AP/PHIL3635 3.0 M: Philosophy of Neuroscience

Offered by: PHIL


Winter 2020






Calendar Description / Prerequisite / Co-Requisite

A critical examination of philosophical problems raised by neuroscientific research, which asks whether such research can help to answer traditional philosophical questions. The course introduces the goals, methods, techniques and theoretical as well as conceptual commitments of neuroscience and examines the field's background assumptions, limitations and pitfalls. 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

Dylan Ludwig
Office Location:  TBA
Phone Number:  TBA
Office Hours:  Thursday 12:30 - 1:30 or by appointment

    Expanded Course Description

How can philosophy help us understand and guide empirical neuroscientific research? How can studying the brain and nervous system help us address significant philosophical problems? This course will explore the mutually informative relationship between philosophy and neuroscience. We will discuss the nature of neuroscientific research, its value and limitations as a philosophical resource, and how it can be brought to bear on specific philosophical issues, including: representation, the relationship between perception and cognition, emotion, social bias and consciousness.

    Required Course Text / Readings

All readings will be available online through the York University Library.

    Weighting of Course

Attendance and Participation 5%-It is important to show up to each class ready to discuss the assigned reading material.

Reading Responses 20%-(Due 24 hours before we meet for class) You will be asked to submit 4 short reading responses (worth 5% each) that will address topics that arise in the weekly assigned readings. These will be no more than 2 double-spaced pages, submitted to Turnitin, and students can choose which weeks they submit.

Midterm Exam 25%-(February 27th) in class exam 

Paper outline 10%-(Due March 19th) You will be asked to submit an outline for your final paper idea, no more than 2 double-spaced pages, that includes an abstract with thesis statement, outline of the main argumentative strategy, and tentative bibliography.

Final Paper 40%-(Due date TBA) Submit a final paper to Turnitin, 10-12 double-spaced pages, normal formatting rules apply.

    Organization of the Course


    Additional Information / Notes

Reading Schedule:

(All readings are available online through the York University Library)

January 9th-Introduction: Course Mechanics and Core Issues

January 16th- Reductionism and Eliminativism

  1. Churchland, P. M. (1985). Reduction, Qualia, and the Direct Introspection of Brain States. The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 82, No. 1, pp. 8-28.
  2. Murphy, D. (2017). Brains and Beliefs: On the Scientific Integration of Folk Psychology. In Explanation and Integration in Mind and Brain Science, ed. David M. Kaplan. Oxford University Press.

January 23rd- Autonomy and Multiple Realizabiliy

  1. Fodor, J. (1974). Special Sciences (Or: The Disunity of Science as a Working Hypothesis). Synthese, 28:2, 97-115.
  2. Aizawa, K. (2017). Multiple Realization, Autonomy and Integration. In Explanation and Integration in Mind and Brain Science, ed. David M. Kaplan. Oxford University Press.


January 30th- Neuroscientific Methods: Progress and Problems

  1. Brett, M., Johnsrude I. S., Owen, A. M. (2002). The Problem of Functional Localization in the Human Brain. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 3, 243-249.
  2. Poldrack, R. A., & Yarkoni, T. (2016). From brain maps to cognitive ontologies: informatics and the search for mental structure. Annual review of psychology, 67, 587-612.


February 6th-Structure and Function

  1. Price, C. & Friston, K. (2005). Functional ontologies for cognition: The systematic definition of structure and function. Cognitive Neuropsychology 22(3), 262275.
  2. Nathan, M. J. & Del Pinal, G. D. (2016). Mapping the mind: bridge laws and the psycho-neural interface. Synthese, 193: 637-657.


February 13th-Neural Reuse

  1. Anderson, M. L. (2014). Introduction. After phrenology: Neural reuse and the interactive brain. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  2. Anderson, M. L. (2014). Chapter 1: Neural Reuse and the Need for a New Approach to Understanding Brain Function. After phrenology: Neural reuse and the interactive brain. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.


February 20th-No Classes: Reading Week


February 27th-Midterm Exam




March 5th- Case Study: Representation

  1. Egan, F. (2014). How to think about mental content. Philosophical Studies, 170: 115-135.
  2. Bednar, J. A., and Wilson, S. P. (2016). Cortical Maps. The Neuroscientist, Vol. 22, No. 6, pp. 604-617.


March 12th- Case Study: Perception and Cognition

  1. Mandelbaum, E. (2017). Seeing and Conceptualizing: Modularity and the Shallow Contents of Perception. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research. 97: 2, 267-283.
  2. Wu, W. (2017). Shaking up the Ground Floor: The Cognitive Penetration of Visual Attention. The Journal of Philosophy. Volume CXIV, No. 1, 5-32.


March 19th- Case Study: Emotion (Paper Outline Due)

  1. Barrett, L. F. and Wager, T. D. (2006). The structure of emotion: evidence from neuroimaging studies. Current Directions in Psychological Science, Volume 15, Number 2, 79-83.
  2. Sergerie, K., Chochol, C., & Armony, J. L. (2008). The Role of the Amygdala in Emotional Processing: A Quantitative Meta-Analysis of Functional Neuroimaging Studies. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, Vol. 32, 811-830.
  3. Kiverstein, J. & Miller, M. (2015). The Embodied Brain: Towards a Radical Embodied Cognitive Neuroscience. Frontiers of Human Neuroscience, Volume 9, Article 237, pp. 1-11.


March 26th- Case Study: Social Bias

  1. Phelps, E. A., O’Connor, K. J., Cunningham, W. A., & Funayama, E. S. (2000). Performance on indirect measures of race evaluation predicts amygdala activation. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience. 12: 5, 729-738.
  2. Amodio, D. (2014). The Neuroscience of Prejudice and Stereotyping. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, Volume 15, 670–682.


April 2nd- Case Study: Consciousness

  1. Dehaene, S., Changeux, J-P., Naccache, L., Sackur, J., & Sergent, C. (2006). Conscious, preconscious, and subliminal processing: a testable taxonomy. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, Vol. 10, No. 5, 204-211.
  2. Koch, C., Massimini, M., Boly, M., & Tononi, G. (2016). Neural correlates of consciousness: progress and problems. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 17, pages 307–321.




    Relevant Links / Resources