Phil 149
Philosophy of Psychology
Winter 2005, Tues. Thurs., 2:00-3:20 pm

Professor: William Bechtel
Office: HSS 8076
Telephone: 822-4461
Office Hours: Wednesday, 2:00-4:00
Email: (personal) (course)

1. Course Description

How can scientists explain mental activities such as thinking, imagining, and remembering? Are the explanations offered in psychology similar to or different from those found in the natural sciences? How do psychological explanations relate to those of other disciplines, especially those included in cognitive science? The course will focus on major research traditions in psychology, with a special focus on contemporary cognitive psychology. Research on decision making will provide a focus for the latter portion of the course.

Given the nature of the class, substantial material will be presented in lectures that goes beyond what is included in the readings. Also, philosophy is an activity, and learning activities requires active engagement. Accordingly, class attendance and discussion is critical. Although we will have discussions on other occasions as well, several classes are designated as discussion classes.

2. Course Requirements

Class attendance is mandatory. Missing classes more than very occasionally will result in a reduction in your grade. To get the most out of the class, it is absolutely essential that every one comes to class prepared to discuss the readings. To ensure that this happens and to foster subsequent discussions in class, you will be required to turn in a very short (one paragraph) comments or questions on reading assigned during each of the quarter, except when there is an exam. You can write about anything in the readings you find interesting, puzzling, strange, clearly wrong, obviously right, etc. These will be graded as acceptable or unacceptable. To ensure that your submission is acceptable, your comment or question must demonstrate that you have done the reading in question and contain fewer than four grammar or spelling errors. These must be submitted as email to by 9 AM on the classes preceded by an asterisk in the schedule below (note, these are all Thursday classes except one on which there is an exam). You must turn in seven acceptable weekly assignments to receive a passing grade for the course.

Your grade in the course will be based on in-class essay exams and a final exam. The two in-class exams will each count for 30% of your grade and the final exam will count for 40% of the grade. Participation in class discussions can result in a raising or lowering of your final grade from what is determined by the above percentages.

3. Texts

Flanagan, Owen (1991). The Science of the Mind. Second Edition. Cambridge, MIT Press.
Piattelli-Palmarini, Massimo (1994). Inevitable illusions: how mistakes of reason rule our minds. New York: Wiley.

4. Email List

There is an email distribution lists for this course. It is required that you subscribe to this list. Do it IMMEDIATELY. You can always unsubscribe later if you drop the course. The purpose of the list is to allow me to distribute information regarding due dates for assignments, changes of schedule, etc. Some of this information is crucial, and some of it may be distributed early on. To subscribe, you simply need to send an email message to the following address: After you send the subscribe request, you will receive a reply from that will ask you to confirm your request. Follow the directions in this message to confirm you subscription. If you later want to remove yourself from this list, send email to

Only I have authorization to send mail to this list. There should be no spam. If you receive mail from this list that is not from me, be assured that I will as well and will take measures to block further abuse. (The welcome message you receive suggests that you can send email to the list. Sorry, but you cannot. If there is interest in setting up a voluntary discussion list for the class to which anyone can submit, I am happy to do so, but participation will not make it required.)

5. Schedule of Classes and Readings

Note: This schedule of reading assignments is tentative and subject to revision. Dates with asterisks are dates on which comments/question paragraphs on the reading are due. These comments/questions must be sent to by 9 AM on the dates indicated.

January 4: Introductory Class: Psychology as a Science
*January 6: Descartes's Dualism (Flanagan, Ch. 1)

January 11: William James' Naturalism (Flanagan, Ch. 2)
*January 13: Freud's Introduction of the Unconscious (Flanagan, Ch. 3)

January 18: Discussion
January 20: First Exam

January 25: Making Psychology a Behavioral Science (Flanagan, Ch. 4)
*January 27: Piaget and a Cognitive Developmental Psychology (Flanagan, Ch. 5)

February 1: The Cognitive Turn in Psychology (Flanagan, Ch. 6)
*February 3: Discussion

February 9: Interdisciplinary Cognitive Science (Flanagan, Ch. 6)
*February 10: Interdisciplinary Cognitive Neuroscience

February 15: Sociobiology and Evolutionary Psychology (Flanagan, Ch. 7)
*February 17: Discussion

February 22: Second Exam
*February 24: Cognitive Illusions (Piattelli-Palmarini, introduction, Ch. 1-3)

March 1: Probability Illusions (Piattelli-Palmarini, Ch. 4)
*March 3: Bayes and normative reasoning (Piattelli-Palmarini, Ch. 5-7)

March 8: Rising about our limitations (Piattelli-Palmarini, Ch. 8-10, Grand Finale, Appendices)
*March 10: Discussion

Thursday, March 17, 3:00-6:00: Final Examination