Syllabus: Philosophical Psychology

Professor: William Bechtel 

Office: 208 Busch

Telephone: 935-6873


Phil 411 

Fall, 1997

2:30-4:00 T, Th

Busch 220

A. Course Description

This course will examine research programs in experimental psychology, including behaviorism, Gestalt, and cognitivism. The conception of psychological phenomena, data, and explanation in each of these traditions will be examined. Students will be expected both to understand the basic tenets of these traditions and to engage in critical evaluation of their adequacy. 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. Thus, we will consider recent work on propositional versus imagistic representation and on concepts and categorization. Lastly, we will consider recent claims that psychological results are relevant to issues in ethics. Students will be expected to be able to characterize what is controversial about the various claims advanced in these areas and to engage in critical analysis of these claims.

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.

Written work for the course will consist of three papers, based primarily on the assigned 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 first two papers will each count 30%; the final paper 40%).

Recommended topics for these papers will be presented in class.

C. Schedule of Class Meetings and Assigned Readings

Note: Due to commitments to give talks, I will need to miss classes scheduled for September 23, 25, and October 14. We will attempt to find suitable times for make-up classes for these. If that proves impossible, two additional class meetings will be appended at the end of the course and the dates for covering various topics will be modified accordingly.

I. Research Traditions in Psychological Science

A. Philosophical Categories for Analyzing Scientific Research: theories, models, paradigms, and research traditions (August 28)

B. Some 19th Century Roots: Psychophysics, Brentano, Darwin, Spencer, Wundt, Functionalism (September 2, 4, 9)

C. The Behaviorist Legacy (September 11,  15, 16) D. The Gestalt Tradition (September 18, 30, October 2) First paper due: October 7

E. The Cognitive Turn (October 7, 9, 16, and 20)

F. Beyond Classical Cognitivism (October 21, 23) II. Philosophically Interesting Problem Domains in Psychological Science

A. Propositions versus images (October 28, 30, November 4)

Second paper due: November 6

B. Concepts and Categorization (November 6, 11, 13, 18)

C. Psychology and Ethics (November 20, 25, December 2, 4) Final paper due: December 9 (turn in at Philosophy Department Office)