Steven Horst

Steven Horst is Professor of Philosophy at Wesleyan University. He is the author of Laws, Mind, and Free Will (MIT Press).

  • Cognitive Pluralism

    Cognitive Pluralism

    Steven Horst

    An argument that we understand the world through many special-purpose mental models of different content domains, and an exploration of the philosophical implications.

    Philosophers have traditionally assumed that the basic units of knowledge and understanding are concepts, beliefs, and argumentative inferences. In Cognitive Pluralism, Steven Horst proposes that another sort of unit—a mental model of a content domain—is the fundamental unit of understanding. He argues that understanding comes not in word-sized concepts, sentence-sized beliefs, or argument-sized reasoning but in the form of idealized models and in domain-sized chunks. He argues further that this idea of “cognitive pluralism”—the claim that we understand the world through many such models of a variety of content domains—sheds light on a number of problems in philosophy.

    Horst first presents the “standard view” of cognitive architecture assumed in mainstream epistemology, semantics, truth theory, and theory of reasoning. He then explains the notion of a mental model as an internal surrogate that mirrors features of its target domain, and puts it in the context of ideas in psychology, philosophy of science, artificial intelligence, and theoretical cognitive science. Finally, he argues that the cognitive pluralist view not only helps to explain puzzling disunities of knowledge but also raises doubts about the feasibility of attempts to “unify” the sciences; presents a model-based account of intuitive judgments; and contends that cognitive pluralism favors a reliabilist epistemology and a “molecularist” semantics. Horst suggests that cognitive pluralism allows us to view rival epistemological and semantic theories not as direct competitors but as complementary accounts, each an idealized model of different dimensions of evaluation.

    • Hardcover $54.00 £42.00
  • Laws, Mind, and Free Will

    Laws, Mind, and Free Will

    Steven Horst

    An account of scientific laws that vindicates the status of psychological laws and shows natural laws to be compatible with free will.

    In Laws, Mind, and Free Will, Steven Horst addresses the apparent dissonance between the picture of the natural world that arises from the sciences and our understanding of ourselves as agents who think and act. If the mind and the world are entirely governed by natural laws, there seems to be no room left for free will to operate. Moreover, although the laws of physical science are clear and verifiable, the sciences of the mind seem to yield only rough generalizations rather than universal laws of nature. Horst argues that these two familiar problems in philosophy—the apparent tension between free will and natural law and the absence of "strict" laws in the sciences of the mind—are artifacts of a particular philosophical thesis about the nature of laws: that laws make claims about how objects actually behave.

    Horst argues against this Empiricist orthodoxy and proposes an alternative account of laws—an account rooted in a cognitivist approach to philosophy of science. Horst argues that once we abandon the Empiricist misunderstandings of the nature of laws there is no contrast between "strict" laws and generalizations about the mind ("ceteris paribus" laws, laws hedged by the caveat "other things being equal"), and that a commitment to laws is compatible with a commitment to the existence of free will. Horst's alternative account, which he calls "cognitive Pluralism," vindicates the truth of psychological laws and resolves the tension between human freedom and the sciences.

    • Hardcover $19.75 £14.99