Philosophy of Psychology

 Phil 415

Professor: William Bechtel

Fall 2000
Office: Busch 225 Tuesdays, 7-10 pm
Telephone: 935-6873 Busch 220
Email: Office Hours: TW 3:00-4:00

A. Course Description

This course will focus on experimental psychology from the perspective of a philosopher of science. Philosophy of science addresses such questions as (1) what is a science, (2) what is it to explain a phenomenon, (3) how do sciences change over time, and (4) what relations hold between sciences. A naturalized philosophy of science (the sort of philosophy of science emphasized in this class) addresses these questions in part by examining the science in question. Accordingly, we will focus on research programs in experimental psychology, especially behaviorist and cognitivist research. Students will be expected both to understand the basic tenets of these traditions and to engage in critical evaluation of their scientific characteristics. Major attention will be given to the establishment of the information processing tradition in cognitive psychology and the relevance of issues dealt with in that tradition to philosophical questions, especially the role of representations as explanatory posits and their relation to underlying neural activity. To provide focus for our discussion of cognitive psychology, we will examine in fair detail research on memory. Lastly, we will consider recent claims that psychological results are relevant to issues in ethics.

B. Course Requirements

Students are required to read the assigned materials, attend class regularly, and participate actively in the class discussions. The degree of participation can raise or lower the final grade. In particular, if the web-based discussion of this course becomes operational during the semester, students will be required to post both a question based on the readings and a discussion comment. (Details for the management of this component of the course will be presented later.)

You are required to make one presentation to the class. This will generally be based on one of the optional readings listed on the syllabus or on other material related to the topic of a given class. This presentation plus overall class participation will count for 25% of your grade. Written work for the course will consist of three papers, based primarily on the assigned readings, optional readings, and class discussion. For undergraduates, each of these papers should be approximately 5 pages in length and will count equally. For graduate students the first two papers should be approximately 5 pages in length, while the final paper should be approximately 10 pages in length. The last paper will count somewhat more than the shorter papers. Recommended topics for these papers will be presented in class. If possible, please turn your papers in in an electronic format, sending them by email attachment to

If you are taking this course pass/fail, it is necessary to earn the equivalent of a C- to receive a pass.

C. Texts

Bechtel, W. (1988). Philosophy of science: An overview for cognitive science. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Flanagan, O. (1991). The science of the mind. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Schacter, D. L. (1996). Searching for memory: The brain, the mind, and the past. New York: Basic Books

D. Schedule of Class Meetings and Assigned Readings

The following schedule is tentative, and may need to be modified during the semester. Some of the readings below are marked with an asterisk and are recommended, not required. You are strongly encouraged to read some of these, especially those relevant to a paper topic you choose. Copies of them will be available in the Philosophy Department office. They may be checked out for photocopying.

September 5     Creating a Discipline: Psychology in the 19th Century

Broca, Paul (1861b). Remarques sur le siége de la faculté du langage articulé, suivies d'une observations d'aphémie (perte de la parole) Bulletin de la Société Anatomique, 6, 330-357. English translation of Broca's Remarks on the Seat of the Faculty of Articulated Language, Following an Observation of
Aphemia (Loss of Speech)
by C. D. Green. 

Ebbinghaus, Hermann. (1913). Memory: A contribution to experimental psychology (Henry A. Ruger & Clara E.
Bussenius, Trans.). (Originally published 1885).

Fechner, Gustav Theodor (1860). Elements of psychophysics, Sections VII ("Measurement of sensation") and XIV ("The fundamental formula and the measurement formula") (Trans. by Herbert S. Langfeld, first appearing in B. Rand (d.) (1912), The classical psychologists).

James, William. (1890). The principles of psychology.

Wundt, Wilhelm Max. (1896/1897). Outlines of psychology (Charles Hubbard Judd, Trans.).

September 12 Logical Positivism and Its Critics

Reading: Bechtel, Chapters 2 and 3

*Hempel, C. G. (1965). Aspects of scientific explanation, excerpts from part 1. In C. G. Hempel, Aspects of Scientific Explanation and other essays in the philosophy of science. New York: Free Press

September 19 Behaviorism

Reading: Flanagan, Chapter 4

Angell, James Rowland. (1907). The province of functional psychology. Psychological Review, 14, 61-91.

Pavlov, Ivan P. (1927). Conditioned reflexes: An investigation of the physiological activity of the cerebral cortex (G. V. Anrep, Trans.).

*Watson, J. B. (1913). Psychology as the behaviorist views it. Psychological Review, 20, 158-177.

*Hull, C. (1943). The problem of intervening variables in molar behavior theory. Psychological Review, 50, 273-291.

*Skinner, B. F. (1984). Methods and theories in the experimental analysis of behavior. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 7, 511-523

Tolman, Edward C. (1922). A new formula for behaviorism. Psychological Review, 29, 44-53. 

Tolman, Edward, C. (1948). Cognitive maps in rats and men. Psychological Review, 55(4), 189-208.

September 26 Kuhn’s Account of Normal and Revolutionary Science and Alternatives to the Covering Law Model of Explanation

Reading: Bechtel, Chapter 4

*Cartwright, N. (1981). The reality of causes in a world of instrumental laws. In P. Asquith and R. Giere (eds.) PSA 1980, Volume 2. East Lansing, MI, Philosophy of Science Association.

*Scriven, M. (1975). Causation as explanation. Nous, 9, 3-10.

October 3 The Cognitive Revolution in Psychology

Reading: Flanagan, Chapters 2 and 6 to p. 224

*Miller, G. A. (1956). The magical number seven, plus or minus two. Psychological Review, 63, 81-97.

