Skip navigation

Philosophy of Mind

  • Page 1 of 5
A New Philosophical Direction

The language of thought (LOT) approach to the nature of mind has been highly influential in cognitive science and the philosophy of mind; and yet, as Susan Schneider argues, its philosophical foundations are weak. In this philosophical refashioning of LOT and the related computational theory of mind (CTM), Schneider offers a different framework than has been developed by LOT and CTM’s main architect, Jerry Fodor: one that seeks integration with neuroscience, repudiates Fodor’s pessimism about the capacity of cognitive science to explain cognition, embraces pragmatism, and advances a different approach to the nature of concepts, mental symbols, and modes of presentation.

According to the LOT approach, conceptual thought is determined by the manipulation of mental symbols according to algorithms. Schneider tackles three key problems that have plagued the LOT approach for decades: the computational nature of the central system (the system responsible for higher cognitive function); the nature of symbols; and Frege cases. To address these problems,] Schneider develops a computational theory that is based on the Global Workspace approach; develops a theory of symbols, "the algorithmic view"; and brings her theory of symbols to bear on LOT's account of the causation of thought and behavior. In the course of solving these problems, Schneider shows that LOT must make peace with both computationalism and pragmatism; indeed, the new conception of symbols renders LOT a pragmatist theory. And LOT must turn its focus to cognitive and computational neuroscience for its naturalism to succeed.

The Cognitive Science of Theology and Philosophy of Religion

Questions about the existence and attributes of God form the subject matter of natural theology, which seeks to gain knowledge of the divine by relying on reason and experience of the world. Arguments in natural theology rely largely on intuitions and inferences that seem natural to us, occurring spontaneously—at the sight of a beautiful landscape, perhaps, or in wonderment at the complexity of the cosmos—even to a nonphilosopher. In this book, Helen De Cruz and Johan De Smedt examine the cognitive origins of arguments in natural theology. They find that although natural theological arguments can be very sophisticated, they are rooted in everyday intuitions about purpose, causation, agency, and morality. Using evidence and theories from disciplines including the cognitive science of religion, evolutionary ethics, evolutionary aesthetics, and the cognitive science of testimony, they show that these intuitions emerge early in development and are a stable part of human cognition.

De Cruz and De Smedt analyze the cognitive underpinnings of five well-known arguments for the existence of God: the argument from design, the cosmological argument, the moral argument, the argument from beauty, and the argument from miracles. Finally, they consider whether the cognitive origins of these natural theological arguments should affect their rationality.

An Essay on the Content of Concepts

In cognitive science, conceptual content is frequently understood as the “meaning” of a mental representation. This position raises largely empirical questions about what concepts are, what form they take in mental processes, and how they connect to the world they are about. In Minds without Meaning, Jerry Fodor and Zenon Pylyshyn review some of the proposals put forward to answer these questions and find that none of them is remotely defensible.

Fodor and Pylyshyn determine that all of these proposals share a commitment to a two-factor theory of conceptual content, which holds that the content of a concept consists of its sense together with its reference. Fodor and Pylyshyn argue instead that there is no conclusive case against the possibility of a theory of concepts that takes reference as their sole semantic property. Such a theory, if correct, would provide for the naturalistic account of content that cognitive science lacks—and badly needs. Fodor and Pylyshyn offer a sketch of how this theory might be developed into an account of perceptual reference that is broadly compatible with empirical findings and with the view that the mental processes effecting perceptual reference are largely preconceptual, modular, and encapsulated.

In this volume, cognitive scientists and philosophers examine two closely related aspects of mind and mental functioning: the relationships among the various senses and the links that connect different conscious experiences to form unified wholes. The contributors address a range of questions concerning how information from one sense influences the processing of information from the other senses and how unified states of consciousness emerge from the bonds that tie conscious experiences together. Sensory Integration and the Unity of Consciousness is the first book to address both of these topics, integrating scientific and philosophical concerns.

A flood of recent work in both philosophy and perception science has challenged traditional conceptions of the sensory systems as operating in isolation. Contributors to the volume consider the ways in which perceptual contact with the world is or may be “multisensory,” discussing such subjects as the modeling of multisensory integration and philosophical aspects of sensory modalities. Recent years have seen a similar surge of interest in unity of consciousness. Contributors explore a range of questions on this topic, including the nature of that unity, the degree to which conscious experiences are unified, and the relationship between unified consciousness and the self.

