The Body Surpassed Towards the World and Perception Surpassed Towards Action: A Comparison between Enactivism and Sartre’s Phenomenology

Federico Zilio


Enactivism maintains that the mind is not produced and localized inside the head but is distributed along and through brain-body-environment interactions. This idea of an intrinsic relationship between the agent and the world derives from the classical phenomenological investigations of the body (Merleau-Ponty in particular). This paper discusses similarities and differences between enactivism and Jean-Paul Sartre’s phenomenology, which is not usually considered as a paradigmatic example of the relationship between phenomenological investigations and enactivism (or 4E theories in general). After a preliminary analysis of the three principal varieties of enactivism (sensorimotor, autopoietic and radical), I will present Sartre’s account of the body, addressing some key points that can be related to the current enactivist positions: perception-action unity, anti-representationalism, anti-internalism, organism-environment interaction, and sense-making cognition. Despite some basic similarities, enactivism and Sartre’s phenomenology move in different directions as to how these concepts are developed. Nevertheless, I will suggest that Sartre’s phenomenology is useful to the enactivist approaches to provide a broader and more complete analysis of consciousness and cognition, by developing a pluralist account of corporeality, enriching the investigation of the organism-environment coupling through an existentialist perspective, and reincluding the concept of subjectivity without the hypostatisation of an I-subject detached from body and world.


Enactivism; Sartre; World; Action; Perception

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