Post-Election Changes To Philosophy Curriculum By Subject: Philosophy of Mind
This post continues our series soliciting suggestions for reading materials and lessons for various philosophical subfields in light of Donald Trump’s victory in the recent election.
We’ve had previous posts on epistemology, philosophy of language, critical reasoning / informal logic, political philosophy, and philosophy of religion. The series was suggested by Madeleine Ransom, a PhD student in philosophy at the University of British Columbia, who herself is interested in how she might adjust her own course in philosophy of mind. Your suggestions are welcome.
Kahn Emma and Tversky’s Thinking Fast and Slow. Good launch pad for discussions of cognitive biases and how to overcome them in daily decision contexts.Report
Should be Kahneman, but autocorrect hates me.Report
When addressing the mind in intro courses, I include W. E. B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk & Gloria E. Anzaldúa, “The New Mestiza” to shake things up a bit. ( Thanks for the reminder, Justin!).Report
The question as to what we should be teaching in courses in philosophy of mind is a very important one, and it would be great to think more about it, even independently of recent political events.
Clearly, philosophers have written many interesting things about the mind. The question is how we should apportion up the total amount of time in philosophy of mind courses among these various different things.
One Important set of questions to cover are the ones about the metaphysics of mental states (dualism, behaviorism, functionalism, etc.) and various closely related issues (the nature of consciousness, the theory of content). Any good course in philosophy of mind should certainly Include some discussion of these questions. But what percentage of the total course should be about these questions versus all other questions put together?
One possible view would be that 100% should be devoted to these questions, with 0% being devoted to all other questions. This does not strike me as a good solution. It’s not that there is anything wrong with teaching our students about functionalism or supervenience; it’s just that there is an enormous wealth of exciting work out there that is completely unrelated to any of these issues, and we need to be devoting at least some portion of the course to this other material.
(If I had to hazard a guess, I would say that people originally developed the practice of teaching philosophy of mind in this relatively narrow way because these issues were regarded at an earlier time as the only important ones for philosophers to learn about. I am not sure whether that was ever a good reason, but in any case, our discipline has changed substantially in the past few decades, and it seems clear that contemporary philosophical work about the mind is no longer dominated by these specific issues.)
Just to throw out one particular example, the comment above from Lucas suggests that we have students read a book that introduces them to the core ideas of dual process theory — a theory that explores the distinction between more rapid, intuitive processes and more slow, reflective processes. This type of theory plays an absolutely essential role in numerous aspects of contemporary philosophy (in cognitive science, in philosophy of economics, in the study of implicit bias).
So it seems like there is a lot of good reason to be introducing students to material like this. If we do so, we will be giving them (a) a framework they can use to understand important events in the world and in their own lives and, at the same time, (b) a framework they can use to understand a lot of exciting things that people are doing in philosophy these days.Report
Are there non-traditional philosophical questions that you want to see Philosophy of Mind courses address or do you just want them to provide more background information?Report
Hey Nonny Mouse,
Thanks for your very helpful response. In writing this, I did not mean to suggest that it would be Important to include readings from outside the discipline of philosophy. What I actually meant to suggest was something much more conservative and straightforward.
Among papers that are being published in philosophy journals these days, most of the important work about the mind is concerned in some way with questions about how the human mind actually works. So all I meant was that it would be helpful for philosophy of mind courses to include at least some amount of the sort of thing that one typically finds in contemporary philosophy Journals.
For example, if you wanted to assign something about dual process theory and implicit bias, you could assign Eric Mandelbaum’s paper from Noûs:
Joshua – Not sure I can agree with your proposed division of labour. I would say that metaphysics is the only possible framework. Any other framework will need another framework, and another, until it ends in a metaphysical framework. Unless and until metaphysics is taken seriously I believe philosophy of mind will remain a waste of time.Report
I look forward to post-election suggestions for courses in Medieval philosophy.Report
Fritz, I “liked” your post, but since I think that the Middle Ages never ended, anything called “post-Medieval” is just Titanic decor squabbles anyway.Report
– Boethius on how to deal with unjust imprisonment
– Aquinas on whether stealing from the rich is, properly speaking, theft
– Radical Franciscans on when it is licit to destroy the possessions of the rich
– Ockham on what the role the church should play in removing tyrannical princes
…plenty more suggestions where those came from, Fritz!Report
In philosophy, there has lately been a lot of interest in implicit bias, and there is certainly room in a phil mind course for issues related to empirical work on this (perhaps especially appropriate for a phil psychology course). I would suggest, though, that the recent work on prejudice has sometimes been a bit too focused on implicit bias and has overlooked the issue of unabashed, i.e., *explicit* bias. Explicit prejudice raises its own puzzles, and I would like to see empirically engaged philosophers give more attention to proud & unabashed racism, sexism, xenophobia, etc. I think these could be treated in the classroom, esp. in a phil psych. class.
Another natural, Trump-inspired topic is conspiracy theories. What is wrong w/ believing in conspiracy theories (that’s the applied epistemology bit) and why/under what circumstances are conspiracy theories tempting (this is the empirical mind bit)? Are conspiracy theories more attractive to those with low or with decreasing social power? In general or just with respect to those conspiracy theories that pertain to those who are more empowered than one? There’s tons of great work begging to be done here, esp. for empirically-sensitive philosophers. And I can imagine it being of great interest to undergrads as well.
Finally, the topic of anger & of other emotions could be relevant here. People who are empowered are permitted to express their anger in ways that others are not. E.g., Trump expressed anger openly many times & well, was elected President. Hillary Clinton reportedly spent hours practicing a “listening look” for the debates — it was widely believed that she could not express contempt, anger, or annoyance with Trump no matter how bad his behavior, lest she come off as domineering or aggressive.. What is it about anger that permits some to express it without any adverse consequences (or even with highly positive consequences), whereas others cannot express it without facing adverse consequences? We don’t typically think of anger as a “social emotion,” i.e., of an emotion that signals status in a group. Paradigm social emotions are shame and guilt, and they are thought to signal self-reproach of a kind that ultimately functions to bring the shamed or guilty party back into good standing within a group. But if anger’s “uptake” differs depending on one’s social status (gender, class, race, age, etc.), is anger a covert “social emotion”? Does it function to signal one’s status in a group? Or only derivatively?Report
Could you say more about the philosophical questions you would like addressed? A lot of the questions you raise seem to be empirical questions for psychologists to answer.Report
Yes, these are mostly empirical questions. I was thinking of a highly empirically-oriented phil psychology course, of the kind I teach. A course like this would already cover empirical questions (e.g., is attention necessary for perception?). I was suggesting different empirically interesting questions such a course might include.Report
Philosophy of Mind is kite-flying where it is without a metaphysical framework theory within it which it can be studied and systematised. So, as ever, my response to Trump and to the educational system that produced him is to recommend a recognition that metaphysics is where philosophy of anything begins and ends, Otherwise it is all a matter of opinion and we can endorse any old theory we happen to like. Is there a philosopher of mind who has a workable metaphysical theory? I do not know of one. So much for philosophy of mind.Report