Phil 313 — Philosophy of Mind

Prof. Gregory
Fall 2008

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Class Home Page:

Contact Information:

Professor Gregory
Newcomb 32
540-458-8182
gregoryp@wlu.edu

Department of Philosophy
Sec: Karen Lyle
Newcomb 6
540-458-8798

Office Hours:

Tuesday and Wednesday, 1:30-2:45, and by appointment.

If you need to reach me outside of office hours please email me or call my office number and leave a voice message — be sure to leave a phone number or email address at which you can be reached.

Texts:

Churchland, Paul. 1988. Matter and Consciousness. Revised Edition. MIT.

Clark, Andy. 2001. Mindware. Oxford.

All other readings will be accessible in PDF format, either via the internet or to be accessed via the Resources link in Sakai.

sakai.wlu.edu

 

Schedule:

Click here or in the banner above to access class schedule.

Course Description(s):

We have two very different ways of understanding ourselves. First, we think of ourselves as intelligent, creative, rational, purposeful agents whose nature somehow transcends material existence. Second, we are (sometimes all too) aware that we are physical creatures, material creatures—our bodies can break or malfunction, damage to the brain or chemicals ingested can radically alter personality and cognitive processes, we are starting to untangle the complex structure and functioning of the brain itself. What’s more, various artificial computers have been developed which exceed, in certain areas, human cognitive capacities. In thinking that our minds transcend the physical nature of body and brain, are we merely clinging to an outmoded and unscientific view of ourselves? This course will examine this and related questions concerning the nature of thought, intelligence, language, perception, and consciousness. We will start with mind-body dualisms of various types, briefly examine philosophical behaviorism, then move on to the various materialistic views which predominate in philosophy and cognitive science today, including identity theory, functionalism, and eliminativism. Other topics will possibly include folk psychology, supervenience, the language of thought hypothesis, the natures of consciousness, intelligence, and intentionality, as well as the possibility of artificial intelligence and its implications for our view of ourselves.

The philosophy of mind is currently one of the broadest and most active areas in academic philosophy. Issues addressed include questions about the relation of mind to matter, knowledge of other minds, the nature of subjective consciousness, freedom of the will, theories of mental causation, technical issues surrounding the semantics of mental representations, issues in computation theory, issues in artificial intelligence, cognitive neuroscience, and evolutionary theory. We will not be able to cover all of these, and those we cover we will not be able to cover in depth (ideally this would be a two-term course, but even then...). Much of the course will focus on the relation of mind to matter (the ontological problem), and the various contemporary theories addressing that issue—here is where I have chosen to pursue some depth. But, because all the issues are interconnected, we will touch on many of the others in less depth: consciousness, mental semantics, mental causation, artificial intelligence, neuroscience, etc.

Course Objectives:

Responsibilities:

Reading. You are expected to read the assigned material before it is presented in class. This does not mean skimming. This means reading critically—making an earnest effort to understand what the author is saying, noting where you have questions, disagreements, confusions, etc. Feel free to write in the margins of your books, or, if you plan on selling them back, keep reading notes. This will help you in understanding the reading, answering reading questions, participating in discussion, and writing papers (see below). If you had difficulty with the reading it would be especially helpful to formulate a question or two (with an attempt at an answer) and hand them in at the start of class. You should always bring the relevant books to class.

Writing. There will be a number of short writing assignments. Often the best way to understand something (e.g.: a philosopher’s ideas, your own ideas) is to try to clearly write it out in your own words. This will prepare you for class discussion, and allows you to demonstrate your understanding of the material and your ability to approach it critically. There will be two longer papers, and the short writings also prepare you to do well on these. See below for more detail.

Class Participation. This class will be focused almost entirely around discussion (once in a while I shall lecture, but hopefully not for too long). Discussion will range from small-group activities to general class discussion. Even during the portions of class when I am lecturing, I encourage you to raise a hand, ask a question, and potentially start a class discussion. Occasionally we may split into small groups for discussion. Click the link for “Notes On Class Participation”, a discussion of how I grade class participation. There are things I can do to ready you for discussion (such as in-class writing), but in the end it is up to you to read the material, think about it, and go for it—the more discussion we have, the more fun the class will be.

