Philosophy of Mind: all-female syllabus

Welcome to my all-female syllabus for teaching undergraduate philosophy of mind. 

I created this syllabus largely to show that it can be done, and to create a resource for other philosophers looking to add female authors to their syllabi. (I did not create this syllabus in an attempt to rid the philosophical world of men.)  I was also inspired by finding this personal ad on Google.

I'm very happy for people to use (any part of) this syllabus on its own or to supplement an existing syllabus. 
All the readings can be found in my Dropbox file here
This is very much a work-in-progress: please email me with comments and suggestions.

Description of course

Unit 1: Introduction

There are two core problems in philosophy of mind: the problem of consciousness and the problem of intentionality. Each poses a distinct version of the mind-body problem: how do our mental states relate to the physical world of brains and bodies?

Units 2-4: Consciousness

The problem of consciousness concerns how to account for the first-person subjective nature of our conscious experience within a third-person objective approach to science. People who think this problem is solvable (people who think that consciousness is part of the physical world) are physicalists. People who deny that the problem is solvable are non-physicalists. We will explore the arguments for and against physicalism, and whether there is something uniquely difficult about explaining consciousness.


Units 5-7: Intentionality

The problem of intentionality concerns the ‘aboutness’ of thoughts: our beliefs, desires and so on seem to cause our behaviour in virtue of what they’re about, or their ‘intentional content’.  But what is intentional content, and how can it play a causal role? We will explore some of the ways to understand how physical mechanisms could be bearers of content, and what the nature of that content is.


Units 8-9 Consciousness and Intentionality

Consciousness and intentionality are often considered as independent problems for philosophy of mind, and studied separately. Some recent work in philosophy of mind, however, proposes that consciousness and intentionality are not as independent as might be thought. Some philosophers suggest that our conscious perceptual experiences are dependent on intentional content, and some philosophers suggest that our intentional mental states are dependent on conscious experience. We will explore the nature of these dependency claims and their viability.

Unit 10 Wrap-up




Unit 1    Mental states    

What are mental states? Can a mental state also be a physical state? What makes a state (e.g. a state of the brain) a mental state? How can mental states cause behavior? Philosophers distinguish between two aspects of mental states: their consciousness and their intentionality. Is either of these a ‘mark of the mental’? How do they relate to the mind-body problem?

          Background reading:               

Anthony, Louise (2009). The mental and the physical. In Robin Le Poidevin (ed.), The Routledge Companion to Metaphysics. Routledge. 555-567. Especially pp. 555-559

McWeeny, Jen (2011). Princess Elisabeth and the mind-body problem. In Michael Bruce & Steven Barbone (eds.), Just the Arguments: 100 of the Most Important Arguments in Western Philosophy. Wiley-Blackwell 297-300.

Further reading:

Bennett, Karen (2007). Mental Causation. Philosophy Compass 2 (2):316-337. Esp. Section 1,2, and 5

Montero, Barbara (1999). The body problem. Noûs 33 (2):183-200. Especially pp.183-188


Unit 2    Introduction to consciousness   

We use the term ‘consciousness’ in lots of different ways. The notion of particular interest to philosophers is phenomenal consciousness: the subjective experience that we undergo in sensory and emotional states, for example. Philosophers often say there is ‘something it is like’ to be in a phenomenally conscious state.

Background reading:

Blackmore, Susan J. (2003). What is it like to be...? In Consciousness: An Introduction. Oxford University Press.

Drayson, Zoe (2015).  The Philosophy of Phenomenal Consciousness, in S. Miller (ed.), The Constitution of Phenomenal Consciousness, Amsterdam: John Benjamins; pp.273-292

Kind, Amy (2011). Nagel's ‘What is it like to be a bat?’ argument against physicalism. In Michael Bruce & Steven Barbone (eds.), Just the Arguments: 100 of the Most Important Arguments in Western Philosophy. Wiley-Blackwell

         Further reading:

Akins, Kathleen (1993). A bat without qualities? In Martin Davies & Glyn W. Humphreys (eds.), Consciousness: Psychological and Philosophical Essays. Blackwell 345--358.

Wilkes, Kathleen V. (1984). Is consciousness important? British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 35 (September):223-43.


Unit 3    Is consciousness physical?         

The ‘knowledge argument’ against physicalism involves a thought experiment concerning Mary, the color scientist who grows up in a black and white room. More recently, arguments against physicalism have appealed to the idea of the philosophical ‘zombie’: a creature that is physically identical to us but who lacks phenomenal consciousness.

        Background reading:

        Gertler, Brie (2005). The Knowledge Argument. In The Encyclopedia of Philosophy. MacMillan

        Kind, Amy (2011). Chalmers' zombie argument. In Michael Bruce & Steven Barbone (eds.), Just the Arguments: 100 of the Most Important Arguments in Western Philosophy. Wiley-Blackwell

        Bennett, Karen (online) Why I Am Not A Dualist

        Further reading:

        Levin, Janet (1986). Could love be like a heatwave? Physicalism and the subjective character of experience. Philosophical Studies 49 (March):245-61.

        Balog, Katalin (1999). Conceivability, possibility, and the mind-body problem. Philosophical Review 108 (4):497-528.

