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In their attempt to understand the structure of cognitive science, philosophers of mind often give pride of place to what they take to be an ontologically distinctive level of reality, the so-called personal level. The typical product of such an effort consists of the following claims: (a) humans have introspective, commonsense-based, or a priori access to facts about personal-level states, capacities, or abilities; (b) those facts are the explananda of cognitive science, that is, the relatively fixed targets that cognitive-scientific modeling and theorizing must account for; and (c) cognitive science fulfills its goals by identifying the subpersonal ways in which the personal-level states, capacities, or abilities in question are realized, implemented, enabled, or made intelligible. In this talk, I argue that the collection (a), (b), and (c) constitutes a deeply misguided philosophy of cognitive science. Cognitive science’s explananda are, in the first instance, sets of replicable data, and the general trend in cognitive science is to model these data without appeal to personal-level states or capacities. To the extent that cognitive science reveals anything about the personal level, it would appear, at present, to be that it does not exist (or, to focus instead on explanation, it appears that cognitive science assigns no privileged role to a distinctively personal, as opposed to a subpersonal, style of explanation). We should thus conceive of human psychology as “flattened from above,” best represented by models that (i) locate most of the states or properties typically thought to appear only at the personal level amongst the mess of processes normally characterized as subpersonal, and that (ii) fail to include (thus apparently eliminating) the remaining such states and properties.


Robert Rupert (Ph.D., U. of Illinois at Chicago, 1996) works in the philosophy of mind, the philosophical foundations of cognitive science, and in related areas of philosophy of science, metaphysics, epistemology, and philosophy of language. His research focuses particularly on mental representation, concept acquisition, mental causation, cognitive architecture, situated cognition, group cognition, natural laws, and properties. Rob has been awarded a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship for College Teachers as well as an NEH summer research stipend. He has won a CU Provost’s Faculty Achievement Award and a Kayden Book award, is a fellow of the Institute of Cognitive Science at CU-Boulder, and is a member of CU-Boulder’s Committee for the History and Philosophy of Science. He has held visiting research positions at the University of Edinburgh, the Australian National University, and the Ruhr-Universität, Bochum. He serves as an Associate Editor for the British Journal for the Philosophy of Science.

Learn more about Robert Rupert.


Image credit: Form and Function by Raul Lieberwirth (Creative Commons license)

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