Jonathan Waskan


Jonathan Waskan

  • Visiting Fellow, Department of Philosophy, Western University

Department of Philosophy

Western University

Stevenson Hall

London, Ontario, Canada N6A 5B8

Tel: (519) 661-2111 x87747

Fax: (519) 661-3922

Research Area:
  • Philosophy of Cognitive Science
  • Philosophy of Mind
  • Philosophy of Science

Jonathan Waskan is a philosopher and a cognitive scientist. Much of his research is aimed at showing that a deeper understanding of scientific explanation will enable philosophers of mind to answer thorny questions about consciousness, artificial intelligence, and so-called folk psychology. His current research centers on the ways in which scientists’ own cognitive processes shape their search for scientific explanations. Jonathan has written on topics ranging from artificial neural networks to political legitimacy. He has offered a solution to the notorious frame problem of artificial intelligence, proposed an explanation for spatial consciousness, argued that brains can implement the neural equivalent of scale models, and suggested that explanation requires the construction of these models. He is founder and director of the nascent Psychology of Philosophy Lab at the University of Illinois. He is particularly obsessed at the moment with determining experimentally whether or not layfolk or scientists tacitly believe that explanations must render happenings intelligible (and, if so, to whom). He is working on a new book, Intelligible Happenings, in which he shows that Anglophone philosophy must, in its study of explanations and elsewhere, reach a deeper understanding of what its own methods are fit to show and how.


Jonathan’s research explores the psychological underpinnings not just for explanations, but for philosophical intuitions about explanations as well. He recently received research board approval (and is seeking external funding) for an experimental study of whether or not scientists consider accuracy, a capacity to provide intelligibility, or communicative intent to be essential in order for a description to constitute a genuine explanation for a happening.

His current manuscript-writing project  is motivated by the conviction that philosophy, in its investigation of explanations and other topics, must integrate with the rest of human inquiry and reach an understanding of what its own methods are fit to show and why. Many philosophers who study explanation have, since the field’s mid-20th century inception, denied the relevance to their inquiries of scientific (viz., psychological) evidence. Instead, the field has advanced largely through appeals to real and hypothetical cases of explanation and non-explanation. For instance, one famous pair of hypothetical cases involves, first, an inference to the length of a flagpole’s shadow based upon the position of the sun and the height of the flagpole and, second, an inference to the position of the sun based upon the shadow’s length and the pole’s height. Much import has been attached, in particular, to the putative fact (a bit of philosophical evidence) that only the first constitutes an explanation.

His new manuscript, Intelligible Happenings, will refute the major arguments that the philosophical investigation of explanations is autonomous. It will show how various other forms of inquiry bear on central philosophical questions about the distinctively human ability to formulate, use, convey, and evaluate explanations. Lastly, it will supply an interdisciplinary framework for interpreting philosophical findings and methods. The point is not just to bring outside research to bear on philosophy, but to make philosophical findings and methods comprehensible and salient to those working in other fields. Intelligible Happenings should thus be of interest to all those who seek insight into what makes for a genuine and plausible explanation, either generally or within some specific field of study.



Waskan J. Models and Cognition: Prediction and Explanation in Everyday Life and in Science. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2006.

Kolak D, Hirstein W, Mandik P, Waskan J. Cognitive Science: An Introduction to the Mind and Brain. NY: Routledge, 2006.


Waskan J. Mechanistic explanation at the limit. Synthese (in press).

Waskan J. A vehicular theory of corporeal qualia (A gift to computationalists). Philosophical Studies 2010; 152: 103-125.

Waskan J. Knowledge of counterfactual interventions through cognitive models of mechanisms. International Studies in Philosophy of Science 2008; 22: 259-275.

Waskan J. Folk psychology and the gauntlet of irrealism. Southern Journal of Philosophy 2003; 41: 627-655.

Waskan J. Intrinsic cognitive models. Cognitive Science 2003; 27: 259-283.

Waskan J. A critique of connectionist semantics. Connection Science 2001; 13: 277-292.

Waskan J. Kant’s epistemic and defining criteria of truth. International Studies in Philosophy 2000; 32: 107-121.

Waskan J. De facto legitimacy and popular will. Social Theory and Practice 2008; 24: 25-56.

Waskan J, Bechtel W. The scope of cognitive science: A critical notice of Paul Thagard’s Introduction to cognitive science. Canadian Journal of Philosophy 1998; 28: 587-608.

Waskan J, Bechtel W. Directions in connectionist research: Tractable computations without syntactically structured representations. Metaphilosophy 2007; 28: 31-62.

Book Chapters:

Waskan J. Applications of an implementation story for non-sentential models. In:  Magnani L, Carnielli W, and Pizzi C (eds.). Model-Based Reasoning in Science and Technology. Berlin: Springer, 2010: 463-476.

Invited Talks:

Intelligibility and the CAPE: Illinois State University, March 2011; Les Mechaniciens: Salon des Refuses, April 9, 2011 at University of Pittsburgh; University of Illinois, April 15, 2011.

Modeling Interventionist Counterfactuals: Society for the Metaphysics of Science, April 2007; Western Michigan University, April 2007.

The Cognitive Science Behind the Philosophy of Science: Washington University PNP WIPS Seminar, March 2003.

How the Brain Foretells the Future: The Imagery Debate Resolved: UIUC Neuroscience Program Seminar, February 2003.

Problems for Non-Sentential Models of Scientific Explanation: UIUC Psychology Brown-Bag Seminar on Models in Psychology. December 2002.

Minds are In, and Contents – which Explain but do not Cause – are Out: CUNY Cognitive Science Symposium, November 2002.

The Role of Representations in Psychological Explanations: Past and Present: ANN and Comp. Brain Theory Seminar, Beckman Institute, September 2002.

ICMs: A New Alternative to the LOT Hypothesis: Department of Philosophy, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, February 2002.

Why Folk Psychology Needn’t Face the Gauntlet of Irrealism: Philosophy Department of William Paterson University, November 2000.

Virtual Forethought: Philosophy Department of William Paterson University, April 2000; Philosophy Department of California State University at Long Beach, March 2000; Philosophy Department of Ohio University, February 2000.

Kantian Compatibilism: Philosophy Department at William Paterson University, April 2000.

How to Make Models out of Lego Blocks, Clay, Neurons, and Sentences: PNP Colloquium, Washington University in Saint Louis, February 1999.

Conference Presentations:

In Search of a Non-Counterfactual Foundation for Mechanistic Explanation: Pacific Division Meeting of the American Philosophical Association, April 2010.

Applications of an Implementation Story for Non-Sentential Models: Model-Based Reasoning in Science and Technology, December 2009 (Campinas, BR).

A Vehicular Account of Experiences of Spatial, Kinematic, and Dynamic Properties: North American Conference on Computing and Philosophy: Limits of Computation, July 2008.

Representations, Intentionality, and the Chinese Room Argument: Illinois Philosophical Association, November 2006.

Intrinsic Computational Models and the Experience of Physical Properties (Poster Presentation): The Society for Philosophy and Psychology, June 2006.

Intrinsic Computational Models and the Experience of Physical Properties: The British Society for the Philosophy of Science Annual Conference, July 2006.

A Virtual Solution to the Frame Problem: First IEEE-RAS Conference on Humanoid Robots, September 2000.

Justifying the Folk Ontology without Predicting or Explaining Everyday Human Behavior: Southern Society for Philosophy and Psychology, April 1999.

Non-Propositional Representation and Mechanistic Justificatory Inference: Eastern Division Meeting of the American Philosophical Association, December 1997.





Introduction to Philosophy (101), SP03 – Discovery Course

Logic and Reasoning (103), SP04, SP05, SP06, FA06, SP09, FA09, FA10, SP11

Introduction to Political Philosophy (107), FA06, SP07, FA08, SP10

Introduction to Philosophy (110), FA00* (2 sec.), SP01*, FA01*, SP02 (2 sec.)*

Introduction to Philosophy (110), FA01*– ­Humanities Cluster w/Anth. & Eng. Lit.

Honors Cognitive Science (CGSI 200), SP02*

Early Modern Philosophy (206), SP07 17th/18th-Century Philosophers (217), FA00*

Political Philosophy (222), FA01*

Critical Thinking and Scientific Method (228), SP01*– Online Course

Philosophy of Science (270), FA03

Philosophy and the Mind Sciences (280), FA02

Honors Seminar on the Enlightenment (HUMH 301), SP02*

Philosophy and Artificial Intelligence (380), FA05

Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason (404), SP01*

Recent Anglo-American Philosophy (416), SP09

Philosophy of Mind, (325) SP04, (425) FA05, FA10

Philosophy of Psychology, (PHIL/PSYCH 377) SP03; (PHIL/PSYCH 477) SP05, SP07, FA08, SP10, SP11

Seminar in the Philosophy of Mind: The Cognitive Basis of Science (425), FA03

Seminar in the Philosophy of Science: Theories of X (519), FA09

* Courses taught at William Paterson University