*Appelbaum, I. (1998). Modularity. In W. Bechtel and G. Graham (eds.) A companion to cognitive science. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

*Bechtel, W., Abrahamsen, A. and Graham, G. (1998). The life of cognitive science, pp. 6-24 and 39-51. In W. Bechtel and G. Graham (eds.) A companion to cognitive science. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

October 10 Integrating Sciences: Cognitive Psychology and Cognitive Science

Reading: Flanagan, Chapter 6, p. 224 on.

*Bechtel, W., Abrahamsen, A. and Graham, G. (1998). The life of cognitive science. In W. Bechtel and G. Graham (eds.) A companion to cognitive science. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

*Sun, R. (1998). Artificial intelligence. In W. Bechtel and G. Graham (eds.) A companion to cognitive science. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

*Langendoen, D. T. (1998). Linguistic theory. In W. Bechtel and G. Graham (eds.) A companion to cognitive science. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

First Paper Due

October 17 Representations: Symbolic, Visual, and Distributed

Reading: Billman, D. (1998). Representations. In W. Bechtel and G. Graham (eds.) A companion to cognitive science. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

Bechtel, W. (in press) Representations: From neural systems to cognitive systems. In W. Bechtel, P. Mandik, J. Mundale, and R. S. Stufflebeam, Philosophy and the Neurosciences: A Reader. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

*Barsalou, L. (1999). Perceptual symbol systemsBehavioral and Brain Sciences 22, 577-609

*Shepard, R. N. and Metzler, J. (1971). Mental rotation of three-dimensional objects. Science, 171, 791-803.

*Pylyshyn, Z. W. (1981). The imagery debate: Analogue media versus tacit knowledge. Psychological Review, 88, 16-45.

*Kosslyn, S. (1995). Mental imagery. In S. M. Kosslyn and D. N. Osherson (Eds.). Visual cognition. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

October 24 Psychology and the Brain: Various Conceptions of Reduction

Reading: Bechtel, Chapters 5 and 6

*Churchland, P. M. and Churchland, P. S. (1990): Intertheoretic reduction: A neuroscientist’s field guide. In R. Warner and T. Szubka (Eds.), The mind-body problem (pp. 41-54) (Oxford: Blackwell, 1994).

*McCauley, R. (1996): Explanatory pluralism and the co_evolution of theories of science. In R. McCauley (Ed.), The Churchlands and their Critics (pp. 17-47) (Oxford: Blackwell, 1996).

*Churchland, P. M. and Churchland, P. S. (1996): McCauley's demand for a co-level competitor. In R. McCauley (Ed.), The Churchlands and their Critics (pp. 222-231) (Oxford: Blackwell, 1996).

October 31 Memory: Characterizing the Phenomenon–distinguishing remembering from knowing, encoding from retrieval

Reading: Schacter, Chapters 1 and 2

*Roediger, H. L. and Goff, L. M. (1998). Memory. In W. Bechtel and G. Graham (eds.) A companion to cognitive science. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

*Neisser, U. (1982). Memory: What are the important questions? In U. Neisser (ed.), Memory observed. San Francisco: Freeman.

November 7 Memory: Psychological Decomposition of Memory–Forgetting, Autobiographical memories, and emotion

Reading: Schacter, Chapters 3 and 7

*Brown, R. and Kulik, J. (1982). Flashbulb memories. In U. Neisser (ed.), Memory observed. San Francisco: Freeman.

November 14 Memory: Neuropsychological Decomposition of Memory--Memory Systems versus Information Processing Operations

Reading: Schacter, Chapters 5 and 6

*Tulving, E. (1999). Study of memory: Processes and systems. In J. K. Foster and M. Jelicic (eds.) Memory: Systems, processes, or function? Oxford: Oxford University Press.

*Roediger, H. L., Buckner, R. L. and McDermott, K. B. (1999). Components of memory. In J. K. Foster and M. Jelicic (eds.) Memory: Systems, processes, or function? Oxford: Oxford University Press.

*Bechtel, W. (in press). Complex systems and reduction: Not incompatible.

November 21 Memory: Recharacterizing the Phenomenon--Controversies over False Memories

Reading: Schacter, Chapters 4 and 9

*Neisser, U. (1982). John Dean’s memory: A case study. In U. Neisser (ed.), Memory observed. San Francisco: Freeman.

*Loftus, E. F. and Palmer, J. C. (1982). Reconstruction of automobile destruction. In U. Neisser (ed.), Memory observed. San Francisco: Freeman.

*Roediger, H. L. and McDermott, K. B. (1995). Creating false memories: Remembering words not presented in lists. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 21, 803-814.

Second Paper Due

November 28 Psychology and Ethics: The Program of Kohlberg and Beyond

Reading: Flanagan, Chapter 5, esp. pp. 145-173

*Kohlberg, L. (1968). The child as moral philosopher. Psychology Today, 2, 4, 24-30.

*Gilligan, C. and Attanucci, J. (1988). Two moral orientations. In C. Gilligan, J. V. Ward, and J. M. Taylor, Mapping the moral domain. Cambridge, Harvard.

*Johnson, M. (1996). How moral psychology changes moral theory. In L. May, M. Friedman, and A. Clark (Eds.), Mind and morals: Essays on ethics and cognitive science. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press

*Bechara, A. Damasio, A. R., Damasio, H., Anderson, S. W. (1994). Insensitivity to future consequences following damage to human prefrontal cortex. Cognition, 50, 7-15.

December 5 Psychology and Ethics: Sociobiology and Evolutionary Psychology

Reading: Flanagan, Chapter 7


December 12 Final Paper Due