims to stress the importance of the non-human components and agents of Earth (Haraway 1991, Viola 2020, Raffaetà 2023). As a consequence, on such views, more or less radical changes in human behavior and societal issues are advocated. 

How exactly can this result be achieved through an argumentation developed in the philosophy of mind and action? How can one argue in favor of (or against) granting rights to plants and/or animals by arguing that they possess certain kinds of mind and/or agency? Or is it entirely misguided to portray plants as ‘similar to us’ animals in order to nobilitate them morally, since this entails some sort of “ontological violence” by bending them to a whole different lexicon (Hendlin 2022)?


Does the dehumanization of cognition, intelligence and agency put in danger the paradigms of orthodox science? For example, the notion of individual is being criticized both by biologists and anthropologists for being too limited and explanatorily insufficient (e.g., Gagliasso 2015, Remotti 2019). 

Has contemporary empirical scientific practice embraced this trend yet? Or all of these arguments are bound to be confined in the philosophical debate – for better or for worse? What – if anything – are we trading off in loosening the boundaries of those central philosophical notions? Granted that it is true that science needs some operational simplifications in order to function and make predictions, can one say that thinking of, insisting on or even fetishizing the idea of “complexity” is a risk for the progress of science? 


Baluska, F.; Mancuso, S. (2020). “Plants, climate and humans: Plant intelligence changes everything”. EMBO REPORTS, 21, e50109.

Calvo, P., Gagliano M., Souza G., Trewavas A. (2020). “Plants are intelligent, here’s how”. Annals of Botany, 125, 1, 11–28.

Clark, A., Chalmers D. (1998). “The Extended Mind”. Analysis, 58(1), 7-19.

Colaço, D. (2022). “Why studying plant cognition is valuable, even if plants aren’t cognitive”. Synthese, 200, 453.

Gagliasso, E. (2015). “Individuals as Ecosystems: An Essential Tension”. Paradigmi. Rivista di critica filosofica, XXXIII, 2, 85-102.

Haraway, D. (1991). “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century”. Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature, 149-81. London: Routledge.

Keijzer, F. (2021). “Demarcating cognition: the cognitive life sciences”. Synthese 198 (Suppl. 1), S137–S157.

Khattar, J. et al. (2022). “Understanding interdisciplinary perspectives of plant intelligence: Is it a matter of science, language, or subjectivity?”. Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine 18-41.

Hendlin, Y. H. (2022). “Plant Philosophy and Interpretation: Making Sense of Contemporary Plant Intelligence Debates”. Environmental Values, 31(3), 253-76.

Mallatt, J., Blatt, M.R., Draguhn, A. et al. (2021). “Debunking a myth: plant consciousness”. Protoplasma 258, 459-76. 

Mancuso, S. (2021). The Nation of Plants. London: Profile Books.

Marconi, D. (2005). “Contro la mente estesa”. Sistemi intelligenti, 17(3), 389-98.

Raffaetà, R. (2023). Metagenomics Futures. How Microbiome Research Is Reconfiguring Health And What It Means To Be Human. Londra: Routledge.

Remotti, F. (2019). Somiglianze. Una via per la convivenza. Bari: Laterza.

Robinson, D.G., Draguhn A., Taiz L. (2020). “Plant “intelligence” changes nothing”. EMBO REPORTS, 21 e50395.

Trewavas, A. (2016). “Intelligence, Cognition, and Language of Green Plants”. Frontiers in Psychology, 7(588).

Tripaldi, L. (2022). Parallel Minds. Discovering the intelligence of materials. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Viola, A. (2020). Flower power. Le piante e i loro diritti. Torino: Einaudi.

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