version 2013-01-02

brain and neuron COGS Q540 Philosophical Foundations of Cognitive Science

Spring 2013 Schedule and Syllabus
Meeting time: MW 2:30-3:45; Location: PY 113


(Prof.) Colin Allen <>
Offices: Goodbody Hall 113 and Eigenmann 802
Office hours: Wednesdays after CogLunch until class (location tba), and by appointment

Course Description

The cognitive sciences began with great enthusiasm for the prospects of a successful multi-disciplinary attack on the mind. This enthusiasm was fueled by the faith that computational ideas could put flesh on abstract notions of mental representation, providing the means to make good physical sense of questions about the nature of mental information processing. The challenges of understanding how minds work have turned out to be much greater than many of the early enthusiasts predicted — in fact they have turned out to be so great that many (especially here at IU) have argued that we need new paradigms to replace the standard computationalist-representationalist assumptions of traditional cognitive science. This course aims to provide an understanding of the philosophical issues underlying this discussion and to apply this understanding to a specific cutting edge topic. For Spring 2013 that issue will be the question of where theories of information fit into cognitive science.


  1. Readings provided electronically; see schedule below
  2. Required book: Floridi, L. (2011) The Philosophy of Information. Oxford University Press. [IU Library access] [Amazon link]
  3. Optional/recommended book: Andy Clark Mindware 2nd Edition, OUP.

Course Objectives

By the end of this course you should have broad knowledge of the history, philosophy, and major concepts and trends in cognitive science, along with an appreciation for the philosophical issues that motivated the emergence of cognitive science and underlie the controversies within it. By the end of the course you should have the ability to read works written for professional academic cognitive scientists and philosophers of cognitive science, and to summarize them accurately both orally and in writing using your own words. You should also be able to relate foundational issues in cognitive science to your own research interests.

Grading Basis

Grades will be based holistically on overall performance in the following five categories:

  1. Ten weekly reaction pieces due most Wednesdays, beginning January 9 [max. 300 words each]*
  2. Paper proposal due Mar 18 [2 pages]
  3. Draft of paper due any time before Apr 03 [approx 10 pages]
  4. Final paper due May 01 [approx 15 pages]
  5. Oral presentations** and classroom participation***

* Weekly reaction pieces. Delivery: via Piazza (see below). In these short reaction pieces, identify which items you have read from the reading list for the previous two preceding class periods, and write a 200-300-word reaction to at least one of them. This should not be a summary or restatement of the reading. Rather, write an argumentative response to something you read. State what you liked or disliked most about the idea(s) and why, with special attention to the strength of the arguments that were presented. (See calendar below for due dates.)

This semester we will be trying out Piazza for extended class discussion. The system is designed for getting help fast and efficiently from classmates and myself. Rather than emailing questions to me directly I encourage you to post your questions on Piazza. If you have any problems or feedback for the developers, email Find our class page at:

** All students will be scheduled to give TWO classroom presentations: (1) on an assigned reading, 15 minutes maximum, which like the reaction pieces should not be a linear summary of the reading, but in which you should identify and evaluate an argument contained in the piece; and (2) you will be scheduled in the week of Mar 25 to give a 5 minute presentation of your proposed paper topic for the course.

*** This is a discussion-oriented class. If you do not speak up regularly during class discussions, you may also be gauged by an oral exam to be scheduled at the instructor's discretion during finals week. Your activity on Piazza in raising and responding to questions and reaction pieces there will also be considered.

Schedule of Readings and Presentations

Articles for the first part of the semester are available to you via the links below for your personal use under fair use doctrine. Items preceded with bullets "•" are required readings; items preceded with daggers "†" are suggested optional readings. Book chapters from Floridi are F#. This schedule may be altered in response to events in class.

Statement for Students with Disabilities
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal anti-discrimination statute that provides comprehensive civil rights protection for persons with disabilities. Among other things, this legislation requires that all students with disabilities be guaranteed a learning environment that provides for reasonable accommodation of their disabilities. If you believe you have a disability requiring an accommodation, please contact IU Disability Services for Students.

Statement about Academic Misconduct
University rules concerning academic misconduct will be rigorously enforced in this class. See IU Code of Ethics, Part II for details. Valid HTML 4.01!