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Anscombe, G. Elizabeth M., and . Causality and Determination

1981, In Anscombe, G. E. M. Metaphysics and the Philosophy of Mind: Collected Philosophical Papers Volume II. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

Summary: A classic text in which Anscombe argues for a realist view of causation. Specifically, Anscombe holds that causation is both directly perceivable and not subject to philosophical analysis. Anscombe seeks to establish that causal relations do not presuppose laws, and that causal relations can be perceived in a direct way.

Comment: This would be useful in a course on metaphysics, philosophy of science or philosophy of action. Anscombe is not always an easy writer, but this paper is not technical and is widely considered to be a classic. This could be used at any undergraduate or graduate level.

Anthony, Louise, and . The Mental and The Physical

2009, in Robin Le Poidevin (ed.), The Routledge Companion to Metaphysics. Routledge. 555-567

Summary: In this paper the author addresses physicalism and the problem of whether physicalism can account for consciousness and intentionality of our mental states. After providing a good survey of problems posed by this phenomenon as well as possible physicalist responses, she concludes that there still is no satisfying explanation of how the nature of our mental states fits into an “otherwise physical world”.

Comment: Good as a background introductory reading on the nature of mental states. More precisely, good as introduction on the problem of physicalism and whether it can account for intentionality and consciouness of our mental states.

Brogaard, Berit, and . The Status of Consciousness in Nature

2015, In Steven Miller (ed.), The Constitution of Phenomenal Consciousness: Toward a science and theory. John Benjamins Publishing Company.
Abstract: The most central metaphysical question about phenomenal consciousness is that of what constitutes phenomenal consciousness, whereas the most central epistemic question about consciousness is that of whether science can eventually provide an explanation of the phenomenon. Many philosophers have argued that science doesn’t have the means to answer the question of what consciousness is (the explanatory gap) but that consciousness nonetheless is fully determined by the physical facts underlying it (no ontological gap). Others have argued that the explanatory gap in the sciences entails an ontological gap. This position is also known as ‘property dualism’. Here I examine a fourth position, according to which there an ontological gap but no explanatory gap.


Comment: In this paper, the author addresses the so-called "explanatory gap". In a nutshell, the "explanatory gap" refers to the existing difficulty of explaining consciousness in physical terms. The author considers Chalmers's argument which aims to show that there is a metaphysical gap. She argues that the existence of a metaphysical gap does not entail the existence of an explanatory gap, thereby failing to prevent scientists from discovering the nature of consciousness. Good as background reading on the topic of consciousness, its nature, and on whether we can explain in physicalist terms. The first half of the paper is particularly useful, as the author provides a survey of different theories regarding the link between consciousness and the neurological system.

Brown, Jessica, and . Anti-individualism and knowledge

2004, MIT Press.

Publisher’s note: Contemporary philosophy of mind is dominated by anti-individualism, which holds that a subject’s thoughts are determined not only by what is inside her head but also by aspects of her environment. Despite its dominance, anti-individualism is subject to a daunting array of epistemological objections: that it is incompatible with the privileged access each subject has to her thoughts, that it undermines rationality, and, absurdly, that it provides a new route to a priori knowledge of the world. In this rigorous and persuasive study, Jessica Brown defends anti-individualism from these epistemological objections. The discussion has important consequences for key epistemological issues such as skepticism, closure, transmission, and the nature of knowledge and warrant.

According to Brown’s analysis, one main reason for thinking that anti-individualism is incompatible with privileged access is that it undermines a subject’s introspective ability to distinguish types of thoughts. So diagnosed, the standard focus on a subject’s reliability about her thoughts provides no adequate reply. Brown defuses the objection by appeal to the epistemological notion of a relevant alternative. Further, she argues that, given a proper understanding of rationality, anti-individualism is compatible with the notion that we are rational subjects. However, the discussion of rationality provides a new argument that anti-individualism is in tension with Fregean sense. Finally, Brown shows that anti-individualism does not create a new route to a priori knowledge of the world. While rejecting solutions that restrict the transmission of warrant, she argues that anti-individualists should deny that we have the type of knowledge that would be required to use a priori knowledge of thought content to gain a priori knowledge of the world.

Comment: A very interesting defense of anti-individualism. Contains interesting discussion on the topics of semantic externalism and introspection. Sections of it could be taught in any epistemology course covering these topics.

Churchland, Patricia, and . Epistemology in The Age of Neuroscience

1987, Journal of Philosophy 84 (1987): 546-83.

Comment: Churchland argues that advances in neuroscience should should bring about reform in a number of central areas of philosophy. Formal logic does not model human reasoning, formal semantics cannot account for how human language is meaningful, there are no foundations of knowledge, there is no a priori knowledge, and true belief is not a goal of human nervous systems.

Comment: This would be useful in a course on epistemology (in particular, a section on naturalised epistemology), the philosophy of cognitive science, the philosophy of biology or metaphilosophy. Though the paper touches on foundational issues in philosophy, it is a relatively straightforward read and an excellent conversation starter. Suitable for undergraduates of all levels, but also appropriate for graduate-level courses.

Egan, Frances, and . Wide Content

2009, In A. Beckerman, B. McLaughlin & S. Walter (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Mind. Oxford University Press.

Summary: The author presents an overview of the main argument in favour and against content externalism, namely, roughly put, the thesis that the content of our thought is partly individuated by feature of the external environment. After providing a good survey of the debate, the author argues that the content that individuates a subject’s thought in the explanation of her behavior is wide.

Comment: The first half of the paper is very useful as an introduction on the topic of semantic and content externalism in the philosophy of mind. The remainder is an interesting and well-presented argument in favour of wide content. The first part could be used on its own for an overview of the debate; the remainder could be used for a more in-depth discussion of the positions and the arguments for them, or could serve as an option for a student essay topic.

Millikan, Ruth, and . In Defense of Proper Functions

1989, Philosophy of Science, 56 (1989): 288-302.

Abstract: I defend the historical definition of “function” originally given in my Language, Thought and Other Biological Categories (1984a). The definition was not offered in the spirit of conceptual analysis but is more akin to a theoretical definition of “function”. A major theme is that nonhistorical analyses of “function” fail to deal adequately with items that are not capable of performing their functions.

Comment: This paper is something of a classic, and would be useful in a course on philosophy of science, philosophy of biology, philosophy of mind or philosophy of language. Though the paper is not technical, it is not easy and would be most suitable for advanced undergraduate or graduate courses. The paper also functions as a good example of an important attempt to naturalise a central normative notion.

Millikan, Ruth, and . Biosemantics

1989, Journal of Philosophy 86 (1989): 281-97.

Summary: The term ‘biosemantics’ has usually been applied only to the theory of mental representation. This article first characterizes a more general class of theories called ‘teleological theories of mental content’ of which biosemantics is an example. Then it discusses the details that distinguish biosemantics from other naturalistic teleological theories. Naturalistic theories of mental representation attempt to explain, in terms designed to fit within the natural sciences, what it is about a mental representation that makes it represent something. Frequently these theories have been classified as either picture theories, causal or covariation theories, information theories, functionalist or causal-role theories, or teleological theories, the assumption being that these various categories are side by side with one another.

Comment: This would be useful in a course in philosophy of mind, philosophy of language, philosophy of biology, or any course in which naturalistic accounts of mental content are relevant. The paper makes use of memorable illustrative examples, which will help to convey its central ideas to students, and addresses objections to the position developed by Millikan. Suitable for undergraduate as well as graduate courses.

Neander, Karen, and . Teleological Theories of Mental Content

2012, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Abstract: Teleological theories of mental content try to explain the contents of mental representations by appealing to a teleological notion of function. Take, for example, the thought that blossoms are forming. On a representational theory of thought, this thought involves a representation of blossoms forming. A theory of content aims among other things to tell us why this representation has that content; it aims to say why it is a thought about blossoms forming rather than about the sun shining or pigs flying or nothing at all. In general, a theory of content tries to say why a mental representation counts as representing what it represents.

According to teleological theories of content, what a representation represents depends on the functions of the systems that produce or use the representation. The relevant notion of function is said to be the one that is used in biology and neurobiology in attributing functions to components of organisms (as in “the function of the pineal gland is secreting melatonin” and “the function of brain area MT is processing information about motion”). Proponents of teleological theories of content generally understand such functions to be what the thing with the function was selected for, either by ordinary natural selection or by some other natural process of selection.

Comment: This would be useful in a course in philosophy of mind, philosophy of language, philosophy of biology, or any course in which naturalistic accounts of mental content are relevant. The entry is detailed and quite lengthy. It also serves as an excellent source of further reading. Suitable for advanced undergraduates and graduates.

Series, Peggy, and Mark Sprevak. From Intelligent machines to the human brain

2014, in M. Massimi (ed.), Philosophy and the Sciences for Everyone. Routledge

Summary: How does one make a clever adaptive machine that can recognise speech, control an aircraft, and detect credit card fraud? Recent years have seen a revolution in the kinds of tasks computers can do. Underlying these advances is the burgeoning field of machine learning and computational neuroscience. The same methods that allow us to make clever machines also appear to hold the key to understanding ourselves: to explaining how our brain and mind work. This chapter explores this exciting new field and some of the philosophical questions that it raises.

Comment: Really good chapter that could serve to introduce scientific ideas behind the mind-computer analogy. The chapter zooms in on the actual functioning of the human mind as a computer able to perform computations. Recommendable for undergraduate students in Philosophy of Mind or Philosophy of science courses.