Research Projects

  The bi-directional self-memory dynamics: a conceptual framework (2019 -

The leading questions of this philosophical project are: How is the self-model constituted by episodic memory recall and how is episodic memory recall shaped by the self-model? Our main aim is to develop an advanced description of the bi-directional self-memory dynamics within the framework of scenario construction.

To describe the interdependence between episodic memory and the self-model (the integration unit for information about myself) we presuppose an embodied self (the human being) and the narrative self-model, i.e. the explicitly reported, contextually relevant part of the self-model. The theoretical background to describe both directions is a naturalistic pattern theory of self (Newen, 2018): according to this theory the self is the human being given that it has certain abilities, namely, to form self-representations and to unify the contents of these self-representations into a self-model.

 Figure 1: The Self-Memory Dynamics

The self-model which we are focusing on is an integrated pattern of characteristic features anchored in the body including typically interoceptively registered bodily feelings, sense of agency, sense of ownership, visual and cognitive perspectivity, a transtemporal unity (Synofzik et al., 2008) as well as social-normative self-features (Newen & Fiebich, 2009). On the basis of this background we investigate the question how the narrative self (the easily explicitly reportable, contextually relevant part of the self-model in a situation) influence the episodic recall in this situation and how the self-model in general can be described as being anchored in all memory systems with a focus on episodic memory.

Some central publications already available:

  1. Newen, A. (2018). The embodied self in the predictive mind, Frontiers on Psychology, 9: 2270 
  2. Dings, R. (2021). Meaningful affordances. Synthese.
  3. Dings, R., Newen, A. (2021). Constructing the past: The relevance of the narrative self in modulating episodic memory. Review of Philosophy and Psychology.
  4. Millière, R. & Newen, A. (2022). Selfless Memories. Erkenntnis. https:/
  5. Dings, R., McCarroll, C.J., Newen, A. (2023): Situated Authenticity in Episodic Memory. Synthese, 202, 86..

  INTERACT! Neue Formen der sozialen Interaktion mit intelligenten Systemen (2021 - 2024)

Chatbots, robot colleagues, messenger services: We have been interacting with more than just people in our everyday lives for a long time now. What changes does this development entail? How do we shape them? And what dangers, but also opportunities, are associated with it? The research network "INTERACT! New Forms of Social Interaction with Intelligent Systems" at RUB, which is funded by the Ministry of Culture and Science of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia with 2 million euros, deals with this topic. The interdisciplinary team around the spokesperson Prof. Dr. Tobias Schlicht (Philosophy) includes Prof. Dr. Albert Newen and Prof. Dr. Eva Weber-Guskar (Philosophy), Prof. Dr. Nikol Rummel (Educational Science), Prof. Dr. Anna Tuschling (Media Science) and Prof. Dr. Matthias Weiß (Economics).

  "Die Struktur und Entwicklung des Verstehens von Handlungen und Gründen" (2018 - 2020)

This project was funded by the DFG and led by:

Prof. Dr. Albert Newen (RUB),

Prof. Dr. Tobias Schlicht, spokesperson (RUB)

Prof. Dr. Josef Perner (University of Salzburg)

Prof. Dr. Hans-Johann Glock (University of Zurich)

This new research project aims at a comprehensive theory of the structure and development of the understanding of actions and reasons. It is limited to the study of our understanding, not the execution, of other people's actions, not our own. To this end, philosophical and empirical research are closely interlinked in order to develop and empirically test an adequate philosophical theory within an interdisciplinary project.

This ambitious project makes substantial and original contributions to central debates in the philosophy of mind, action theory and cognitive science of social cognition. Experts from Bochum, Salzburg and Zurich are working closely together in a unique interdisciplinary constellation from which a comprehensive, conceptually coherent and empirically validated theory of the structure and development of our understanding of actions and reasons will emerge.

As part of this project, 3 workshops were organized at the universities of Bochum, Zurich and Salzburg.


