THE PHILOSOPHY OF THE FUTURE, #34–A Dual-Content Nonideal Cognitive Semantics for Thought-Shapers.

By Robert Hanna

“FUTUREWORLD,” by A. Lee/Unsplash


This book, THE PHILOSOPHY OF THE FUTURE: Uniscience and the Modern World, by Robert Hanna, presents and defends a critical philosophy of science and digital technology, and a new and prescient philosophy of nature and human thinking.

It is being made available here in serial format, but you can also download and read or share a .pdf of the complete text–including the BIBLIOGRAPHY–of THE PHILOSOPHY OF THE FUTURE HERE.

This thirty-fourth installment contains section 3.1.


We know the truth not only through our reason but also through our heart. It is through the latter that we know first principles, and reason, which has nothing to do with it, tries in vain to refute them. (Pascal, 1995: #110, p. 28)

If there is any science humankind really needs, it is the one I teach, of how to occupy properly that place in [the world] that is assigned to humankind, and how to learn from it what one must be in order to be human. (Rem 20: 45)

Natural science will one day incorporate the science of humankind, just as the science of humankind will incorporate natural science; there will be a single science. (Marx, 1964: p. 70, translation modified slightly)





0. Introduction: Science, The Four Horsemen of The New Apocalypse, and The Uniscience

0.0 How Uncritical and Unreformed Science Is Literally Killing The Modern World

0.1 My Aim In This Book

0.2 The Uniscience and Pascal’s Dictum

Chapter 1. Natural Piety: A Kantian Critique of Science

1.0 Kantian Heavy-Duty Enlightenment and The Uniscience

1.1 Kant’s Neo-Aristotelian Natural Power Grid

1.2 Kant, Natural Piety, and The Limits of Science

1.3 From Kant’s Anti-Mechanism to Kantian Anti-Mechanism

1.4 In Defense of Natural Piety

1.5 Scientific Pietism and Scientific Naturalism

1.6 How to Ground Natural Science on Sensibility

1.7 Sensible Science 1: Natural Science Without Natural Mechanism

1.8 Sensible Science 2: Natural Science Without Materialism/Physicalism

1.9 Sensible Science 3: Natural Science Without Scientism

1.10 Frankenscience, the Future of Humanity, and the Future of Science

Chapter 2. This is the Way the World Ends: A Philosophy of Civilization Since 1900, The Rise of Mechanism, and The Emergence of Neo-Organicism

2.0 Introduction

2.1 Wrestling with Modernity: 1900–1940

2.1.1 Six Sociocultural or Sociopolitical Developments

2.1.2 Two Philosophical Developments: Classical Analytic Philosophy and First Wave Organicism

2.1.3 Architectural and Artistic Trends

2.2 The Historical Black Hole, The Mechanistic Mindset, and The Mechanistic Worldview: 1940–1980

2.2.1 Formal and Natural Science After 1945, The Mechanistic Mindset, and The Rise of The Mechanistic Worldview

2.2 The Emergence of Post-Classical Analytic Philosophy

2.2.3 The Two Images Problem and its Consequences

2.2.4 Modernism and Countercurrents in the Arts and Design

2.3 The Philosophical Great Divide, Post-Modernist Cultural Nihilism, and Other Apocalyptic Developments: 1980–2022

2.3.1 The Rise of Po-Mo Philosophy

2.3.2 Po-Mo Architecture: Unconstrained Hybridity

2.3.3 Other Apocalyptic Developments: Crises in Physics and Big Science, and The One-Two Punch

2.4 From The Mechanistic Worldview to Neo-Organicism

2.4.0 Against The Mechanistic Worldview

2.4.1 Seven Arguments Against The Mechanistic Worldview Logical and Mathematical Arguments Physical and Metaphysical Arguments Mentalistic and Agential Arguments

2.4.2 Beyond The Mechanistic Worldview: The Neo-Organicist Worldview The Neo-Organist Thesis 1: Solving The Mind-Body Problem Dynamic Systems Theory and The Dynamic World Picture The Neo-Organicist Thesis 2: Solving The Free Will Problem Dynamic Emergence, Life, Consciousness, and Free Agency How The Mechanical Comes To Be From The Organic

