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   Course Title    Thought experiments in the philosophy of mind
Lecturer    Irina Starikova
Institution    Novosibirsk State University
Country    Russia


The quest for an adequate theory of consciousness is one of the most important problems both in philosophy, and natural sciences. Such theory necessarily should combine experimental methods and pure philosophical hypotheses. In these conditions the inevitable method of consciousness inquiry is thought experiment. It includes as the speculativeness of metaphysical constructions as an experimental spirit and opportunity of falsification.

This course is developed as a kind of introduction to the philosophy of mind. But in the same time it also considers the methodology issues named above. Listeners are supposed to gain not only an orientation in the contemporary philosophy of mind, but also an idea of using such a helpful and always available method as thought experiment.

The course is recommended for the students of the second year, who already heard ordinary philosophy courses, at least, the contemporary philosophy and analytical philosophy.

The material is organized as a step-by-step consideration from the general statement of problem of consciousness to the details of the most important cases. Lectures are supposed to be held in a free manner, in a kind of a lecture-seminar mixture.

1. Philosophy of mind metaphysics background;
Aristotle, T. Hobbes, G. Berkley, R. Descartes, D. Hume, James on human mind; to compare and contrast the Cartesian and the empiricist conceptions of the mind. Explain the difference between a substance concept of mind (Descartes) and a process concept of mind (James' stream of consciousness).

Required readings:

  • History: Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy of Mind, Philosophy of Mind in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries, A Companion on the Philosophy of Mind, edited by Samuel Guttenplan, Blackwell, UK, 1994, 1995, 333-347
  • Descartes, Meditations 1, 2, 3
  • W, James, Principles of Psychology, 1890

Optional reading:

  • Aristotle, Metaphysics, book 7, and On the Soul, book 2
  • Berkeley, "Three Dialogues Between Hylas and Philonous", and from The Principles of Human Knowledge
  • T. Hobbes, Of Sense
  • J. Locke No Innate Principles of the Mind

2. Modern philosophy of mind; factors that have affected: Darwin’s Theory of Evolution; consciousness as a biological problem; linguistic turn; cognitive science achievements;

Required readings:

  • D. Dennett Consciousness Explained, part II, 7, pp.171-227, 421.
  • Quine W.V.O. Word and Object, Cambridge UP, 1964

  • D. Holfstadter, D. Dennett The Mind’s I, basic Books, Inc., New York, 1981

Optional reading:

  • R. Dawkins The Extended Phenotype. San Francisco: freeman, 1982
  • R. Dawkins The Selfish Gene. Oxford: Oxford University Press
  • J. Searle The Mystery of Consciousness. Granta Books, London, 1998
  • N. Chomsky Language and Problem of Knowledge
  • J. Fodor How There Could Be a Private Language and What It Must Be Like, The Philosophy of Mind edited by B. Beakley and P. Ludlow

3. Philosophy of mind as cognitive science or as a species of applied metaphysics; problem of experimental validity; problem of ontological vacuum in cognitive disciplines;

Required readings:

  • J. Heil, Review on Jaegwon Kim’s Mind in a Physical World: An Essay on the Mind-Body Problem and Mental Causation Cambridge: MIT Press, 1998, Brit. J. Phil. Sci. 50 (1999), 769-773;
  • J. Kim Mind in a Physical World: An Essay on the Mind-Body Problem and Mental Causation Cambridge: MIT Press, 1998
  • D. Dennett, Back from the Drawing Board, Blackwell, 1993

4. Thought experiment as the method for the philosophy of mind combining speculative and experimental components;

Required readings:

  • Brown, J.R. Thought Experiments, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy;
  • Sorensen, R. (1992) Thought Experiments, Oxford: Oxford University Press;

Optional reading:

  • Nersessian, N. (1993) "In the Theoretician's Laboratory: Thought Experimenting as Mental Modeling" in D. Hull, M. Forbes, and K. Okruhlik (eds.) PSA 1992, vol. 2, East Lansing, MI: Philosophy of Science Association;
  • Norton, J. (1996) "Are Thought Experiments Just What You Always Thought?" Canadian Journal of Philosophy

5. Computer metaphor and thought experiment; the structure and the incidence of paradigm thought experiment - Turing test; N. Block’s critics and Bubble Ant thought experiment;

Required readings:

  • Block, N. The Mind as the Software of the Brain, NY: New York University Press, 1997
  • Turing A. M. "Computing Machinery and Intelligence", Mind 59, 1950, 433-460.
  • Starikova, I. The Role of Thought Experiment in Understanding of Consciousness, The Philosophy of Science, Institute of Philosophy and Low, Novosibirsk, 1999, 2(6), pp. 23-28.

6. Chinese Room thought experiment; J. Searle and T. Nagel conceptions; critics of Chinese Room and Searle’s replies.

Required readings:

  • Searle, John. 1980a. "Minds, Brains, and Programs." Behavioral and Brain Sciences 3, 417-424.
  • Searle, John. 1980b. "Intrinsic Intentionality." Behavioral and Brain Sciences 3: 450-456.
  • Searle, John. 1984. Minds, Brains, and Science. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Optional reading:

  • Hauser, The Chinese Room Argument, The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

7. D. Dennett’s straightforward computer argument; Dennett and Searle polemics on Chinese Room; why they seem they don’t understand each other.

Required readings:

  • J. Searle The Mystery of Consciousness. Granta Books, London, 1998
  • Dennett D.C. Consciousness Explained, Boston: Little, Brown, 435-436

8. "Brain in a vat" thought experiment as an argument for complexity of brains.

Required readings:

  • Dennett D.C. Consciousness Explained, Boston: Little, Brown, 435-436

9. Doppelganger or the Twin-Earth thought experiments. Twin-Earth looks, feels, sounds, smells, tastes, and in every practical way seems just like Earth, with the exception of a few details that are utterly irrelevant—irrelevant to everyday life, that is, but crucial to those nose-to-the-grindstone philosophers who try to construct excruciatingly exact characterizations of the thoughts of Twin-Earth’s inhabitants.

Required readings:

  • Putnam H., Mind, Language and Reality, Philosophical Papers, 1975
  • Burge Tyler, Individualism and Psychology, The Philosophical Review, 1986, XCV: 3-45

10. Closing meeting. Each member will explain what his/her reading was about. Each member will make clear to the other members of the group what the author claims and why he/she claims it. Each student should also make clear anything that he/she doesn't understand about their article by formulating questions for discussion.

Assessments: Ten page paper on one of the above topics.



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