COGNITION: the human or non-human animal conscious mental representation of something or another; human or non-human animal intentionality.

*Controversy: “Cognition” is a term that’s in common use in recent and contemporary cognitive psychology and the cognitive sciences.

“Cognition” is also a reasonably good English translation of the German term “Erkenntnis,” often mistranslated as “knowledge.”

“Cognition” in its broadest sense includes consciousness (i.e., immanently reflexive subjective experience), affect, aka caring, aka emotion (i.e., feeling, desire, and passion), experience, sense perception, memory, imagination, anticipation, conceptualization, belief, knowledge, inference, and reasoning of all sorts.

Many definitions of “cognition” are narrower, however, and entail non-affectivity, that is, no felt, desiderative, or passionate component, and thereby also exclude action-oriented intentions: hence the common recent and contemporary philosophical distinction between “the cognitive” and “the non-cognitive.”
See also the entries on “epistemology,” “intentionality,” and “knowledge.”*


The definition of “cognition” given in this entry, by contrast to many of the standard definitions, is broad in that it is fully open to affectivity, aka caring, aka emotion–that is, feeling, desire, and passion—and act-intentions, hence it’s also fully open to “belief-in” or faith, as a mode of cognition.

Presupposed by this broad definition of “cognition,” moreover, is a fundamental distinction between two kinds of cognitive content, , i.e., representational content, i.e., information that individuates mental states and normatively guides mental activities:
(i) conceptual content, which is general, description-theoretic, allocentric (third-personal), and intellectual in character, poised for logical reasoning, and (ii) essentially non-conceptual content, which is indexical or context-dependent, directly referential, egocentric (first-personal), non-intellectual (hence caring-oriented and action-oriented), and veridical in character.

My definition of “cognition” also presupposes that all cognition is conscious, although not necessarily self-conscious or reflective.[1]

Indeed, my definition of “cognition” presupposes “The Deep Consciousness Thesis”: Necessarily, all mentality is saliently conscious, even if only non-self-consciously and pre-reflectively.

Hence according to this way of thinking about cognition, there is no such thing as non-conscious mentality, the “cognitive unconscious,” the Freudian unconscious, or the “sub-personal”; and “tacit” means “pre-reflectively conscious.”

  1. See R. Hanna and M. Maiese, Embodied Minds in Action (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2009), pp. 28-31. ↩︎

An annotated, encyclopedic philosophical dictionary or philosophical lexicon — an endless work-in-progress, forever open to critical examination, revision, and updating.

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By means of a synoptic overview of European and Anglo-American philosophy since the 1880s—including accessible, clear, and critical descriptions of the works and influence of, among others, Gottlob Frege, G.E. Moore, Bertrand Russell, Alexius Meinong, Franz Brentano, Edmund Husserl, The Vienna Circle, W.V.O. Quine, Saul Kripke, Wilfrid Sellars, John McDowell, and Robert Brandom, and, particularly, Ludwig Wittgenstein—The Fate of Analysis critically examines and evaluates modern philosophy over the last 140 years.

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