   New Research Training Group "Situated Cognition (2019-2026)

The German Research Foundation is funding a new Research Training Group on "Situated Cognition" at the Ruhr University Bochum and the University of Osnabrück with around 3 million euros for 4.5 years. It deals with the question of how cognitive processes interact with external influences to produce human mental abilities. The Research Training Group aims to methodically link the philosophy of mind and cognition with psychology and neuroscience, with a focus on philosophical theory formation. The team aims to use the synergies between the two locations Osnabrück and Bochum. The research group is headed by a spokesperson from Bochum, Prof. Dr. Albert Newen (Institute of Philosophy II), and a co-spokesperson from Osnabrück, Prof. Dr. Achim Stephan (Institute of Cognitive Science).
"The main aim of the research group is to work out the deficits of traditional models of the human mind and to bring together central empirical findings of cognitive science in a philosophically critical way in a theory of 'situated cognition'; these have not been sufficiently taken into account to date," says Osnabrück philosopher and cognitive scientist Achim Stephan.

"A basic assumption of our work is that people's mental abilities cannot be described as brain activity alone," explains Albert Newen. External factors also play a role. For example, the facial muscles help determine how a person feels - not just the other way around. Memory is also dependent on the context. "Sometimes I remember certain things in one room that I can't remember elsewhere, or my memory is only possible together with a calendar," explains Newen. Our mental performance is made possible by the brain, but in many cases it is also essentially connected to the entire body as well as external objects or other people. It is this embedding that makes our intelligent performance possible.

The research group is interdisciplinary, with a focus on philosophical investigations. The research should systematically lead to a theory of cognition that brings together the latest empirical findings. The overall project will be implemented by a core team consisting of a total of twelve doctoral students and one junior researcher with a doctorate, as well as the project leaders. The applicants attach particular importance to scientific exchange within the research group and in an international context, and they want to introduce young researchers to scientific publishing at an early stage. Each doctoral student is to have two supervisors, one at each location.

As part of this project, 3 workshops, 3 conferences and a summer school on "Recent Developments in Situated Cognition" were held in 2019.

  MERCUR Project: “Automaticity in Thought and Action and its Significance for our Self-Understanding” (2016 - 2019)

Collaborative Research Project: Prof. Dr. Albert Newen (Bochum), Prof. Dr. Katja Crone (Dortmund) and Prof. Dr. Neil Roughley (Duisburg-Essen).

Many processes in thought and action are automatic: we often cannot initiate them, they are not the focus of our attention, and we cannot influence them or can only influence them with difficulty. In this project, we want to work out the role of automatic processes of thought and action for everyday life, which is still underestimated in philosophy, and clarify what adequate self-understandings of people can consist of in view of this. Methodologically, the project is anchored in systematic philosophy, but draws significantly on more recent research findings in psychology and the neurosciences.


  "Animal Cognition - Wie rational sind Tiere" (2014 - 2016)

Philosophy's engagement with non-human animals can be traced back to antiquity. In addition to animal ethics, the study of non-human animals is of particular interest to philosophical anthropology and the philosophy of mind. While anthropologists want to find out something about the nature of humans by comparing them with non-human animals, the philosophy of mind investigates the nature of thought and uses animals as a touchstone against which our mental vocabulary must prove itself.
The aim of this project, funded by the Fritz Thyssen Foundation, is to investigate the question of animal rationality from the latter two perspectives. It is in the nature of the question that answering it requires an interdisciplinary approach. Firstly, the mental concepts relevant to this question must be clarified: What are we talking about when we speak of rationality, or what does it mean to be rational? The same applies to a number of other mental concepts that are associated with rationality, such as the concepts of CONVICTION, INFERENCE, DECISION or META-REPRESENTATION. Secondly, it is necessary to develop criteria on the basis of which one can empirically test whether non-linguistic beings have these abilities.

Finally, an answer to the question requires, thirdly, an examination of other empirical sciences such as animal behavior research and animal psychology in order to determine whether there are animals that meet these criteria. If we take seriously the relevance of empirical results (here above all: animal behavior research) for the philosophy of mind - for the question of the nature of thought - these three steps cannot simply be worked through one after the other. The project therefore also aims to show how empirical findings can influence traditional philosophical conceptualization based on purely a priori conceptual analysis and enrich philosophical debates.

  "Soziale Informationsverarbeitung und Kultur" (2010 - 2013)

How do we understand other people? What role do cultural differences play in this? Processing social information is one of the most complex cognitive achievements of human beings, enabling us to live in communities. This is made possible by our ability to put ourselves in other people's shoes and to assess their inner state and predict their behavior. A central question of the project is: What does an adequate interpretation of actions, communication signals and social roles look like in interactive situations, i.e. when we actually and concretely enter into relationships with others? A second important aspect will be the cultural dimension. Human communication is essentially embedded in cultural contexts and is shaped by them; at the same time, however, it shapes the cultural background to which the individual communication partners belong. Against this background, one of the main aims of this research network is to work out not only the role of cognitive but also of cultural factors for self-understanding, understanding others and communication.


