The Philosophy of Cognitive Science: An Introduction

September 22, 2011

I realize that I haven’t posted in a really really long time; my last article about a month ago was just a couple half-hearted summaries on articles I had read months before that. I’ve thus far been settling in and getting used to life in university. But now I think I’m ready to start posting again.

I’m actually for something a bit more ambitious than usual. I’m going to begin a sequence of posts about a 20-page introductory essay by Robert A. Wilson, in The MIT Encyclopedia of Cognitive Sciences.┬áThe essay aims to survey and summarize numerous philosophical and epistemological considerations in studying the brain and minds in general. So it’s a fairly packed 20 pages. Which is essentially the problem. MITECS is expensive, and while containing more interesting information about artificial intelligence and cognitive science than I could ever have dreamed of, it’s also inaccessible in some ways. The text is organized almost like a paper version of Wikipedia – certain phrases or words in all-caps and a different font refer to other articles by that name. Of course, since my copy is printed on dead trees, I have to flip to it, a cumbersome process. And just to ballpark, the 20-page essay contains at least 150 references to other articles.

So there you have it: The Wilson’s “Philosophy” essay is dense, long, somewhat inaccessible to novices, tip-of-the-iceberg-style, and expensive to access. What to do, then, about the incredible wealth of knowledge that everyone should rightfully have access to but don’t, even when they own the text? That’s where I come in. I’m making an ambitious commitment to myself and any interested readers to trudge through the essay and uncover, explain, and reflect on as much as possible.

So here begins my version of a post for the half-page introduction:

The areas of philosophy that contribute to and draw on the cognitive sciences are various; they include the philosophy of mind, science, and epistemology. The most direct connections hold between the philosophy of mind and the cognitive sciences, and it is with classical issues in the philosophy of mind that I begin this introduction. I then briefly chart the move from the rise of materialism as the dominant response to one of these classic issues, the mind-body problem, to the idea of a science of the mind. I do so by discussing the early attempts by introspectionists and behaviorists to study the mind. Here I focus on several problems with a philosophical flavor that arise for these views, problems that continue to lurk backstage in the the theater of contemporary cognitive science.

Whew. Here is a list of the 9 sections of the essay, each of which will merit at least one (but probably several) posting(s).

1 – Three Classical Philosophical Issues about the Mind

2 – From Materialism to Mental Science

3 – A Detour Before the Materialistic Turn

4 – The Philosophy of Science

5 – The Mind in Cognitive Science

6 – A Focus on Folk Psychology

7 – Exploring Mental Content

8 – Logic and The Sciences of the Mind

9 – Two Ways to Get Biological

Stay tuned for more in the next couple of days!