Lecture 1                                                                    Philosophy of Cognitive Science

Ron Mallon


1.  Cognitive science is an interdisciplinary approach to human cognition that emerged in the second half of the twentieth century.  It represented a convergence of approaches to the study of thinking from fields including computer science, linguistics, philosophy, and psychology, and it remains an enormously productive set of research programs.

2.  In philosophy, cognitive science arose in connection with the rejection of philosophical and methodological behaviorism in favor of some kind of mentalism.

     It also accompanied the rejection of dualism in favor of materialism, and type physicalism in favor of functionalism.

3.  Behaviorism was a twentieth century attempt to replace the introspective psychology of the late 19th century with a more precise, more scientific psychology that referred only to persons behaviors and dispositions to behave.

4.  In psychology, cognitive science was born from the attack by Noam Chomsky on behaviorism.  This attack was one of the beginnings of the modern study of linguistics, and also gave rise to one of the most important argument forms of cognitive science: the so called ‘poverty of the stimulus argument.’  This argument held that behavioristic learning models couldn’t possibly explain a child’s acquisition of language because the ‘stimulus’ that children have is not rich enough to permit the acquisition of a language.  Chomsky concluded that children must have a rich store of informational resources present at birth - to wit: innate knowledge of the deep structure of human languages.

5.  In computer science, cognitive science was guided by the question for artificial intelligence.  In the background was a set of theoretical insights from mathematics.  First, there was the Church-Turing Thesis: that there is an abstractly definable set of effective procedures that can compute any effectively calculable function.  Turing called a machine that could perform these procedures a ‘Turing Machine’.  Computer theoreticians and philosophers alike have endorsed the further, stronger thesis that there are no functions that a Turing Machine cannot calculate, and this has lead many to assume that Turing showed that human psychology must ultimately be computable.

6.  Talk of mental representational states like beliefs and desires, the mind as a computer, and innate knowledge inevitably gives rise to questions about how the mind is organized.  In particular, how does the mind store and employ information in producing mental states and behavior?  One hypothesis is that the mind employs representations in thought.  Just what this hypothesis amounts to will be one of the primary foci of this course.

7.  Cognitive scientists share a number of influential research paradigms, but there are many disagreements between cognitive scientists.  Some of these we’ll review in this course.  They include: the role of folk psychology in cognitive science, the character and role of mental representations, the role and character of ‘mental modules’, what it means to view the mind as a computer, the role and character of mental imagery, and the role and character of propositional and phenomenal content.


[Back to Index Page]

[Back to Course Web Sites]