CamPoS: Cambridge Philosophy of Science

Philosophy of Psychology and Cognitive Science

The philosophy of psychology and cognitive science addresses questions from the philosophy of mind, such as those to do with consciousness and representation. It also asks questions more specific to the methods and content of psychology, such as those questions about the significance of fMRI results and of computational models of mental processes, and about whether there are laws of psychology.

The philosophy of mind has always been a central part of the Cambridge tradition in philosophy. When the moral sciences degree (Tripos) was founded in the nineteenth century, ‘mental philosophy’ was a core component. In those days ‘mental philosophy’ was not sharply separated from psychology, and it was around this time that James Ward proposed that the University establish a laboratory of psychophysics. The story goes that the proposal was rejected because it would ‘insult religion by putting the soul in a pair of scales’.

For much of the twentieth century, in Cambridge as elsewhere, philosophers of mind tended to avoid the pair of scales. The later work of Wittgenstein had a large influence on the philosophical study of the mind, and one of its effects was to try to distinguish sharply conceptual questions (which were the province of philosophy) from causal questions (the business of psychology). More recently, however, philosophy of mind has moved back closer towards psychology, and these changes are being seen in Cambridge. In this spirit, questions concerning animal cognition, colour perception, consciousness, and the scope and limits of the computational theory of mind are all being addressed here.

Tim Crane
February 2013