Philosophy and Cognition

PD Dr. Reinhard Blutner
, University of Amsterdam

Lectures:  Wednesday 15-18, Oudemanhuispoort D118d


Office Hours: by appointment
Nieuwe Doelenstraat 15, Room W-2.25


"Wir sollten die Dinge so einfach wie möglich machen, aber nicht einfacher"


Albert Einstein


This course is an introduction into the unusually active and exciting area of Cognitive Philosophy. It covers many of the central issues currently debated in the field including the problem of mental representation, the nature of meaning and truth, the relationship between symbolism and connectionism, the concept of consciousness, language and experience (the Sapir-Whorf-Hypothesis). In the areas under discussion philosophical work on the nature of mind is continuous with scientific work in Artificial Intelligence, Cognitive Psychology, Linguistics, and Neuroscience. Hence, the course is interdisciplinary in character. The intention is to present the problems (and solutions) in a way that is accessible for those without a formal background in philosophy.

Part 1

    General Introduction: Philosophy and Philosophising

  1. Mind & Body: An introduction into the Philosophy of Mind (based on the book by John Heil: Philosophy of Mind. Routledge, London & New York, 1998)

    Dualism / Behaviourism / Identity theory / Functionalism / Interpretationalism / Eliminativism


Part 2

  1. The nature of concepts 
  2. The meaning of ‘ meaning’ 
  3. Representations & content
  4. Consciousness
  5. The computational mind 
  6. Symbolism & Connectionism 
  7. Language and experience
  8. Conclusions





  1. General introduction and overview
  2. Excursus Colour
  3. Dualism
  4. Behaviourism and identity theory
  5. Functionalism
  6. Interpretationalism and Eliminativism

  1. Representation and content
    Alex Byrne: Color Realism and Color Science

  1. Consciousness  1 (the philosophical relevance of Libet's experiments)
  2. Consciousness  2 (the explanatory gap)
    Thomas Nagel, What is it like to be a bat?   
    David J. Chalmers, Facing Up to the Problem of Consciousness
    [70KB, pdf],  [html] (shorter version with nice pictures)
    Michael Tye, Phenomenal Consciousness: the Explanatory Gap as Cognitive Illusion [html]
  3. Consciousness  3 (what is the self?)
    Patricia S. Churchland, Self-Representation in Nervous Systems 
    [70KB, pdf]

  1. The computational mind 1
    Alan Turing, Computing machinery and intelligence
    [html], and the related paper by Ayse Pinar Syigin et al., Turing test - 50 years later [pdf]
    Marvin Minsky
    , Why people think computers can't  [txt]
  2. The computational mind 2
    John R. Searle, Minds, Brains, and Programs  
    John R. Searle, Is the Brain a Digital Computer?  [html]
    Larry Hauser, The Chinese Room Argument (
    The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
    Stevan Harnad, Minds, Machines and Searle

  1. Symbolism and connectionism 1 (introducing basic concepts)
  2. Symbolism and connectionism 2 (discussing Fodor &Pylyshyn)
    Jerry A. Fodor and Zenon W. Pylyshyn, Connectionism and Cognitive Architecture: A Critical Analysis
    [170KB, pdf]
    Tim van Gelder and Lars Niklasson, Classicalism and Cognitive Architecture
    [30KB, pdf]
    Jordan B. Pollack, Recursive Distributed Representations
    [120KB, pdf]

  1. Language and experience
    Paul Kay & Willett Kempton, What Is the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis?
    [200KB, pdf]


Schedule for Part 2


October  29

Representation and content


            Presentation T. Dekker: Concepts


Consciousness I: The philosophical relevance of Benjamin Libet's experiments



Obligatory Reading

Benjamin Libet: Do we have free will? [650KB, pdf]
Libet takes an experimental approach to this question. This article is a good example for what can be called "Experimental Philosophy"


