Proposed: Philosophy of Mind

Course Description

In this course, we’ll be thinking about brains in vats, zombies, and androids. We will consider whether any of these characters can think, feel, or reason, and, if so, whether they think, feel, or reason in the same way that we do. These problems have practical consequences for how we approach each other, other animals, or technology. If consciousness can be reduced to brain processes, and brain processes can be replicated by sophisticated computers, can we cheat death by downloading our consciousness to a robot? Would we be the same person? Or, consider first contact with an extraterrestrial species. Is there any reason to think that they would believe in the mind in the same way in which we think about mind? Would they accept the same rules of logic? And, most importantly: Do androids dream of electric sheep?

This course is an introduction to philosophy of mind, the branch of metaphysics that deals with theories of the mind and the mind-body relation. This course is divided into three units. In the first unit, we will examine some of the historical accounts of the mind-body problem, such as dualism, materialism, and structuralism. In the second unit, we will consider whether machines can think, and under what conditions this must occur. Finally, we will consider whether non-human animals can think, and if so, if it is anything like how humans think.

Course Text

Various readings on reserve.

Summary of Course Requirements

Requirement Description Weight Date
Midterm One midterm on the material from Unit One. 20% Week 05
Comparative Paper One 1750-word paper comparing two figures from Unit Two. 30% Week 10
Participation Assessed on the quality and quantity of participation. 10% See description
Argumentative Paper One sit-down, cumulative examination. 30% TBA

Course Schedule

All information subject to change with notice.

Week Primary Reading Theme

The Mind-Body Problem

01 Descartes, Rene. Meditations Substance Dualism
02 Locke, John. Essay Concerning Human Understanding Empiricism
03 Ryle, Gilbert. “Descartes’ Myth” Behaviourism
04 Turing, Alan. “Computing Machinery and Intelligence” Computat-tionalism
05 Putnam, Hilary. “The Nature of Mental States” Functionalism

Can Machines Think?

06 Searle, John. “Minds, Brains, and Programs” Objections
07 Dennett, Daniel. “Can Machines Think?”
08 Chalmers, David. “Facing Up to the Problem of Consciousness” Consciousness
09 Churchland, Patricia. “The hornswoggle problem”

 Can Animals Think?

10 Nagel, Thomas. “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?” Qualia
11 Akins, Kathleen. “What is it Like to Be Boring and Myopic?”
12 Dretske, Fred. “If You Can’t Make One, You Don’t Know How It Works” Animal Thoughts
13 McGeer and Pettit. “The Self-Regulating Mind”