Philosophy of Mind

(December 12): The final papers are due on Friday the 15th of December at 5pm in my mailbox, 503 Main Building; here are the topics. The final exam is on Monday the 18th of December at 10am, in 628 Shimkin Hall. The handout summarising the second half of the course that was given out in class on the 11th is available here. Thanks to everyone who participated in the course!

Course Description

In this course we'll be thinking about immaterial spirits, futuristic computers and robots, fake computers with little people inside, Martians who behave like us but have an internal structure very different from ours, brains in vats, 'swampmen' who are formed by random aggregation of molecules.... We will ask whether these strange characters have thoughts and feelings, and whether, if so, they are like us in what they think and feel. We will consider how we might know the answers to these questions, and whether they even have right answers. The point is not to consider bizarre cases just for the sake of it, but to see what light we can shed on our own nature as beings with mental lives.


Course Code: V83.-0080; Registration Code 75126.

Instructor: Cian Dorr, 503H Main Building, office hours: Mondays at 3:00 PM or by appointment, email:

TA: Joshua Schechter, 503M Main Building, office hours: Thursdays at 1:00 PM or by appointment, email:

Lecture Times: 11 - 12.15, Mondays and Wednesdays, 630 Shimkin Hall.

Optional Discussion Group: Tuesdays at 5:00 PM, 503M Main Building.


You will need two books, both of which are available at Posman's bookstore on University Place:

David Rosenthal (ed.), The Nature of Mind, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991.

David Braddon-Mitchell and Frank Jackson, Philosophy of Mind and Cognition, Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1996

There are some additional readings which are not in either of these volumes. These will be handed out in class, unless they are optional, in which case they will be available from the Philosophy Department office or on the web.


Your final grade will be determined as follows:

10% 2-3 page paper, due on October the 11th. Topics
20% 4-6 page paper, due on November the 13th. Topics
30% 8-12 page paper, due in December. Topics
30% Final exam
10% Participation grade

What makes for a good philosophy paper? There is much to be said about this question, and Jim Pryor has said it: please read his Guidelines on writing a philosophy paper before you start writing.


Readings marked 'NM' are to be found in David Rosenthal's The Nature of Mind. 'BMJ' abbreviates references to chapters in Braddon-Mitchell and Jackson, Philosophy of Mind and Cognition. If there are changes to the syllabus as the course progresses, they will be recorded on this website.

The nature of mental properties

Introduction (1 session)

Substance Dualism (1 session)

René Descartes, Meditations II and VI (NM 1)

Handout on Descartes

Property Dualism and Materialism (1 session)

BMJ ch. 1

Behaviorism (2 sessions)

BMJ ch. 2, ch. 9.

Daniel Dennett, 'True Believers: The Intentional Strategy and Why It Works' (NM 36)

Hilary Putnam, 'Brains and Behavior' (NM 16)

Optional: Alex Byrne, 'Behaviourism' (in Guttenplan).

The 'Identity Theory' (3 sessions)

J.J.C. Smart, 'Sensations and Brain Processes' (NM 17)

David Lewis, 'Psychophysical and Theoretical Identifications' (NM 22)

Saul Kripke, Naming and Necessity, excerpts (NM 25)

Optional: David Armstrong, 'The Causal Theory of Mind' (NM 19)

Functionalism (5 sessions)

Hilary Putnam, 'The Nature of Mental States' (NM 21)

David Lewis, 'Mad Pain and Martian Pain' (NM 24)

BMJ ch. 3, 6, 5, 7

Ned Block, 'Troubles with Functionalism' (NM 23)

John R. Searle, 'Minds, Brains and Programs' (NM 55)

Optional: Ned Block, 'The Mind as Software of the Brain' (online only); 'Functionalism' (in Guttenplan); the debate between Searle and Fodor (NM 55); Sydney Shoemaker, 'Functionalism and Qualia' (NM 43)

Eliminativism (1 session)

Paul Churchland, 'Eliminative Materialism and the Propositional Attitudes' (NM 61)

BMJ ch. 13

Optional: Stephen P. Stich, 'Autonomous Psychology and the Belief-Desire Thesis' (NM 60)

Summary of the first half of the course.

