Philosophy 447 / Psychology 447

Seminar in Cognitive Science

Fall, 2008

ANNOUNCEMENT: All students will present their projects Nov. 25. You will have 8 minutes to describe the problem you are addressing, your approach, and tentative answers to relevant questions. The order will as listed below for the mini-seminars. Nov. 27 will be divided into 2 mini-seminars on the projects, organized as follows:

10:00-10:40: psychological approaches: Aycan, Mazumdar, Patrau, Sikander, Ward.

10:40-11:20: social approaches: Cai, Corneil, Giang, Kerr, Lafromboise.

You are welcome to attend both sessions.

Professor: Paul Thagard

Office hours (HH368): M1:00-2:00; F 12:30-1:30, and by appointment.

Email: Phone: extension 33594.

Web page:

Time: TTh, 10:00-11:20. HH 357

Textbook: P. Thagard, Brains and the Meaning of Life. Available from the author.

Assignments: Marks will be based on:

Instructions for Essay 1.

Instructions for Essay 2.

Description: This course is an interdisciplinary seminar, combining ideas from philosophy, psychology, neuroscience, and computer science. It's focus this year wll be on the relevance of advances in psychology and neuroscience to problems about the nature of knowledge, reality, morality, and the meaning of life.


 Week  Dates  Reading


 1 Sept. 9-11 1. Introduction Naturalism
 2 Sept. 16-18 2. Evidence Faith
 3 Sept. 23-25 3. Minds/brains Dualism
 4 Sept. 30- Oct.2 4. Reality


 5 Oct. 7-9 5. Emotions Consciousness
 6 Oct. 14-16 6 Decision making Utility theory
 7 Oct. 21-23 7. Meaning Meaning of life
 8 Oct. 28-30 8. Needs Human needs
 9 Nov. 4-6 9. Ethics Ethical theory
 10 Nov. 11-13 10. Making sense


11 Nov. 18-20 Neural politics Naturalism
12 Nov. 25-27 Student reports  

Instructions for writing commentaries:

For each Tuesday in weeks 2-11, hand in at the BEGINNING of the class a short commentary, 100-150 words on the claim, hypothesis, or issue that you found most interesting in the reading. Optional readings will be available later. Your commentary should identify the claim that interests you and the strongest evidence for and against it. The purpose of these commentaries is to ensure that everyone comes to class prepared for discussion.

Cognitive Science resources.

From the Faculty of Arts:

All students registered in the courses of the Faculty of Arts are expected to know what constitutes an academic offense, to avoid committing academic offenses, and to take responsibility for their academic actions.  When the commission of an offense is established, disciplinary penalties will be imposed in accord with Policy #71 (Student Academic Discipline).  For information on categories of offenses and types of penalties, students are directed to consult the summary of Policy #71 (Student Academic Discipline) which is supplied in the Undergraduate Calendar (p.1:11).  If you need help in learning how to avoid offenses such as plagiarism, cheating, and double submission, or if you need clarification of aspects of the discipline policy, ask your course instructor for guidance.  Other resources regarding the discipline policy are your academic advisor and the Undergraduate Associate Dean.

Faculty of Arts information on plagiarism and other offences.

This class is a core course for the Cognitive Science Option.

Lecture notes and discussion questions

Week 1, Introduction to Philosophy and Cognitive Science.

Week 2. Evidence and faith.

Week 3. Minds and brains.

Week 4. Brains and reality.

Week 5. Emotions and consciousness.

Week 6. Decision making.

Week 7. Life's meaning.

Week 8. Human needs.

Week 9. Ethical brains.

Week10. Making sense.

Week 11. Politics and mathematics.


Paul Thagard

Computational Epistemology Laboratory.

This page updated Nov. 20, 2008