Cognitive Science | Seminar in Cognitive Science
Q700 | 1070 | Weinberg


TOPIC:  Philosophy of Psychology
5:30P-8:00P, M, SY 022

The theme of this seminar will be, "How do we say what's in the
head, anyway?"  That is, under what circumstances is it appropriate
for our psychology to be robustly committed to the existence of
various sorts of entities, such as mental representations, concepts,
or propositional attitudes (like beliefs, and knowledge states)?
This is a question that has become somewhat pressing in cognitive
science of late, with a number of research programs -- dynamical
systems, most famously --claiming to reject such commitments.  The
focus of the course will be to try to get clear on a fair set of
ground rules for conducting a debate on that question.

We will start off somewhat historically, with the classic debate
over behaviorism & mentalism.  We'll be looking at such authors as
Quine, Skinner, Chomsky, Block, and/or Fodor.  By trying to get a
critical angle on this older debate, we can hopefully see where the
two sides are best able to score points off the other.  At a
minimum, we'll want to take seriously the following two lines of
argument.  The mentalist's strongest argument may be: theories that
remain uncommitted to mental states simply lack the explanatory
resources to account for the relevant data.  The anti-mentalist's
strongest argument may be: the mentalists risk committing us to
things that we can have no proper scientific basis to say anything
about.  We will also want to look at the somewhat later discussions
of Dennett's 'intentional stance', as an attempt to get the benefits
of mentalism without its commitments.

Depending on the interest of the members of the seminar, we may also
look at the debate over Gibson's ecological psychology, and whether
a commitment to affordances can allow us to avoid a commitment to
various sorts of mentalist entities.

From there, we will try to look at the more contemporary
literature.  We will consider such authors as Port, van Gelder,
Beer, Thelen, Smith, Bechtel, Chemero, Clark, Toribio, Dietrich,
Markman, Horgan, Tienson, Symons, and/or Eliasmith.  (These author
lists are somewhat tentative, and dependent on the interests &
backgrounds of the members of the seminar.)  Have recent
developments in cognitive science given us additional explanatory
resources sufficient to resist postulating real representations or
knowledge states? Or is it (as representationalists might claim)
deja vu all over again? Our primary interest will be to establish
the terms for answering such questions, to see whether we can get
past the ideology & rhetoric to see whether there is a tractable
debate to be had here.  Please note that, although our focus will be
very theoretical and philosophical, it will be impossible to
seriously evaluate the current debate without wading into some of
the empirical particulars.

All students will be required to produce a series of very short (1 -
2 page) response papers, to be read & perhaps commented upon by the
entire class before each session; each students will write such a
paper approximately every 3rd session.  Students will have various
options for meeting the rest of the requirements of the course,
including class presentations, a series of short (<10 pages) papers,
or a full-size (20-30 page) paper.  Please feel free to contact
Prof. Weinberg at jmweinbe @ indiana .edu if you have any questions.