2.5 Neo-Organicism Unbound

2.6 Conclusion

Chapter 3. Thought-Shapers

3.0 Introduction

3.1 A Dual-Content Nonideal Cognitive Semantics for Thought-Shapers

Chapter 4. How To Complete Physics

Chapter 5. Digital Technology Only Within The Limits of Human Dignity

00. Conclusion: The Point Is To Shape The World


Appendix 1. A Neo-Organicist Turn in Formal Science: The Case of Mathematical Logic

Appendix 2. A Neo-Organicist Note on The Löwenheim-Skolem Theorem and “Skolem’s Paradox”

Appendix 3. A Neo-Organicist Approach to The Nature of Motion

Appendix 4. Sensible Set Theory

Appendix 5. Neo-Organicism and The Rubber Sheet Cosmos



3.1 A Dual-Content Nonideal Cognitive Semantics for Thought-Shapers

Nonideal moral or political theory is moral or political theory that’s designed to capture these two manifestly real and widespread facts about our “human-all-too-human” world: (i) that compliance with the normative principles and rules of any theory of human morality or human politics is not always or even normally ideally strict, and (ii) that context-sensitivity or indexicality is a pervasive phenomenon in our moral and political life (Hanna, 2018c, 2021f, and section 5.2 below). Correspondingly, nonideal cognitive semantics is cognitive semantic theory that’s specifically designed to capture the corresponding facts (i) that compliance with the normative principles and rules of any theory of human cognitive content or human intentionality is not always or even normally ideally strict, and (ii) that context-sensitivity or indexicality is a pervasive phenomenon in human cognition and intentionality.

The cognitive semantics of thought-shapers is a nonideal cognitive semantic theory. The notion of shaping, which is of course itself an analogy or metaphor, in this context more precisely means partial but not complete determination, formation, and guidance, in a way that’s not only causal but also irreducibly normative. As applied to human thinking, this notion of shaping has two crucial implications.

First, thought-shaping is how human thinking is partially — but not completely — causally determined, formed, and guided by mental representations of allegories, analogies, blueprints, catechisms, diagrams, displays, icons, images, lay-outs, metaphors, mnemonics, models, outlines, parables, pictures, scenarios, schemata, sketches, spreadsheets, stereotypes, symbols, tableaux, and templates,[i] for better or worse. I emphasize and re-emphasize that this partially determinative, formative, and guiding human cognitive process is not only causal but also irreducibly normative.

Second, thought-shaping creates a new cognitive item, the shaped thought, while at the same time both expressing and also modifying various features of the thinking subject’s external context. So thought-shapers are not only causal and irreducibly normative (as per the first point), but also necessarily external-context-sensitive or indexical (i.e., “embedded”) and therefore they cannot be adequately or fully characterized apart from the actual sets of external circumstances in which they arise, although they are not in any way either reducible to or wholly determined by those circumstances.

My dual-content nonideal cognitive semantics is closely related to a philosophical controversy that saliently emerged in philosophy of mind in the mid-1990s, but in fact stretches all the way back to Kant: the so-called debate about non-conceptual content (Hanna, 2021b). More specifically, there are two basic questions at issue between the contrary theses of Conceptualism and Non-Conceptualism in the philosophy of cognition and cognitive semantics: (i) whether human cognition is necessarily, solely, and wholly determined by our concepts and our conceptual capacities, yes or no, and (ii) whether human cognizers share a fundamental pre-conceptual/pre-intellectual or “essentially sensible” capacity — or a set of such capacities — with non-rational or non-human animals, that operates in some substantive way independently of our intellectual/logical capacity for conceptualization, believing, judging, etc., while still also being able to combine substantively with those latter capacities for the purposes of socially and linguistically-mediated rational cognition, yes or no. Conceptualists, i.e., intellectualists about human cognition, say yes to (i) and no to (ii); but Strong Non-Conceptualists, i.e., non-intellectualists about human cognition, say no to (i) and yes to (ii). In short, for intellectualists, self-conscious rational, conceptual, and inferential thinking — discursivity — determines the content and specific character of all human cognition, whereas for non-intellectualists, discursivity is just one cognitive capacity that’s categorically distinct from, but also interactive with, a set of inherently non-discursive sensible capacities, including essentially non-conceptual perception, essentially non-conceptual memory, pre-reflective consciousness, essentially non-conceptual imagination, emotion, and intentional agency.