Unit 4    The explanatory gap and the hard problem        

Any attempt to explain consciousness in physical terms seems to leave open the question of why the physical factors produce subjective experience. This is known and the ‘explanatory gap’, and different ways on answering the question correspond to different attitudes to physicalism about consciousness.

       Background reading:

Brogaard, Berit (2015). The Status of Consciousness in Nature. In Steven Miller (ed.), The Constitution of Consciousness, Volume 2. John Benjamins Publishing Company. Especially Sections 1-3.

Churchland, Patricia S. (1996). The hornswoggle problem. Journal of Consciousness Studies 3 (5-6):402-8.

      Further reading:

      Taylor, Elanor (2016). Explanation and the Explanatory Gap. Acta Analytica 31 (1):77-88.

      Irvine, Elizabeth (2014). Explaining What? Topoi:1-12.


Unit 5    Intentionality and the natural world     

What is intentionality? Could brain states have it? What does it mean to ‘naturalise’ intentionality? How can intentional states be causal states?

       Background reading:

Antony, Louise (2009). Thinking. In Brian McLaughlin, Ansgar Beckermann & Sven Walter (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Mind. OUP Oxford

Von Eckardt, Barbara (2012). The representational theory of mind. In Keith Frankish & William Ramsey (eds.), The Cambridge Handbook of Cognitive Science. Cambridge University Press

       Further reading:

Millikan, Ruth G. (2000). Naturalizing intentionality. In Bernard Elevitch (ed.), The Proceedings of the Twentieth World Congress of Philosophy. Philosophy Documentation Center 83-90.

Boden, Margaret A. (1970). Intentionality and physical systems. Philosophy of Science 32 (June):200-214.

Unit 6    Naturalistic theories of content             

Naturalising intentionality requires an account of content determination that explains semantic properties (meaning, truth, etc.) in terms of scientifically reputable relations such as causation or biological function.

       Background reading:

Baker, Lynne Rudder (1989). On a causal theory of content. Philosophical Perspectives 3:165-186.

Neander, Karen (2007). Teleological Theories of Mental Content: Can Darwin Solve the Problem of Intentionality? In Michael Ruse (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Biology. Oxford University Press. Especially first 13 pages.

      Further reading:

Kukla, Rebecca (1992). Cognitive models and representation. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 43 (2):219-32.

Mendelovici, Angela (2013). Reliable misrepresentation and tracking theories of mental representation. Philosophical Studies 165 (2):421-443.

Unit 7    Externalism about content        

Since the late twentieth century, philosophers have been considering the possibility that the content of our intentional mental states might not be wholly determined by what is internal to the individual. Instead, content might depend on external or environmental factors. This raises interesting questions about the role of content in mental causation and our access to our own mental contents.

      Background reading:

Egan, Frances (2009). Wide Content. In A. Beckerman, B. McLaughlin & S. Walter (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Mind. OUP

Wikforss, Åsa (2007). Semantic Externalism and Psychological Externalism. Philosophy Compass 3 (1):158-181.

       Further reading:

Macdonald, Cynthia (1995). Externalism and First-Person Authority. Synthese 104 (1):99-122.

Patterson, Sarah (1990). The explanatory role of belief ascriptions. Philosophical Studies 59 (3):313-32.


Unit 8    Does consciousness depend on intentionality?              

What is the relation between consciousness and intentionality? Some philosophers have suggested that the phenomenally conscious properties of (particularly our perceptual) experiences depend to some extent on the intentional or representational properties of those states. 

       Background reading:

Kind, A. (2010), Transparency and Representationalist Theories of Consciousness. Philosophy Compass, 5: 902–913

Pacherie, Elisabeth (1999). Qualia and representations. In Denis Fisette (ed.), Consciousness and Intentionality: Models and Modalities of Attribution. Springer 119--144. Especially first ten pages

       Further reading:

Macpherson, Fiona (2006). Ambiguous figures and the content of experience. Noûs 40 (1):82-117.

Raffman, Diana (2008). From the Looks of Things: The Explanatory Failure of Representationalism. In Edmond L. Wright (ed.), The Case for Qualia. MIT Press 325.

Unit 9    Does intentionality depend on consciousness?

A different way to think about the relation between consciousness and intentionality is to suggest that the intentional properties of a mental state depend upon its conscious properties. This idea has been developed as the ‘phenomenal intentionality’ program and is also involved in discussions of cognitive phenomenology.

       Background reading

       Montague, Michelle (2010). Recent Work on Intentionality. Analysis 70 (4):765-782.

Gertler, Brie (2001). The relationship between phenomenality and intentionality. Psyche 7 (17).

       Further reading

Montague, Michelle (forthcoming). The Life of the Mind, in P. Coates and S. Coleman (eds) Phenomenal Qualities: Sense, Perception, and Consciousness. Oxford: OUP

Spener, Maja (2011). Disagreement about cognitive phenomenology. In Tim Bayne and Michelle Montague (ed.), Cognitive Phenomenology. Oxford University Press 268.

Unit 10                 Wrap-up            

Discussion of issues raised throughout the course