Tim Bayne, David J. Bennett, Berit Brogaard, Barry Dainton, Ophelia Deroy, Frederique de Vignemont, Marc Ernst, Richard Held, Christopher S. Hill, Geoffrey Lee, Kristan Marlow, Farid Masrour, Jennifer Matey, Casey O’Callaghan, Cesare V. Parise, Kevin Rice, Elizabeth Schechter, Pawan Sinha, Julia Trommershaeuser, Loes C. J. van Dam, Jonathan Vogel, James Van Cleve, Robert Van Gulick, Jonas Wulff

How Evolution Made Humans Unique

Over the last three million years or so, our lineage has diverged sharply from those of our great ape relatives. Change has been rapid (in evolutionary terms) and pervasive. Morphology, life history, social life, sexual behavior, and foraging patterns have all shifted sharply away from those of the other great apes. In The Evolved Apprentice, Kim Sterelny argues that the divergence stems from the fact that humans gradually came to enrich the learning environment of the next generation. Humans came to cooperate in sharing information, and to cooperate ecologically and reproductively as well, and these changes initiated positive feedback loops that drove us further from other great apes.

Sterelny develops a new theory of the evolution of human cognition and human social life that emphasizes the gradual evolution of information-sharing practices across generations and how these practices transformed human minds and social lives. Sterelny proposes that humans developed a new form of ecological interaction with their environment, cooperative foraging. The ability to cope with the immense variety of human ancestral environments and social forms, he argues, depended not just on adapted minds but also on adapted developmental environments.

How did the human mind emerge from the collection of neurons that makes up the brain? How did the brain acquire self-awareness, functional autonomy, language, and the ability to think, to understand itself and the world? In this volume in the Essential Knowledge series, Zoltan Torey offers an accessible and concise description of the evolutionary breakthrough that created the human mind.

Drawing on insights from evolutionary biology, neuroscience, and linguistics, Torey reconstructs the sequence of events by which Homo erectus became Homo sapiens. He describes the augmented functioning that underpins the emergent mind—a new (“off-line”) internal response system with which the brain accesses itself and then forms a selection mechanism for mentally generated behavior options. This functional breakthrough, Torey argues, explains how the animal brain’s “awareness” became self-accessible and reflective—that is, how the human brain acquired a conscious mind. Consciousness, unlike animal awareness, is not a unitary phenomenon but a composite process. Torey’s account shows how protolanguage evolved into language, how a brain subsystem for the emergent mind was built, and why these developments are opaque to introspection. We experience the brain’s functional autonomy, he argues, as free will.

Torey proposes that once life began, consciousness had to emerge—because consciousness is the informational source of the brain’s behavioral response. Consciousness, he argues, is not a newly acquired “quality,” “cosmic principle,” “circuitry arrangement,” or “epiphenomenon,” as others have argued, but an indispensable working component of the living system’s manner of functioning.

Philosophy of Mind, Cognitive Neuroscience, and Delusional Thought

In The Measure of Madness, Philip Gerrans offers a novel explanation of delusion. Over the last two decades, philosophers and cognitive scientists have investigated explanations of delusion that interweave philosophical questions about the nature of belief and rationality with findings from cognitive science and neurobiology. Gerrans argues that once we fully describe the computational and neural mechanisms that produce delusion and the way in which conscious experience and thought depend on them, the concept of delusional belief retains only a heuristic role in the explanation of delusion.

Gerrans proposes that delusions are narrative models that accommodate anomalous experiences. He argues that delusions represent the operation of the Default Mode Network (DMN)—the cognitive system that provides the raw material for humans’ inbuilt tendency to provide a subjectively compelling narrative context for anomalous or highly salient experiences—without the “supervision” of higher cognitive processes present in the nondelusional mind. This explanation illuminates the relationship among delusions, dreams, imaginative states, and irrational beliefs that have perplexed philosophers and psychologists for over a century.

Going beyond the purely conceptual and the phenomenological, Gerrans brings together findings from different disciplines to trace the flow of information through the cognitive system, and applies these to case studies of typical schizophrenic delusions: misidentification, alien control, and thought insertion. Drawing on the interventionist model of causal explanation in philosophy of science and the predictive coding approach to the mind influential in computational neuroscience, Gerrans provides a model for integrative theorizing about the mind.