In defense of Strong Non-Conceptualism, I’ve worked out a detailed, systematic version of this dual-content cognitive semantics, which deploys a basic distinction between (i) conceptual capacities and conceptual content, and (ii) essentially non-conceptual capacities and essentially non-conceptual content, along with a basic sub-distinction between: (iii) formal content (i.e., non-empirical or a priori content, i.e., content that’s necessarily underdetermined in its specific character by all actual and possible contingent, sensory facts) whether conceptual or essentially non-conceptual, and (iv) material content (i.e., empirical or a posteriori content, i.e., content that’s necessarily determined in its specific character by all or some actual or possible contingent, sensory facts), whether conceptual or essentially non-conceptual (Hanna, 2005, 2008b, 2011a, 2011b, 2013c, 2015: ch. 2, 2016c, 2017d: supplement 1, 2018e, 2020d, 2021b; Russell and Hanna, 2012).

I’ll take those distinctions as starting points.

Then, according to my dual-content nonideal cognitive semantics, by conceptual content, I mean the inherently general, descriptive information that’s expressed by (i) one-place predicates in natural language, picking out properties and ranging over domains of individual objects, (ii) n-place relational predicates in natural language, picking out relations and ranging over domains of ordered n-tuples of individual objects, or (iii) syncategorematic terms in natural language, picking out logical constants and other logical forms that unify individual propositions (judgments, predications, statements, etc.) and also capture truth-functional or other relations between complexes of propositions.

Correspondingly, by thoughts I mean either (i) ideally well-formed, logically-unified complexes of concepts and/or directly referential terms, that express propositions in the strict sense (McGrath and Frank, 2020) and inherently bear truth-values (type-1 thoughts), or (ii) less-than-ideally-well-formed and less-than-ideally-logically-unified complexes of concepts and essentially non-conceptual contents (including directly referential terms) that might or might not express propositions in the strict sense — and if not, they’ll express propositions in a non-strict sense — and therefore might or might not inherently bear truth-values (type-2 thoughts). The category of type-2 thoughts captures the widespread “human, all-too-human” fact of confused thoughts, fuzzy thoughts, half-formed thoughts, hasty thoughts, muddled thoughts, vague thoughts, and so-on.

And finally, by beliefs I mean either type-1 thoughts or type-2 thoughts that are asserted to be true by the conscious, self-conscious, and rational human subjects of those thoughts.

In this way, conceptual content is semantic content that’s propositional in either the strict or the non-strict sense, since all propositions are built out of concepts, inferential (Hanna, 2014a), since all strict or non-strict propositions correspondingly can enter into strict or non-strict inferences, and logico-linguistic, since all strict or non-strict propositions and strict or non-strict inferences are strictly or non-strictly governed at least to some non-trivial extent by laws of logic and formal rules of natural language (Hanna, 2006b: esp. chs. 4 and 7). Contrariwise, essentially non-conceptual content is sub-propositional (in either the strict or non-strict sense), and therefore non-inferential (in either the strict or non-strict sense), and non-logico-linguistic (in either the strict or non-strict sense) semantic content.

Moreover, according to my view, conceptual content and essentially non-conceptual content alike can be either formal (i.e., non-empirical or a priori) or material (i.e., empirical or a posteriori). But whether they’re formal or material, sharply unlike conceptual contents, which are normally cognized self-consciously, logically, theoretically, and rationally, essentially non-conceptual contents are instead normally cognized in a pre-reflectively conscious, emotive (where “emotion” includes desires, feelings, and passions, and our affective capacities more generally), practical, and proto-rational way that’s poised for intentional action of various kinds.