Content and Consciousness

Content: Wide and Narrow (3 sessions)

Bertrand Russell, Principles of Philosophy, excerpts

Tyler Burge, 'Individualism and the Mental' (NM 57)

BMJ ch. 12

Optional: W.V. Quine, 'Quantifiers and Propositional Attitudes' (NM 33); Brian Loar, 'Social Content and Psychological Content' (NM 58); Robert Stalnaker, 'On What's in the Head' (NM 59)

Content: What determines it? (2 sessions)

BMJ ch. 10, 11

Jerry Fodor, 'Why There Still Has to Be a Language Of Thought' (in his Psychosemantics (MIT Press, 1987) and in Lycan)

Daniel Dennett, 'Brain Writing and Mind Reading' (NM 54)

Optional: Fred Dretske, 'The Intentionality of Cognitive States' (NM 37); Tim Van Gelder, 'What Might Cognition Be, If Not Computation?' (Journal of Philosophy 112, 1995; in Lycan)

Consciousness: the Knowledge Argument (3 sessions)

BMJ, pp. 127-135.

Frank Jackson, 'What Mary Didn't Know' (NM 42)

Brian Loar, 'Phenomenal States' (Philosophical Perspectives 4, 1990)

David Lewis, 'What Experience Teaches' (in Lewis, Papers in Metaphysics and Epistemology, Cambridge, 1999; in Lycan)

Optional: Thomas Nagel, 'What Is It Like to Be a Bat?' (NM 46)

Consciousness: Zombies (1 session)

David Chalmers, The Conscious Mind (excerpts)

Daniel Dennett, 'Quining Qualia'

Consciousness and Content: Representationalism (2 sessions, time permitting)

Gilbert Harman, 'The Intrinsic Quality of Experience' (Philosophical Perspectives 4, 1990; in Lycan)

Ned Block, 'Inverted Earth' (Philosophical Perspectives 4, 1990; in Lycan)


BMJ have a useful glossary of terms in the philosophy of mind. For more general philosophical vocabulary, I recommend Jim Pryor's Philosophical Terms and Methods. The best reference work on the philosophy of mind is A Companion to the Philosophy of Mind, by Samuel Guttenplan (Blackwell, 1994). General encyclopedias and dictionaries of philosophy can also be useful: the most complete is the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy (ed. Edward Craig); two up-to-date one-volume references are the Oxford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (ed. Ted Honderich) and the Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy (ed. Robert Audi). On the web, there is a Dictionary of the Philosophy of Mind, the MIT Encyclopedia of the Cognitive Sciences, and the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, which currently doesn't have very much in the philosophy of mind. David Chalmers maintains the best philosophy of mind links page on the web.

Two other textbook-style overviews of the philosophy of mind are Jaegwon Kim, Philosophy of Mind (Westview Press, 1998) and David Armstrong, The Mind-Body Problem: An Opinionated Introduction (Westview Press, 1999). William Lycan's Mind and Cognition (2nd edition, Blackwell, 1999) is a book of readings that contains several of the articles we will be reading that aren't in Rosenthal.

Warning: philosophers of mind disagree about how some of the key terms should be defined: for example, some people use 'physicalism' for what I will be calling the "Identity Theory". So if you come across a definition of some term in one of the readings, don't just assume that it will carry over into other readings.

Being an immaterial spirit is hungry work!
So that's what it's like to see red! I must say I was expecting it to be more exciting.
When you cut him, does he not bleed? And when you wrong him, does he not REVENGE?
Look out! It's a pain!
Uh-oh, I think I've forgotten whether I'm supposed to be in state S1 or state S2.
They feel nothing, but are functionally just like us in all respects - well, almost all respects...AAGH!
Oh, the guy I'm a molecule-for-molecule duplicate of looks like this too.
'Let's set these ridiculous sceptical worries aside and return to our scheme for world domination!'