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Philosophy of Mind and Cognitive Science (Level 5)


  • Credit value: 30 credits at Level 5
  • Convenor: Sarah Patterson
  • Tutors: variable
  • Assessment: a 750-word essay (25%), 1000-word essay (35%) and short-answer take-home examination (40%)

Module description

The mind has long appeared to be a misfit with the physical world, and it is tempting to think that the mind is distinct from the body. But how could the mind fail to be part of the physical world? We rush to bus stops, open the fridge and make plans with friends because we have beliefs, desires and emotions; in short, the mind impacts the physical world. Moreover, contemporary cognitive science continues to make progress and understands the mind in broadly computational terms - terms that don’t call for a radical dualism. Still, despite the scientific march forward, the old philosophical problems don’t go away. This is especially salient when considering such features of mind as consciousness - the felt quality of our mental lives - and intentionality, the meaningfulness of mental states. It remains puzzling how consciousness or intentionality can be made to fit into an otherwise attractive picture of the mind as a computer.

With these ideas in mind, this module will first introduce you to some of the classical issues in the philosophy of mind concerning the mind’s nature and the prospects of finding it a home in the physical world. It will then delve into the cognitive scientific turn and focus on the advances and the appeal of approaching the mind in scientific terms. The module will address a selection of questions such as: What is the relation between mind and behaviour? Could non-physical or artificial entities have minds? Is the mind a computational system? What is a mental module? How much can evolutionary theory tell us about the way the mind works? Are human beings essentially rational? Can consciousness or intentionality be captured in a scientific theory? Is consciousness an irreducible part of reality? Might everything physical have a mind?

Indicative module syllabus

  • Intentionality
  • Consciousness
  • Dualism
  • Materialism
  • Functionalism
  • Mental Causation
  • Behaviourism and Cognitivism
  • Computation and Cognitive Architecture
  • The Modularity of Mind
  • Evolutionary Psychology
  • Innateness
  • Rationality
  • Russellian Monism and Panpsychism

Learning objectives

By the end of this module, you will be able to:

  • demonstrate detailed knowledge of well-established theories in the philosophy of mind and cognitive science, such as dualism, behaviourism, identity theory, functionalism, cognitivism and computationalism
  • demonstrate an awareness of different ideas, contexts and frameworks deployed by contributors to debates over consciousness, intentionality, mental causation and modularity, and recognise some of their strengths and weaknesses
  • analyse and compare different philosophical theories of the nature of mind and mental events, meaningful thought, sensory experience and the development and evolution of mental capacities
  • select appropriate criteria to evaluate philosophical accounts of the relation between the mind and body, consciousness, the modularity of mind, evolutionary psychology and the nature of rational thought.