4E cognition, moral imagination, and engineering ethics education: shaping affordances for diverse embodied perspectives

Janna van Grunsven*, Lavinia Marin, Andrea Gammon, Trijsje Franssen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

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While 4E approaches to cognition are increasingly introduced in educational contexts, little has been said about how 4E commitments can inform pedagogy aimed at fostering ethical competencies. Here, we evaluate a 4E-inspired ethics exercise that we developed at a technical university to enliven the moral imagination of engineering students. Our students participated in an interactive tinkering workshop, during which they materially redesigned a healthcare artifact. The aim of the workshop was twofold. Firstly, we wanted students to experience how material choices at the levels of design and functionality can enable morally significant reimaginings of the affordances commonly associated with existing artifacts. We term this type of reimagining world-directed moral imagination. Secondly, through the design process, we wanted students to robustly place themselves in the lived embodied perspectives of (potential) users of their selected artifacts. We term this person-directed moral imagination. While student testimonies about the exercise indicate that both their world-directed and person-directed moral imagination were enlivened, we note that the fostering of robust person-directed moral imagination proved challenging. Using 4E insights, we diagnose this challenge and ask how it might be overcome. To this end, we engage extensively with a recent 4E-informed critique of person-directed moral imagination, raised by Clavel Vázquez and Clavel-Vázquez (2023). They argue that person-directed moral imagination is profoundly limited, if not fundamentally misguided, particularly when exercised in contexts marked by emphatic embodied situated difference between the imaginer and the imagined. Building upon insights from both the 4E field and testimonies from critical disability studies, we argue that, while their critique is valuable, it ultimately goes too far. We conclude that a 4E approach can take on board recent 4E warnings regarding the limits of person-directed moral imagination while contributing positively to the development of moral imagination in engineering ethics education.

Original languageEnglish
JournalPhenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences
Publication statusPublished - 2024


  • 4E cognition
  • Ableism
  • Disability
  • Embodied education
  • Engineering Ethics Education
  • Experiential imagination
  • Moral Imagination


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