Philosophical Foundations of Cognitive Science

Lecturer: Colin Allen, Chair Professor of Philosophy at XJTU

Time: 2016.5.30/31,6.1/2/3, 19:00-21:50 pm

Classroom: Main building-B 105


Lecture One: Rationalism vs. Empiricism in the Foundations of Cognitive Science

Reading: Selections for Descartes’ Discourse on Method and selections from & Hume’s Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding.

• In Part V of his Discourse, Descartes describes "two most certain tests” to distinguish the true intelligence (“rational soul”) of human beings from machines and animals that might appear to be intelligent but lack rationality. Hume, in sections 2 and 3 of his Enquiry suggests that only three principles of association serve to connect ideas: resemblance, contiguity, cause & effect. Can human rationality be explained in terms of Hume’s principles, and if so, does it prove that Descartes was wrong to deny the possibility of a rational machine?

Lecture Two: The possibility of “Strong” Artificial Intelligence & Morality

Reading: parts of the book Moral Machines by Wallach & Allen

• chapter 4 – “Can Robots Really Be Moral?”

• chapter 8 – “Merging Top-Down and Bottom-Up”

• Is machine consciousness possible and is consciousness necessary for genuine intelligence?
• Is it possible and appropriate to design practical artificial moral agents without fully replicating human-level capacities?

Lecture Three: Connectionism

Reading: Medler 1998 “A Brief History of Connectionism”

Optional Reading: SEP - “Connectionism”

• According to Medler, “early in the 20th Century, connectionism became a substitute for, instead of a mechanism of, ideational processes." What does this mean, and how does this change challenge the claim that connectionism is just Hume’s associationism reborn on a computer?
• How accurate is it to call connectionist models “neural networks”? What can connectionism tell us about the relationship between mind and brain?


Lecture Four: Brain-Body-Environment --- a dynamical system

Reading: Chemero’s book Radical Embodied Cognitive Science, chapter 2

• What are the main kind of “eliminativism” (anti-representationalism) in the philosophy of cognitive science, and how does “radical embodied cognitive science” differ from other forms of eliminativism?
• How close is the idea of embodiment in Western philosophy and cognitive science to ideas about embodiment in Chinese philosophy?


Lecture Five: Evolution and cognition

Reading: Dennett’s book, Kinds of Minds, chapter 4

• What is Dennett’s explanation of the evolutionary origins of intentionality, and does it help us “naturalize” (i.e. explain scientifically) the most puzzling aspects of cognition?



Useful Links

Colin Allen’s webpage:

Chemero’s book link: