The Philosophy and Neuroscience Movement

Andrew Brook and I just completed a paper forthcoming in a special issue on neuroeconomics of Analyse & Kritik.

Link to uncorrected page proofs [here].

ABSTRACT: A movement dedicated to applying neuroscience to traditional philosophical problems and using philosophical methods to illuminate issues in neuroscience began about twenty-five years ago. Results in neuroscience have affected how we see traditional areas of philosophical concern such as perception, belief-formation, and consciousness. There is an interesting interaction between some of the distinctive features of neuroscience and important general issues in the philosophy of science. And recent neuroscience has thrown up a few conceptual issues that philosophers are perhaps best trained to deal with. After sketching the history of the movement, we explore the relationships between neuroscience and philosophy and introduce some of the specific issues that have arisen.

[Update 10/4/2007: There's a nice little write-up of this over at Mind Hacks. Thanks, Vaughn!]

[Update 10/6/2007: And another one over at Neurophilosophy. Thanks, Mo!]

[Update 10/10/2007: Discussion over at MetaFilter.]

[Update 11/9/2007: Discussion over at Conscious Entities]

[Update 11/9/2007: In the month of October, this paper received 2,973 hits. The next highest hit Mandik paper that month was "Action-Oriented Representation" at a mere 136. Yikes!]

9 Responses to “The Philosophy and Neuroscience Movement”

  1. Anibal says:

    I would like to ask you Pete and Mr Brook as well, what are the legitimate areas of research or sub-disciplines within the philosophy and neuroscience movement.

    Since the breakthrough achieved by Churchland calling his paradigm “neurophilosophy” in which the old problems of philosophy(self, knowledge, morality…) are seen in the light of the new wisdom of neuroscience, and Dennett leadership to wander beyond the confines of traditional philosophy; many new neuro-hyphenations are spreading. To mention a few: neuroaesthetics, neuropolitics, neuroarchitecture, neurohermeneutics, neurohistory…

    Which one is here to stay and which one is just a capturing-name or in the best way a weird name? I ask you this because i´m interested in neurohistory of philosophy, specially, the neurohistory of philosophy “of” consciousness, or, how authors from the past anticipate (implicitely or explicitely) many discoveries found by neuroscience later concerning consciousness.

  2. JoKeR says:

    I fully share Anibal’s concerns. We went from little or no neuroscience to total overload - or should I say, ‘neuroverload’?

    In fact I can’t put it better than Geekipedia - see:

  3. Pete Mandik says:

    Hi Anibal,

    My thinking about such questions is very Kuhnian: A discipline’s survival depends largely on offering a methodology that can be applied by a large number of relatively unintelligent (relative, that is, to pioneers like Einstein) that solve a large number of problems recognized as important to the concerns of the pioneers. A lot of new disciplines have pioneers, but no methodologies for followers to come and utilize to churn out results and/or publications.

    Within philosophy, doing metaphysics in a way that utilizes a lot of quantified modal logic fits the above description. It might be too early to tell, though, whether doing philosophy in a way that utilizes a lot of neuroscience fits the above.

  4. Pete Mandik says:


    It ain’t neurover til the fat lady neurosings.

  5. Andrew Brook says:

    Anibal, I’d say that any topic where the discoveries of neuroscience are relevant and where there are interesting concepual issues still open is a legitimate topic for neurophilosophy. Since that includes pretty much everything do with cognition, knowledge, social relations broadly construed, and consciousness, the scope is vast. The volume our paper is heading is on neuroeconomics!

    It was Patricia not Paul Churchland who coined the term ‘neurophilosophy’ (see her 1986 book of the same name), so it is her new paradigm, not his.

    What is here to stay and what is fad? Check back in 50 and in 100 years. I don’t know any other way to know for sure. That said, I share Pete’s general thoughts on the issue.

    Thanks for the interesting comments!


  6. Mo says:

    Fantastic article - I’ve just mentioned it. I need to get in on the movement, or change the name of my blog.

    Anibal - neurohistory is definitely here to stay.

  7. Anibal says:

    Thanks, Pete, Mr. Brook (i really meant to say Patricia sorry for the mistype), Mo, and JokeR (although, i welcome the neurooverload).
    With some corrections and improvements in my english and a lot of hard work i would try to submitte a research statement in neurohisotry of philosophy “of” conciousness to Oxford graduate admisisons.
    Anyone knows which college Patricia attended?

  8. Here’s a thought provokeing one. The psychoactive drugs that ancient cultures use to develope their beliefs would be the same drugs that opened the doors for our understanding of the neurological working of the mind such as when serotonin and dopamine are released and what their effects on human perception as well as mood. Coincident, I think not.