brain and neuron COGS Q240 Philosophical Foundations of Cognitive Science

Fall 2014 Schedule and Syllabus

Meeting Times

All meetings are in Read 2-120B.
Main lectures, Tu-Th 11:15-12:30
Discussion section, Fr 12:20-1:10


(Prof.) Colin Allen <> Eigenmann 802 and Goodbody 113
Office hours: Thursday after class, and by appointment.

(A.I.) Branden Bryan <> Eigenmann 807
Office hours: Tuesday immediately after class, and Friday 11 a.m.

Subject Matter

Cognitive Science emerged about 60 years ago from developments in philosophy, computer science, psychology, and linguistics. Central to this emergence were new ideas about how minds could be understood in computational terms: the computational theory of mind. The belief that intelligence could be understood in terms of physical processing of symbolic representations served to unite artificial intelligence and cognitive psychology under a common philosophical framework, and it was believed that computers with human-level capacities would be rapidly achieved. Progress in artificial intelligence, however, has been much slower than anticipated, and developments in neuroscience, in artificial neural networks, and in dynamical and evolutionary approaches to cognition and robotics, have caused some to question whether cognitive science should remain committed to the computational theory of mind. In this course, students will learn about the original promise of the computational theory, and how it provided an alternative to earlier philosophical and scientific views about the relationship between mind and body. We will go on to consider the debate about whether evolutionary, embodied, and dynamical systems approaches to cognitive science amount to an overthrow of its traditional symbolic-representationalist core as well as providing a philosophical challenge to our deep-seated conception of ourselves as human agents with rational beliefs.

Assignments and Grading

This course is designated Intensive Writing (IW), which according to the faculty handbook means, “students must be required to write “at least 5,000 words (roughly 20 typed pages), not counting revisions (and excluding essay examinations and informal writing, e.g., journals or brief response statements). Students must receive periodic evaluations of their writing, and they must be required to redraft one or more papers in light of the instructor’s criticism. Ordinarily students will write a series of papers over the course of a semester, not one long term paper.”

There are no scheduled examinations, but there are six formal pieces of writing required, and these will be extensively workshopped during discussion sections. Discussion sections will also be used to clarify and extend the discussion of course concepts.

70% for the IW assignments, distributed as follows:
IW-1, due 09/12, 5%
IW-2, due 10/03, 10%
IW-3, due 10/24, 10%
IW-4, due 11/14, 15%
IW-5, due 12/05, 10%
IW-6, due 12/16, 20%
25% for responses to readings, including in-class assignments which may not be announced in advance.
5% for participation in discussions during class lecture and discussion periods.


There is no required textbook for the course but there are roughly two required readings per week. The schedule below has links to the required readings. Some of these items may require a password for access, or be otherwise inaccessible if you are outside the campus network (try IU's VPN). [Note: local pdfs of jstor articles are provided for convenience of IU students who have fair use rights to them through the university license.]

The syllabus contains references to a text book that covers some of the course material, and is recommended reading. It is Andy Clark's Mindware 2nd Edition, Oxford Univ. Press.

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 Section G of the IU Code of Student Rights, Responsibilities and Conduct for details.

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