  "Other Minds/Den Anderen verstehen" (2008 - 2010)

Sometimes it seems as if we can read minds: We know exactly what the other person means, even before they have said it. How does this work? Do we have to understand ourselves in order to understand others? Can these processes be read from brain activity and are we allowed to do so? Why does understanding others not work in some diseases? The joint project Other Minds / Understanding Others, funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) with around one million euros: Neurophilosophy and Neuroethics of Intersubjectivity aims to answer these questions.

  "Selbstbewußtsein und Begriffsbildung" (2003)

The main question of the research project is: "What is human self-consciousness?"

Until now, the empirical sciences have made relatively little progress in explaining one major subject of human self-conception, which is consciousness in general and especially self-consciousness. Both phenomena continue to pose an unsolved riddle. Generally, self-consciousness is claimed to be a condition for responsible action: Only if a person has consciousness of both her/his own desires and beliefs on the one hand, and the so motivated actions on the other, will she/he be able to consciously influence her/his actions. Hence, self-consciousness is a necessary condition for responsible action. Self-consciousness — as the notion is used here — is to be sharply distinguished from the notion of self-esteem: It signifies consciousness of the subject's own desires and beliefs.

The aim of the project is to develop a new theory of self-consciousness so understood. The philosophical theorizing will be developed in accordance with the latest research-results in infant development of self-consiousness as well as pathological cases of adult self-consciousness. The project will be conducted in collaboration of philosophers (Philosophisches Seminar, Universität Tübingen) and neuroscientists (Priv.-Doz. Dr. Kai Vogeley, Universitätsklinik Bonn). The philosophical theory will accordingly be built on empirical insights from psychiatric research. Cases of disorders of self-consciousness such as autism and schizophrenia are especially important here. A new philosophical theory of human self-consciousness will then on the other hand provide a framework for further systematic empirical research in autism and schizophrenia. In this sense, the general aim of the project is to provide new perspectives on the investigation of the human mind through a philosophical theory of human self-consciousness.

  "Wissen und Können" (2005)

According to the conventional view, knowledge and ability mark strictly separate spheres of human cognitive performance. Philosophical epistemology has focused its attention predominantly on knowledge, and in particular on the highest form of human knowledge, scientific knowledge. The various forms of ability, such as playing the piano, riding a bicycle or moving purposefully through a pedestrian zone, appear only as a side note in epistemology. This goes hand in hand with a certain questionable assumption about the connection between knowledge and ability: knowledge has the structure of sentences, it exists independently of the abilities in which it is actualized and is activated when abilities are exercised.

The aim of the project is therefore to emphasize ability as an independent sphere. A new philosophical theory is sought by firstly analyzing both conceptual and non-conceptual parts of cognitive abilities on the basis of a structural theory of representation. Secondly, on the basis of this inventory, an empirically founded conceptual theory is to be developed that understands concepts as mental representations and makes it possible to draw boundaries independently of language abilities, on the one hand between pre-conceptual and concept-based abilities and on the other hand between these two forms of abilities and propositionally structured knowledge.

The basic methodological assumption is that different mechanisms of internal representation are decisive for the difference between knowledge and ability. In order to prove this assumption to be fruitful, two empirical sub-projects from psychology and brain research are an essential addition to the three philosophical sub-projects. A central object of investigation is the spatial orientation ability of humans, because it exists in all its forms: 1. walking through a busy pedestrian zone (the pre-conceptual ability of targeted avoidance behavior), 2. orienting oneself with the help of conspicuous objects (concept-based spatial orientation using landmarks) and 3. orienting oneself with the help of a map (knowledge-based spatial orientation).

The project is characterized by the fruitful, interdisciplinary collaboration between philosophy, psychology and brain research:

Prof. Dr. Andreas Bartels, Philosophy, University of Bonn
PD Dr. Mark May, Psychology, University of the Federal Armed Forces, Hamburg
Prof. Dr. Albert Newen, Philosophy, Ruhr University Bochum
Prof. Dr. Rainer Stuhlmann-Laeisz, Philosophy, University of Bonn
Prof. Dr. Dr. Kai Vogeley, Neurosciences, University of Cologne