Rethinking Fodor and Pylyshyn’s Systematicity Challenge

In 1988, Jerry Fodor and Zenon Pylyshyn challenged connectionist theorists to explain the systematicity of cognition. In a highly influential critical analysis of connectionism, they argued that connectionist explanations, at best, can only inform us about details of the neural substrate; explanations at the cognitive level must be classical insofar as adult human cognition is essentially systematic. More than twenty-five years later, however, conflicting explanations of cognition do not divide along classicist-connectionist lines, but oppose cognitivism (both classicist and connectionist) with a range of other methodologies, including distributed and embodied cognition, ecological psychology, enactivism, adaptive behavior, and biologically based neural network theory. This volume reassesses Fodor and Pylyshyn’s “systematicity challenge” for a post-connectionist era.

The contributors consider such questions as how post-connectionist approaches meet Fodor and Pylyshyn’s conceptual challenges; whether there is empirical evidence for or against the systematicity of thought; and how the systematicity of human thought relates to behavior. The chapters offer a representative sample and an overview of the most important recent developments in the systematicity debate.


Ken Aizawa, William Bechtel, Gideon Borensztajn, Paco Calvo, Anthony Chemero, Jonathan D. Cohen, Alicia Coram, Jeffrey L. Elman, Stefan L. Frank, Antoni Gomila, Seth A. Herd, Trent Kriete, Christian J. Lebiere, Lorena Lobo, Edouard Machery, Gary Marcus, Emma Martín, Fernando Martínez-Manrique, Brian P. McLaughlin, Randall C. O’Reilly, Alex A. Petrov, Steven Phillips, William Ramsey, Michael Silberstein, John Symons, David Travieso, William H. Wilson, Willem Zuidema

Free Will and Moral Responsibility

Traditional philosophers approached the issues of free will and moral responsibility through conceptual analysis that seldom incorporated findings from empirical science. In recent decades, however, striking developments in psychology and neuroscience have captured the attention of many moral philosophers. This volume of Moral Psychology offers essays, commentaries, and replies by leading philosophers and scientists who explain and use empirical findings from psychology and neuroscience to illuminate old and new problems regarding free will and moral responsibility.

The contributors—who include such prominent scholars as Patricia Churchland, Daniel Dennett, and Michael Gazzaniga—consider issues raised by determinism, compatibilism, and libertarianism; epiphenomenalism, bypassing, and naturalism; naturalism; and rationality and situationism. These writings show that although science does not settle the issues of free will and moral responsibility, it has enlivened the field by asking novel, profound, and important questions.

Roy F. Baumeister, Tim Bayne, Gunnar Björnsson, C. Daryl Cameron, Hanah A. Chapman, William A. Cunningham, Patricia S. Churchland, Christopher G. Coutlee, Daniel C. Dennett, Ellen E. Furlong, Michael S. Gazzaniga, Patrick Haggard, Brian Hare, Lasana T. Harris, John-Dylan Haynes, Richard Holton, Scott A. Huettel, Robert Kane, Victoria K. Lee, Neil Levy, Alfred R. Mele, Christian Miller, Erman Misirlisoy, P. Read Montague, Thomas Nadelhoffer, Eddy Nahmias, William T. Newsome, B. Keith Payne, Derk Pereboom, Adina L. Roskies, Laurie R. Santos, Timothy Schroeder, Michael N. Shadlen, Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, Chandra Sripada, Christopher L. Suhler, Manuel Vargas, Gideon Yaffe

Explanation, Discovery, and Conceptual Change

Many disciplines, including philosophy, history, and sociology, have attempted to make sense of how science works. In this book, Paul Thagard examines scientific development from the interdisciplinary perspective of cognitive science. Cognitive science combines insights from researchers in many fields: philosophers analyze historical cases, psychologists carry out behavioral experiments, neuroscientists perform brain scans, and computer modelers write programs that simulate thought processes.

Thagard develops cognitive perspectives on the nature of explanation, mental models, theory choice, and resistance to scientific change, considering disbelief in climate change as a case study. He presents a series of studies that describe the psychological and neural processes that have led to breakthroughs in science, medicine, and technology. He shows how discoveries of new theories and explanations lead to conceptual change, with examples from biology, psychology, and medicine. Finally, he shows how the cognitive science of science can integrate descriptive and normative concerns; and he considers the neural underpinnings of certain scientific concepts.

  • Page 1 of 5