November 5

Consciousness I, continued

Presentation I.-M. Dimmitriou: Free Will


Consciousness II: The explanatory gap

            Presentation G. Lacerda: Explanatory Gap

Presentation J. Dorling: The Knowledge Argument


Obligatory Readings

Thomas Nagel: What is it like to be a bat? Philosophical Review 4:435-50, 1974  [html]
David J. Chalmers: Facing Up to the Problem of Consciousness
[70KB, pdf]
This paper gives a nontechnical overview of the problems of consciousness and Chalmer's approach to them. In it C. distinguishes between the easy problems and the hard problem of consciousness, and argues that the hard problem eludes conventional methods of explanation. C. argues that we need a new form of nonreductive explanation, and make some moves toward a detailed nonreductive theory. This paper, based on a talk C. gave at the 1994 Tucson conference on consciousness, appeared in a special issue of the Journal of Consciousness Studies in 1995, and also in the 1996 collection Toward a Science of Consciousness, edited by Hameroff, Kaszniak



November 12

Consciousness II, continued

Presentation H. Ballieux: The False Belief Task

Presentation B. Hagerty: Knowledge of Other Minds

Presentation G. de Vries: Quantum Mechanics and Consciousness


Consciousness III: What is the self?

            Presentation W. Blokdijk: Self-representation


Obligatory Reading:

Patricia S. Churchland: Self-Representation in Nervous Systems [70KB, pdf]
"The brain’s earliest self-representational capacities arose as evolution found neural network solutions for coordinating and regulating inner-body signals, thereby improving behavioral strategies. Additional flexibility in organizing coherent behavioral options emerges from neural models that represent some of the brain’s inner states as states of its body, while representing other signals as perceptions of the external world. Brains manipulate inner models to predict the distinct consequences in the external world of distinct behavioral options. The self thus turns out to be identifiable not with a nonphysical soul, but rather with a set of representational capacities of the physical brain.

November 19

The computational mind

            Presentation R. Isarfaty: Why people think computers can't 

            Presentation T. van Kasteren: Brains as digital computers?

            Presentation  S. de Jager: Searle’s Chinese room thought experiment

            Presentation  R. van Hoolwerff: QM and consciousness


Obligatory Readings:

Alan Turing: Computing machinery and intelligence [html]
The classical proposal of how to consider the question, 'Can machines think?' (also called the Turing test)
John R. Searle: Minds, Brains, and Programs  
John Searle's (1980) thought experiment is one of the best known and widely credited counters to claims of artificial intelligence (AI), i.e., to claims that computers do or at least can (someday might) think. According to Searle's original presentation, the argument is based on two truths: brains cause minds, and syntax doesn't suffice for semantics. Its target, Searle dubs "strong AI": "according to strong AI," according to Searle, "the computer is not merely a tool in the study of the mind, rather the appropriately programmed computer really is a mind in the sense that computers given the right programs can be literally said to understand and have other cognitive states" . Searle contrasts "strong AI" to "weak AI". According to weak AI, according to Searle, computers just simulate thought, their seeming understanding isn't real (just as-if) understanding, their seeming calculation as-if calculation, etc.; nevertheless, computer simulation is useful for studying the mind (as for studying the weather and other things).

November 26:   NO COURSE



December 3

Symbolism & Connectionism 


            Presentation Andrew Buchan: The language of thought hypothesis

            Presentation: G. Krimp: Connectionism and cognitive architecture


Language and experience


            Presentation Jan Grue: Linguistic relativism

            Presentation Charles Spencer: The myth of Jones (Sellars)

            Presentation Tim van Oosterhout: Embodied Cognition (working  title; possibly this presentation will be  shifted to December 10)


Obligatory Readings:

Jerry A. Fodor and Zenon W. Pylyshyn, Connectionism and Cognitive Architecture: A Critical Analysis [170KB, pdf]

Paul Kay & Willett Kempton, What Is the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis? [200KB, pdf]

December 10

Dreams, Hallucinations, Buddhism, and the embodied mind

            Presentation Dechen Albero: Tibetan Buddhism and the embodied mind

            Presentation David M.Baraznji Sassoon: Can the mind be ill?