philosophy of mind

course description

We have, it seems, two fundamentally different ways to learn about our own minds.  On the one hand, we have common sense and our own faculties of introspection.  From these perspectives, we seem to be conscious beings with logically-coherent beliefs and desires, freely choosing to act on the basis of our rational inferences.  On the other hand, we have the perspectives of neuroscience and psychology.  These sciences seem to show that we are but complex physical mechanisms whose behavior is causally determined by neurochemical processes unfolding in our brains, processes of which we are unaware and which often lead to seemingly irrational choices.  In this class, we will review the main positions in the philosophy of mind, which respond to this apparent clash of perspectives in a variety of different ways.  In doing so, we will review the main “problems” in the philosophy of mind, including mental causation (How can thoughts cause behavior?), mental content (How can thoughts be about the world?), and consciousness (How could physical matter be conscious?).  Students will learn about the major positions on these questions in analytic philosophy over the last five or so decades.

Nonhuman animals offer a particularly fascinating and challenging case study for these questions. Animal minds are both easier and harder to study than our own—easier, in that their psychologies are much simpler than our own, but harder, because they cannot tell us what they are thinking.  In the final unit of the course, we will review the ways that scientists attempt to address these challenges in the field of animal cognition.