Philosophy of Cognitive Science

Fall 2002                                              MW



Instructor:      Dr. Ron Mallon

                        Main Building Rm. 306



Office              BY APPOINTMENT



Texts:             The Representational Theory of Mind, by Kim Sterelny

                        Reserve Readings as assigned


Course text (Sterelny) is available from Loletta Li in the Philosophy Department for HK$267.  It is not available in the University Book Store.



Course Description:

     Over the last 40 years, an exciting new research paradigm arose at the intersection of psychology, philosophy, linguistics, logic and computer science.  This research paradigm consisted of a cluster of methodological assumptions, research paradigms, and theoretical goals, and it has been enormously productive in guiding inquiry and theory building about the human mind.

      This course will survey a number of the theoretical debates that have arisen in the course of the maturation of cognitive science.  While we will also survey a number of successful cognitive science research programs, our primary emphasis will be on the philosophical assumptions guiding such research.  Included among these is the character and relevance of mental representation and content, what it means to compare the mind to a computer, how researchers can employ the distinction between levels of explanation,  the relationship between mind and brain, and what kinds of computer models offer promising models of mentality.


Course Requirements:

The course requirements are simple.  They consist in:


In class mid-term quiz:  30%     SCHEDULED OCTOBER 30TH!!

In class final quiz:                      30%

Class paper:                             30%     6-7 pages or 1500-2000 words

Tutorial Presentation:                10%








Plagiarism: Copying any work without proper citation is a serious offense that will be punished.  This includes (1) the use of books or articles, (2) the use of resource materials from the world wide web, (3) the use of the work of another student, and (4) the use of class notes from this or other classes.  Persons found presenting another person’s work as their own will be subject to a penalty not to exceed a failing grade for the course.

    All work for the class should be original, and produced for the course.  Papers written for another course are not acceptable.



Initial Topics:


Topic 1:            What is Cognitive Science?

            Optional Reading: Noam Chomsky (1957) Review of Skinner’s Verbal Behavior


Topic 2:            Functionalism and Materialism


Readings: Sterelny, Section 1.1., pp. 1-6



Topic 3: Functional Explanation


Readings: Sterelny, Section 1.2. 6-11



Topic 5: Homuncular Functionalism


Readings: Sterelny, Section 1.3. 11- 17



Topic 6: Representation

Readings: Sterelny, Sections 2.1-2.2, 19-22




Topic 7: Mental Representations

Readings: Sterelny 2.2, 23-28

     Fodor, “Propositional Attitudes” (on reserve)


Topics 7 & 8:  Mental Representation and Intentional


Readings: Sterelny, Section 2.3, 28-32


Topic 9: An Instrumentalist Alternative: Dennett’s Intentional Stance

Readings: Daniel Dennett, “Intentional Systems” on Reserve

Recommended: Dennett, ‘Cure for the Common Code” on Reserve


Topic 10:  Representation and Levels of Explanation

Readings: Sterelny, Section 3.1-3.4, pp. 42-49






Topic 11: Computation and Implemenation

Readings: Sterelny, Remainder of Chapter (Sections 3.5-3.6)


Topic 12: Eliminativism about  Folk Psychology

Readings: Sterelny, Chapter 7

Paul Churchland, “Eliminative Materialism and the

Propositional Attitudes” on   reserve

Recommended: Dennett “Two Contrasts: Folk Craft versus

Folk Science and Belief versus Opinion”





Topic 13: Connectionism: A more plausible alternative to the Language of

Thought Hypothesis?

                Sterelny, Sections 8.1.- 8.2


Topic 14:  Connectionism vs. Classicism

                 Sterelny, Section 8.3-8.4




Topic 15.  Connectionism and Mental Representation

                Sterelny, Sections 8.5-8.6