Assuming those distinctions and working definitions, and according to my formulations in Cognition, Content, and the A Priori, here’s a brief summary of the theory of essentially non-conceptual content:

The theory of rational human cognition, content, and knowledge that I am proposing … is, in part, a “bottom-up” theory about the nature of minded animals that anchors conceptual content in the primitive fact of essentially non-conceptual content. Essentially non-conceptual content … is a kind of mental content that is categorically different from conceptual content, in the sense that both its underlying semantic structure and also its characteristic psychological function or role are inherently distinct from those of conceptual content. Furthermore, essentially non-conceptual content is a kind of mental content that rational human animals or real human persons share with non-rational minded animals, whether non-human (e.g., cats) or human (e.g., infants), who, it seems, do not possess conceptual capacities. So essentially non-conceptual content epitomizes the specifically non-intellectual or sensible,embodied, perception-based, phenomenally conscious side of human mindedness, whereas conceptual content epitomizes the specifically intellectual or discursive, reflective, judgment-based, self-conscious side of human mindedness…. [B]y way of a preliminary or working characterization to have in front of us, I will say that essentially non-conceptual content is mental content that necessarily includes essentially indexical formal spatiotemporal and dynamic representations that are fully sensitive to complex thermodynamic asymmetries in perceptually manifest natural objects and processes, and also that the primary psychological function or role of essentially non-conceptual content is to account for directly referential cognition, and to guide and mediate the sensorimotor processes constitutive of finegrained intentional body movements in rational minded [human] animals. (Hanna, 2015a: p. 25 […])

Granting the theoretical backdrop of this dual-content nonideal cognitive semantics for thought-shapers, it follows that the theory of thought-shapers focuses on cognitive processes inherently involving the interplay between (i) various kinds of formal or material essentially non-conceptual cognitive activities and representations, with egocentrically-centered, action-poised spatial representations and temporal representations as fundamental, operating as the cognitive shapers, and (ii) various kinds of formal or material conceptual thinking and conceptual thought-content more generally, as what’s cognitively shaped by the various kinds of formal or material essentially non-conceptual cognitive activities and representations, in an inherently external-context-sensitive or indexical way. In view of (i) and (ii) these cognitive processes produce shaped thoughts as their cognitive products. These shaped thoughts are holistically configured or patterned mental representations, therefore bearing some important similarities to the Gestalten described by the early Gestalt psychologists Kurt Koffka, Wolfgang Köhler, and Max Wertheimer, although also, as I mentioned above, only within the broad scope of the first three Es (i.e., embodied, embedded, enacted) of the contemporary 4E approach to human cognition. And as I also noted above, this cognitive process normally occurs in a pre-reflectively conscious mode, which typically makes it very difficult to catch thought-shapers “at work” self-consciously. Indeed, thought-shapers almost invisibly yet nevertheless continuously bridge and fuse the sensible and discursive domains. In retrospective reflection on our thought-shaping processes, it’s very hard to see precisely when and how thought-shapers have exerted their influence. In this way, thought-shapers provide an all-pervasive, obvious background for human thinking, for which no special rational justification is required.

One important consequence of how thought-shapers almost invisibly continuously bridge the sensible and discursive domains, is that in the actual-world external contexts of our everyday cognitive life, the distinction between the semantic content of thought-shapers (as essentially sensible) and the semantic content of shaped thoughts (as a fusion of sensible/essentially non-conceptual content and discursive/ conceptual content) will often not be perfectly sharp, but instead a relative matter of degree. For example, looking back now at my working list of paradigmatic thought-shapers — mental representations of allegories, analogies, blueprints, catechisms, diagrams, displays, icons, images, lay-outs, metaphors, mnemonics, models, outlines, parables, pictures, scenarios, schemata, sketches, spreadsheets, stereotypes, symbols, tableaux, and templates — amongst these, allegories, catechisms, and parables differ slightly from the others in containing a relatively greater amount and degree of conceptual content, even though the essentially non-conceptual content of the thought-shaping component is what determines the overall semantic specific character of those mental representations.