Critical Thinking. If you are doing well in the above three areas, then you are probably doing well with critical thinking, too. What I mean by ‘critical thinking’ is not just the expression of opinions, likes, and dislikes. Anyone can say what they believe, or react to what another believes. In some cases (hopefully many cases) you will have strong feelings about what we are reading or discussing. These strong reactions are good, but they are only the beginning. We want to do more than just express our reactions. Thinking critically requires: (1) clearly and accurately expressing the relevant claims, (2) examining and questioning (both the reasons for and consequences of) others’ and (especially) one’s own beliefs, (3) developing and being responsive to alternative views, (4) trying to support or reject such views on the basis of evidence and argument, and (5) being willing to accept the outcome of such inquiry.

Attendance. The only way you will do well in the four areas above is by consistently attending class. More than one or two absences will negatively affect your grade, both by impeding success in the areas above, and by negatively impacting my assignment of your participation grade. When you have good reason for being absent from class you should communicate with me as soon as possible concerning your circumstances.

Short Writing Assignments:

One-Page Papers:

These papers are designed to improve your critical reading skills and tighten and hone your analytical writing abilities. For each reading indicated in the syllabus you must write a one-page essay, due on the day indicated on the course schedule. In some cases there will be additional instructions. For more information see this page. You will do approximately 4 of these.

In-Class Writings:

Occasionally I may give an in-class writing assignment. These, ICWs, are very informal, and they are usually geared toward working out your own ideas, as opposed to explaining the author’s. Usually you will be writing on your own, though we may have some small-group projects in which you may develop an outline.

You must complete all In-Class Writings. If you are absent the day of an ICW, you will receive a zero for that assignment. Except for extreme circumstances, these cannot be made up.

Click here for the “Notes on Writing and Grading”, and here for “Policies on Quotation, Citation, and Plagiarism”. You must read these before sending your Syllabus Confirmation.

Papers:

We will have two papers, one due around mid-term, one due during finals week. We will discuss these in detail when the time comes. Papers will be assigned at least 1½ weeks prior to due date, and you will be given the opportunity to discuss topics/outlines/drafts with me. Late papers suffer a 1/3 grade penalty for each day they are late, unless other arrangements have been made.

Click here for the “Notes on Writing and Grading”, and here for “Policies on Quotation, Citation, and Plagiarism”. You must read these before sending your Syllabus Confirmation.

Grading:

Component % of Final Average
Class Participation 20
Short Writing 20
Paper 1 30
Paper 2 30

Final Grade will be based your Final Average and factors including improvement over the semester.

There are no extra credit assignments.

Communication, Etiquette, and Respect:

The ‘What’s the Point?’ Challenge:

It may happen at some time during lecture, discussion, or your reading that you feel lost, or bored, and wonder ‘What’s the point of this reading [discussion, lecture]?’ or ‘What’s it got to do with anything?’ or ‘I don’t get it...’. Whenever this happens please feel free to raise your hand (or send me an e-mail, or come and see me) and ask me ‘What’s the point?’ Indeed I challenge you to do so. You might want to try to work out your worry (or lack thereof) in how you ask your question, but all you really need do is ask me ‘What’s the point?!’ or say ‘I don’t get it!’ (Times like these may produce a good grunt, growl, or screech.)

I do not pose this as a challenge because I have all the answers and will “beat” you by giving you one of them. I don’t have all the answers. Rather, I have found that many of the best discussions—in class and one on one—arise out of just such questions. At the same time, however, students have developed a fear of asking such questions, or a habit of suppressing them when they arise, because they are too focused on results, tangible products (including, but not restricted to, grades). In my class the process of thinking is of greater importance than the product. Do not hesitate to question the point, the importance, the value, of either the process or the product, this is simply more process—more critical thinking. This is what philosophy is about. It is a discipline in which everything is fair game for critical examination, even, and especially, philosophy itself.

Syllabus Confirmation/Student Information:

You must complete the syllabus confirmation/student information form by midnight, Friday, April 25 to be eligible for class participation credit. If you have any questions or concerns about the policies, do not hesitate to contact me.

Click here for the “Notes on Writing and Grading”, here for “Notes On Class Participation”, and here for “Policies on Quotation, Citation, and Plagiarism”. You must read these before sending your Syllabus Confirmation.

Here is the statement you will be confirming when you submit the form after following the link:

I have read the Course Syllabus for the course in which I am enrolled, including the “Home” page, the “Class Schedule”, the “Notes on Writing and Grading”, the “Notes On Class Participation", and the “Policies on Quotation, Citation, and Plagiarism”, and I understand all policies contained therein.
 

To the Syllabus Confirmation/Student Information Form