Philosophy of Neuroscience
Neuroscience 221: Advanced Topics
Fall 2018

Thursdays, 3:00-4:50 in MET 204

Professor: William Bechtel Mondays, 12:30-1:45 (but not 11/19 or 11/26) and by appointment
Office: HSS 8076 Email:
Telephone: 822-4461 Discussion site:


1. Description

A number of topics raised by the neuorsciences have been the focus of recent philosophical analysis. This seminar will explore a number of theses: explanation, levels, reduction, representation, phenomenal experience, and agency. Each week we will trake up a specific topic and consider two different approaches to that topic. The objective is not only to familiarize you with these discussions but for you to engage in discussing them. While you will not acquire a comprehensive background, you should acquire an understanding of the issues and develop tools to enable you to further engage these topics.

2. Seminar Requirements

Each week, submit to the online forum a discussion page (1/2 to 1 page) on one of the two readings by the preceding Tuesday night. By noon on Thursday each student should read the discussion pages from other students and respond briefly to a discussion page posted by another student. Each student is to lead the discussion of one paper during the quarter. This involves highlighting what you take to be a main theme or argument of the paper that merits discussion (no more than 5 minutes) and briefly introducing what you take to be central issues raised by other students in the online discussion (the whole presentation should be less than 10 minutes). Then moderate the discussion. This will often work best if you focus your presentation and pose 1 or 2 questions eliciting responses from others in the seminar. Grade will be based on leading class discussion (40%) and particiaption in online and in class discussions (60%).

The discussion site for the course is located at Login in with your UCSD userid and password. Then select Neu 221 under My Courses for Fall 2018.

To post a discussion page, select Discussions on the menu on the left and and then the Forum for the week. Then in the menu on the black bar that goes across the screen, choose Create Thread. As part of the Subject, include your name and a brief title. To add a comment either directly to the thread on to another comment, select Reply. .

3. Texts

All of the reading assignments can be found on the web. In most cases, the links are to the publisher's site. In many cases, you will need to access them from within the UCSD domain (if off campus, using VPN to UCSD). With some browsers some of the items may require that you right click and select open in a new tab. See the schedule of classes and readings below.

4. Academic honesty

Integrity of scholarship is essential for an academic community. The University expects that both faculty and students will honor this principle and in so doing protect the validity of University intellectual work. For students, this means that all academic work must be done by the individual who submits it, without unauthorized aid of any kind. All work you present or submit, incluing discussion pieces.,must be written by you in your own words. If you need to quote someone, be sure to use quotation marks and identify the source.

5. Schedule of Seminars

September 27: David Marr’s Levels: What is the computational level?

Marr, D. C. (1982). Vision:  A computation investigation into the human representational system and processing of visual information. San Francisco: Freeman.
Shagrir, O., & Bechtel, W. (2017). Marr's computational-level theories and delineating phenomena. In D. M. Kaplan (Ed.), Integrating psychology and neuroscience: Prospects and problems. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 

October 4: Theory Reductionism

Churchland, P. M., & Churchland, P. S. (1990). Intertheoretic reduction: A neuroscientist's field guide. Seminars in the Neurosciences, 2, 249-256.
McCauley, R. N. (1996). Explanatory pluralism and the coevolution of theories in science. In R. N. McCauley (Ed.), The Churchlands and their critics (pp. 17-47). Oxford: Blackwell.
Churchland, P. M. & Churchland, P. S., (1996). McCauley's Demand for a Co-level Competitor. In R. N. McCauley (Ed.), The Churchlands and their critics (pp. 222-231). Oxford: Blackwell.

October 11: Mechanistic Reductionism

Bickle, J. (2006). Reducing mind to molecular pathways: explicating the reductionism implicit in current cellular and molecular neuroscience. Synthese, 151, 411-434.
Bechtel, W. (2009). Molecules, systems, and behavior: Another view of memory consolidation. In Bickle, J. (Editor), Oxford Handbook of Philosophy and Neuroscience, (pp. 13-40). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

October 18: The Hodgkin-Huxley Model: Is it Descriptive or Explanatory?

Craver, C. F. (2008). Physical Law and Mechanistic Explanation in the Hodgkin and Huxley Model of the Action Potential. Philosophy of Science, 75, 1022-1033.
Levy, A. (2013). What was Hodgkin and Huxley’s Achievement? The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 65, 469-492.

October 25: Challenges to Localization of Function

Anderson, M. L. (2015). Précis of After Phrenology: Neural Reuse and the Interactive Brain. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 39, e120
Burnston, D. C. (2016). Computational neuroscience and localized neural function. Synthese, 193, 3741-3762.

November 1: Philosophical Questions about the Senses: Guest Professor Matthew Fulkerson

Keeley, B. L. (2009). The Role of Neurobiology in Differentiating the Senses. In J. Bickle (Ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy and Neuroscience. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Fulkerson, M. (2014). Rethinking the senses and their interactions: the case for sensory pluralism. Frontiers in Psychology, 5.

November 8: Representations in the Brain

Grush, R. (2004). The emulation theory of representation: Motor control, imagery, and perception. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 27, 377-396.
Bechtel, W. (2014). Investigating neural representations: the tale of place cells. Synthese, 1-35.

November 15: Enactivism and Its Implications for Neuroscience

Chirimuuta, M., & Ian, G. (2009). The Embedded Neuron, the Enactive Field? In J. Bickle (Ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy and Neuroscience. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Wallis, C., & Wright, W.. (2009). Enactivism's Vision: Neurocognitive Basis or Neurocognitively Baseless? In J. Bickle (Ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy and Neuroscience: Oxford University Press.

November 29: The Challenge of Explaining Phenomenal Experience

Chalmers, D. J. (2017). The Hard Problem of Consciousness. In S. Schneider & M. Velmans (Eds.), The Blackwell Companion to Consciousness. (Second Edition) Oxford: Blackwell.
Prinz, J. (2007). The Intermediate Level Theory of ConsciousnessThe Blackwell Companion to Consciousness. Oxford: Blackwell.

December 6: Neurobiology and Agency    

Roskies, A. L. (2010). How Does Neuroscience Affect Our Conception of Volition? Annual Review of Neuroscience, 33, 109-130.
Klemm, W. R. (2015). Neurobiological Perspectives on Agency: Ten Axioms and Ten Propositions. In C. W. Gruber, M. G. Clark, S. H. Klempe & J. Valsiner (Eds.), Constraint