Relatedly, and insofar as the so-called debate about non-conceptual content goes all the way back to Kant, it’s not surprising that there are some important similarities between the theory of thought-shapers, and Kant’s theory of the imagination-driven capacity for schematism (CPR A137–147/B176–187). And although Kant never fully explicitly extended the theory of schematism either to metaphilosophy or to a theory of cognitive “idols” or ideology, there are some importantly suggestive hints about how he might have done that, in (i) his “fragment of a moral catechism” — itself cognitively modelled on the 1563 Heidelberg Catechism, no doubt[ii] — in The Doctrine of Virtue part of the Metaphysics of Morals (MM 6: 480–484), and (ii) his remarks about the general and particular “culture of the powers of the mind” in the Lectures on Pedagogy:

[A]s concerns the higher powers of understanding, they include the culture of the understanding [i.e., the power for conceptualization and thinking], the power of judgment, and of reason. In the beginning, the understanding, too, can be formed passively, as it were, by referring to examples for the rule, or, conversely, by discerning the rule for the individual cases. The power of judgment indicates what use is to be made of the understanding. It is required in order to understand what one learns or says, in order not to repeat things without understanding them. How many read and hear something without understanding it, even though they believe they do! This [also] holds for images (Bilder)…. (LP 9: 476)

I’ll creatively generalize from Kant’s scattered remarks in this connection, and assert in agreement with him that applying schemata to various metaphysical and epistemological, but equally also to moral or sociopolitical doctrines, especially in the form of allegories or parables, significantly shapes moral and sociopolitical thinking. If we extend this line of thought still further, we can see that a “culture of education” or educational practice, shapes the minds of its recipients. This applies to all “epistemic cultures” (Knorr-Centina, 1999) and therefore also equally to “the shaping of the scientific identity” in social institutions of higher education (Turkle, 2009). As an excellent 21st century example, consider the novelist David Foster Wallace’s famous and highly influential deployment of “the-fish-&-the-water” allegory/parable, in his 2005 graduation address at Kenyon College, “This is Water”:

There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?” (Wallace, 2012)

Just like the water in Foster Wallace’s allegory/parable, thought-shapers operate almost invisibly and yet also omnipresently in human thinking. Moreover, and also harking back to Wittgenstein in this connection, thought-shapers partially pre-determine and pre-structure our forms of thoughtful and linguistic expression to such an extent that it’s almost impossible to analyze them self-consciously, if only because the thoughts and language we use for this purpose have already been shaped by them. Hence very often, when we come to philosophize, we are thinking only through the pictures that we created by philosophizing in the first place, and thereby thinking only via “as it were, illustrated turns of speech” (Wittgenstein, 1953: §295, p. 101e).


[i] [This list isn’t intended to be complete, but instead only to be a working list of paradigm cases I’m aiming to connect in an essential way to the nature of human thinking, and more generally, to explain. After I’ve provided a more precise characterization of thought-shapers in sections 3. 1 and 3.2, the list could in principle be extended according to those criteria. Moreover, allegories, catechisms, and parables differ slightly from the other items on the list, in a way that I’ll briefly describe [later] in section 3.1.]

[ii] The Heidelberg Catechism is a religious document central to Protestantism that was written in Heidelberg in 1563 by Zacharias Ursinus, although it’s likely that a number of other theologians also contributed. In any case, The Catechism consists of a series of questions and answers, intended to teach the moral and theological fundamentals of Protestant Christianity and instill “moral habits.”


Mr Nemo, W, X, Y, & Z, Monday 15 August 2022

Against Professional Philosophy is a sub-project of the online mega-project Philosophy Without Borders, which is home-based on Patreon here.

Please consider becoming a patron!



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Mr Nemo

Mr Nemo

Formerly Captain Nemo. A not-so-very-angry, but still unemployed, full-time philosopher-nobody.