Philosophy of Mind

Instructor: Jonathan Cohen ( (omit text in caps, which reduces automated spam))
office: (732) 445 6163
home: (718) 499 1213
Office hours: Tuesday, 12:30 to 2:00, in Psychology A132, on Busch Campus.


The philosophy of mind is that area of philosophy connected with questions about mind, its nature, its operation, and its connections with the rest of the universe. Classical problems in the area involve the relationship between the mind and the body, paradoxes concerning personal identity, and questions about the existence and nature of free will. Philosophy of mind has deep connections not only with philosophical research in metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of language, philosophy of science, ethics, and the like, but also (and increasingly) with work outside philosophy -- in linguistics, artificial intelligence, and psychology, to name a few important examples.

This course is designed as a survey of some of the most important contemporary literature in philosophy of mind (although there will be some historical readings early in the course). The course is divided into four segments. In the first, we'll focus on traditional ontological questions regarding the relationship between the mind and the body. This segment is organized as an (unfairly) whiggish progression, designed to show how each successive view emerges from its predecessors. The other three segments of the course cover what have sometimes been thought of as the big three questions in contemporary philosophy of mind: thinking, intentionality, and consciousness. The problem of thinking is the problem of explaining how there can be rational transitions between mental states (e.g., why, if you believe that hamburgers taste good and beer tastes good, do you also believe that beer tastes good?). The problem of intentionality involves explaining the relation of "aboutness" apparently holding between certain of our mental states and certain non-mental things in the word: your thought, for example, might be a thought about a beer; in contrast, it seems that most things other than mental states (glasses of beer, for example) are not about anything. The problems of consciousness include issues about qualia (what is the nature of the painful sensation produced by slamming your hand in a car door?), and the completability of physical theory (can phenomena of consciousness be accounted for within a physicalist ontology?).

I hope that, by presenting some of the major questions and considering some of the proposed programs in the field, I can introduce you to the issues and whet your philosophical appetites.

Required Coursework and Grading

You are responsible for handing in weekly assignments on the reading and also two short papers:

There will be no final exam or midterm for the course.

I shall assign grades based on the following breakdown:
20% short weekly assignments
40% short paper #1
40% short paper #2

Reading List

[Useful background reading: Entry on philosophy of mind in Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy.]

  1. Ontology of Mind

  2. Thinking

  3. Intentionality

  4. Consciousness