James Grayot

Thesis title
Theories of cognition in frameworks of rational choice

Dr. Conrad Heilmann and prof. Jack Vromen

My research deals with philosophical problems that lie at the intersection of economics (viz. decision theory and game theory), cognitive science, and philosophical psychology. I am currently working on two projects:

The first project evaluates some arguments in support of anti-individualism in economics. Specifically, I investigate the concept of "game-determination" as a methodology for understanding human social interaction. Game-determination asserts that the strategy profiles of economic agents are largely determined by a network of games and meta-games (i.e. games that determine games). Presumably, this network is buttressed by external forces such as social norms and institutions. I make the case that game-determination oversimplifies, via its modelling technique, the interdependence of internal-cognitive mechanisms and external-structural mechanisms in determining social interaction. The primary philosophical issue here is not whether human intentions are internally or externally governed (though the anti-individualist would argue that external forces are sufficient to constrain internal-cognitive mechanisms); rather, the issue is whether salient psychological facts about human sociality are left out of game-theoretic models. This issue exemplifies a much larger challenge for anti-individualism, which is, namely, to identify the appropriate ontological mapping between human persons and economic agents. Persons may not be ideal economic agents--in fact, persons may be composed of innumerable sub-agents that come into and out of being at every strategic moment. But, insofar as game theory (and economics generally) treats persons as agents, it is must concede some factors that are relevant to the individual person.

The second project investigates the relationship between folk psychology and human social cognition with regard to the question: how do persons achieve coordination and interpersonal understanding? Recent debates suggest that ontogenetic and phylogenetic considerations would shed much light on foundations of human socio-cognitive abilities where standard folk-psychological explanations would not. Moreover, such considerations may help to explain what mental representations are, and how they evolved to aid in the detection and communication of intentions. Currently, there are two dominant paradigms for interpreting the ontogenetic and phylogenetic basis of human social cognition – these are known as mind-reading and mind-shaping. The key difference between these hypotheses is that where mind-reading tries to explain how one individual can know what another is thinking by relying on their own cognitive resources (i.e. meta-representations), mind-shaping suggests that cognition is distributed and, more importantly, that it was socially enactive prior to the evolution of individual-introspective capabilities. This project evaluates whether mind-shaping undermines the presumed existence of meta-representations (and hence, mind-reading hypotheses that invoke introspection as a necessary condition for predicting behavior). While it may be the case that early humans coordinated together without the need to structure their thoughts in propositional form, this does not rule out the possibility that mental representation emerged as a higher-order cognitive ability for other purposes.



BA -- Philosophy, Humboldt State University, USA

MA -- Philosophy, San Jose State University, USA

Research Master -- Philosophy & Economics, Erasmus University Rotterdam (EIPE), Netherlands