Shaping our action space: A situated perspective on self-control


As part of our research project, we have launched ULTIMA (Utrecht Lectures on Topics In Mind and Action). This is a series of monthly lectures that will host some of the most important researchers in the philosophy of mind, the cognitive sciences, and the philosophy of action.

Our first upcoming talk will be:

Cognitive ontology and the search for neural mechanisms: Three foundational problems

Speaker: Dr. Jolien Francken (Radboud University Nijmegen)


In this talk I question a central assumption in cognitive neuroscience: The idea that neuroscientific research, by elucidating neural mechanisms of cognitive capacities, will ultimately tell us how we should carve up our taxonomy of the mind (or ‘cognitive ontology’). I will show that cognitive neuroscience faces three interlocking conceptual problems that together frame the problem of cognitive ontology. First, they must establish which tasks elicit which cognitive capacities, and specifically when different tasks elicit the same capacity. To address this operationalization problem, scientists often assess whether the tasks engage the same neural mechanisms. But to determine whether mechanisms are of the same or different kinds, we need to solve the abstraction problem by determining which mechanistic differences are and are not relevant, and also the boundary problem by distinguishing the mechanism from its background conditions. Solving these problems, in turn, requires understanding how cognitive capacities are elicited in tasks. These three problems, which have been noted and discussed elsewhere in the literature, together form a ‘cycle of kinds’ that frames the central problem-space of cognitive ontology. We describe this cycle to clarify the intellectual challenges facing the cognitive ontologist and to reveal the kind of iterative process by which ontological revision in cognitive neuroscience is likely to unfold.

When: June 1, 2023  (15.30 to 17.00)

Where: Janskerkhof 13 (Room 0.06), Utrecht. Attendance is free but space is limited. Please, to attend send an e-mail to

*Online: This is a hybrid event. To attend online, please send an e-mail to