AP/PHIL3260 3.0 A: Philosophy of Psychology

Offered by: PHIL


Fall 2019





Calendar Description / Prerequisite / Co-Requisite

An examination of whether psychological research can help to answer traditional philosophical questions. Case studies may include: psychiatric and mental disorders, rational thought, animal cognition, the placebo effect, the nature of concepts, attribution theory, moral psychology, or consciousness. Prerequisites: AP/PHIL 2160 3.00 or AP/PHIL 2240 3.00.

Course Website

Many courses utilize Moodle, York University's course website system. If your course is using Moodle, refer to the image below to access it.

    Additional Course Instructor/Contact Details

Instructor: Brandon Tinklenberg
Office: S423 Ross
Email: bmt8909@yorku.ca
Office Hours: M 12:00-2:00

    Expanded Course Description

This course will investigate one of the fundamental questions of cognitive psychology, namely, what is it to have a mind? We will survey classic and contemporary texts in philosophy and cognitive science that address this issue both as it relates to creatures like us and those quite different from us-for example what would it mean to say that a nonhuman animal or a machine has a mind? Students will develop a familiarity with key concepts in the philosophy of psychology and the ability to evaluate and construct arguments as the relate to empirical inquiry. The course is roughly divided into two parts. First, we will survey foundational issues relating to the notion that minds are unique in their ability to represent the world by various means. Then we will narrow our focus to one intersection of philosophy and psychology where the representational theory of mind has had significant influence, namely our ability to understand the world via concepts. Here we will ask what makes thought conceptual, what kinds of cognitive processes are mediated by concepts, and what kinds of minds are capable of conceptual thought.

    Required Course Text / Readings

All of the readings for the course are available either through the library or a shared Dropbox folder that I will share with you upon your enrollment. We will be covering a lot of heterogeneous material in this course, and no one (including me) will be an expert in all of it. Recognized ignorance is often positively useful, and only rarely a reason for embarrassment. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is an excellent resource for background reading. Also feel free to email me if you’d like any recommendations for specific topics you’d like to investigate further.

    Weighting of Course

There is one take-home Midterm Exam and one Final Research Paper.

The Midterm exam will consist of three 500-1000 word essays. I will provide the prompts to which you will respond. Since this is a take home exam, you will be expected to make reference to at least two of the readings covered in the course per question.  The deadline for the midterm is October 20, 12:00 pm (send it by e-mail).

You will also be responsible for one Research Paper. The paper will involve independent critical engagement with the questions raised in our course, that is to say you will develop an novel argument based on your critical reflections on the readings. To assist you in commencing work on the final paper, you should submit a brief essay proposal by November 10th. It should contain a short paragraph describing the topic to be investigated and give a brief indication of the sources you intend to use. The paper must contain references to material covered in the course, though outside sources are permitted, as long as they are from reputable academic outlets. If you have any questions on which journals and books to cite, feel free to email me. As a quick heuristic I would suggest browsing the sources cited by the required readings. I advise you to talk to me about possible topics as soon as possible. The paper should have the form and the length of a short journal article (no less than 2500 and no more than 3000 words). The deadline is December 14, 12:00 pm (send it by e-mail).

Grade Policies


This course will be based on the discussion of the readings. I will lead the discussion. Active, sustained participation in class discussion is expected. Reading the articles is of course mandatory. You are expected to attend every class. If there are extenuating circumstances that prevent you from attending, this will invariably influence your participation mark.

Additionally, you will write a brief (max 1 paragraph) reflection relating to the week’s readings. This can be an exegetical or substantive question, a philosophical rumination, or a reflection on background assumptions. You are to email your reflections to me no later than 8pm the Sunday before our scheduled meeting time. You should be prepared to discuss the contents of your question with our class when we meet.




Here’s the Grading Breakdown:

Participation: 10%

Weekly Reflections: 20%

Midterm: 20%

Final Paper: 50%

    Additional Information / Notes

Course Schedule

September 9

Organizational meeting

September 16 Folk Psychology

Churchland, P. M. (1981) Eliminative Materialism and the Propositional Attitudes Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 78, No. 2. (Feb., 1981), pp. 67-90.

Von Eckhardt, B. (1997) “The Empirical Naivete of the Current Philosophical Conception of Folk Psychology,” in Mindscapes: Philosophy, Science, and the Mind, M. Carrier and P. K. Machamer (eds.), Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, pp. 23–51.

September 23 Computationalism

Pylyshyn, Z. 1984. Computation and Cognition. MIT Press. Chapter 3 pp. 49-78.

Van Gelder, T. 1992. What might cognition be, if not computation. Journal of Philosophy 92: 345-381.

September 30 (Drop Deadline Oct 1st) Connectionism

Fodor, J. & Pylyshyn, Z. 1988. Connectionism and cognitive architecture: A critical analysis. Cognition 28: 3-50.

Chalmers, D. (1993) Why Fodor and Pylyshyn Were Wrong: The Simplest Refutation” Proceedings of the 12th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society, pp. 340-347.

October 7 Language of Thought

Fodor, J. (1987). Psychosemantics. Chapter 1: 1-26.

Dennett, D. (1981) “A Cure for the Common Code?” in Brainstorms. MIT Press. pp. 91-106.

October 14 - NO CLASS

October 21 Classical View

Murphy, G. L., & Medin, D. L. (1985). The Role of Theories in Conceptual Coherence. Psychological Review, 92(3), 289-316.

Laurence, S., & Margolis, E. (1999). Concepts and Cognitive Science. In E. Margolis & S. Laurence (Eds.), Concepts: Core Readings MIT Press. pp. 3–27.

October 28 Concept Nativism

Carey, S. (2011). The Origin of Concepts: A Precis. The Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 34(3), 113–123.

Rey, G. (2014). Innate and Learned: Carey, Mad Dog Nativism, and the Poverty of Stimuli and Analogies (Yet Again). Mind & Language, 29(2), 109–132.

November 4 Concept Empiricism

Prinz, J. J. (2005). The Return of Concept Empiricism. In H. Cohen & C. Lefebvre (Eds.), Handbook of Categorization in Cognitive Science (2nd Ed.), 931–950.

Machery, E. (2016). The amodal brain and the offloading hypothesis. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 23(4), 1090–1095.

November 11 Concept Eliminativism

Machery, E. (2010). Précis of Doing without Concepts. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 33(2–3), 195–206.

Weiskopf, D. A. (2009). The Plurality of Concepts. Synthese, 169(1), 145–173.

November 18 Logical Concepts

Burge, T. (2010). Steps Toward Origins of Propositional Thought. Disputatio, 4(29), 39–67.

Mody, S., & Carey, S. (2016). The emergence of reasoning by the disjunctive syllogism in early childhood. Cognition, 154, 40–48.

November 25 Animal Concepts 1

Chater, N., & Heyes, C. (1994). Animal Concepts: Content and Discontent. Mind & Language, 9(3), 209–246.

Allen, C. & Hauser, M. (1996). “Concept Attribution in Nonhuman Animals: Theoretical and Methodological Problems in Ascribing Complex Mental Processes.” In M. Bekoff & D. Jamieson (eds.), Readings in Animal Cognition. Cambridge MA, MIT Press. 47–62.

December 2 Animal Concepts 2

Newen, Albert & Andreas Bartels (2007). “Animal minds and the possession of concepts.” Philosophical Psychology, 20(3): 283–308.

Camp, E. (2009). Putting Thoughts to Work: Concepts, Systematicity, and Stimulus-Independence. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 78(2), 275–311.

    Relevant Links / Resources