Washington & Lee

Phil 395
The Churchlands and their Critics

Prof. Gregory
Spring 2006

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Patricia S. and Paul M. Churchland
with Fergus and Maxwell

Contact Information:

Professor Gregory
Newcomb 32

Department of Philosophy
Sec: Karen Lyle
Newcomb 6


Office Hours:

Tu, W, Th 1:15 – 2:15, and by appointment.

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



Churchland, Paul M. (1988) Matter and Consciousness: A Contemporary Introduction to the Philosophy of Mind. Revised Edition. Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press. (Required for those who have not taken my Philosophy of Mind—recommended for those who have. If you’ve sold it back, then shame on you.)

Churchland, Paul M. (1989) A Neurocomputational Perspective: The Nature of Mind and the Structure of Science. Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press.

Churchland, Paul M. (1995) The Engine of Reason, The Seat of the Soul: A Philosophical Journey into the Brain. Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press.

Churchland, Paul M. and Churchland, Patricia Smith. (1998) On the Contrary: Critical Essays, 1987-1997. Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press.

various readings online and on the L:\ drive


Churchland, Paul M. (1979) Scientific Realism and the Plasticity of Mind. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


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

Course Description:

Paul M. Churchland is a philosopher of mind, science, and cognition at the University of California, San Diego. His central tenet is that a genuine understanding of mind, science, and society requires understanding the brains of terrestrial creatures. He has argued for the plausibility of the thesis (eliminative materialism) that our common self‑conception (our “folk psychology”) is radically false, and will eventually be replaced by a new self‑conception based in neuroscience. He and his wife, Patricia S. Churchland (also a philosopher at San Diego), apply neurocomputational theory to issues in the philosophy of mind, philosophy of science, and even moral theory; and they are developing one of the most exciting and radical naturalistic approaches to philosophy. Readings for this course address issues in perception, emotion, consciousness, and self‑hood; personal, social, and scientific knowledge; artificial cognition, neural networks, perceptual and cognitive plasticity; and the nature of learning and conceptual change. We read mainly Paul, but some Patricia, along with works by their critics, and Paul Churchland will be on campus to give a public lecture and lead one session of class.


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, generating “Grunts, Growls, and Screeches”, participating in discussion, and writing papers. 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 as a Grunt, Growl, or Screech (see below). You should always bring the relevant books to class.

Discussion Participation:
This class will be a mix of both lecture and discussion (once in a while I shall lecture for extended periods, but hopefully not too often). Discussion will range from general class discussion to small-group activities. 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. Consistent, thoughtful participation will gain you full credit for this portion of your grade. (Details below.) There are things I can do to ready you for discussion, 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.


Grunts, Growls, & Screeches/In-Class Writings:

Formal Papers:

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.

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.

Process Over Product. Please note that I place significantly greater emphasis on the process of critical thinking, than on the result. A simple, though not fully accurate, way of saying this is that I care more about the fact that you are thinking and how well you are thinking, than about what you are thinking—I don’t care about your conclusions, but about how well you examine and support your conclusions. This is not fully accurate, however—often the clarity and intellectual caliber of what you are thinking reveals a great deal about how well you have been thinking.

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.


Component % of Final Average
Class Participation/Attendance 20
Grunts, Growls, and Screeches 20
Paper 1 20
Paper 2 40

Final Grade will be based your Final Average and other 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:

You must complete the syllabus confirmation by midnight, Sunday, April 25th 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”, and here for “Policies on Quotation, Citation, and Plagiarism”. You must read these before sending your Syllabus Confirmation.

Please copy the italicized statement below, click on the link following it to open an e-mail to me, and paste the statement into your e-mail. Don’t forget to click “Send” in your e-mail client! (It may take a while for your e-mail client to open a new message.)

Here is the statement you are confirming (select and copy it):

I hereby confirm that I have read the Course Syllabus including the homepage, the class schedule, the “Notes on Writing and Grading”, and the “Policies on Quotation, Citation, and Plagiarism”, and I understand all policies contained therein.

Syllabus Confirmation