Philosophy and cognitive sciences

Basic Information

Course 2015/2016
Daniel Morgan
Josefa (Pepa) Toribio
Manolo Martínez
Department of Philosophy
Universitat de Barcelona
Module 4. Language and Mind


Thur. 10-13
Room 402, Facultat de Filosofia, UB


What are perceptual experiences? Is the content of perceptual experiences the same kind of content as the content of e.g. beliefs? Does the content of perceptual experiences have the same direction of fit as the content of e.g. beliefs? Which theories of contents warrant content attributions to perceptual experiences? What kind of properties do we represent in visual experiences? Can visual experiences be influenced by other non-perceptive cognitive states? What is the nature of that influence, if there is one? How can belief be justified and knowledge accounted for on the basis of perceptual experiences?

In this course, we will examine central problems in the philosophy of perception and critically assess influential responses to them. We will also examine questions in psychosemantics with the help of the special case of perception. Special emphasis is given to the contribution of cognitive science to the ways in which these problems are framed.  



The course will be taught in English. All material subject to assessment must be written in English. Classes begin on October 8th.


Course Aims and Objectives: The course aims to provide an understanding of some central problems in the study of perception—especially as these problems are framed by the cognitive sciences. 


Readings: Primary class readings are the required readings to be completed before the class they are assigned for. All primary readings will be provided electronically and are listed below. Sometimes, secondary readings will be provided during the course. The instructors will not assume familiarity with these other readings. 


Main Discussant: All students taking the course for credit will be required to act as main discussant at least twice during the course (whether it is compulsory to occupy this role more times will depend on the number of students).

The main discussant is expected to ask one question regarding a particular aspect of one of the required readings for the day. The discussant should aim at the standards operative in the discussion of communications at professional philosophy conferences, or research seminars: their evaluation will depend on how well the target thesis is summarised, how clearly the objection is presented, and how relevant it is. The question should not take more than 2 or 3 minutes to formulate, follow-ups on the question will be allowed (from the main discussant or other attendees) at the discretion of the instructor. No supporting materials (handouts, slides) will be allowed. See ( for more advice on question asking at academic conferences. 


Participation: Apart from the main discussant, all other students are expected to ask questions about the papers and the discussion in class, and meet the same standards as the main discussant. Participation (that meets the standards) will have a very real impact on the final grade.

Everyone should come to the seminar ready to participate. Take notes while you are reading. Write down any aspect of the reading that you find interesting. This would help force you to engage the reading in a serious way so that you’ll be primed to participate actively in the discussion. 


Essay. All students taking the course for credit will have to write a 3.000 word essay on any of the topics of the course, broadly construed: a detailed reply to one of the papers, a paper that connects an item in the syllabus to new empirical work, one that applies tools studied in the course to different philosophical problems, are all valid approaches. See below for a bunch of useful link on how to write a philosophy paper.

Although the essay will be due by the end of the semester, students will be expected to start preparing drafts, and submitting them to the instructors for feedback, as soon as possible. At least one long abstract (~1.000 words) must be submitted for approval and feedback before the last week of the course.


We will follow a no student left behind policy: we will welcome back-and-forth rework of drafts as frequently as the student wishes, and only the final version of the essay will have an impact on the student’s grade. On the other hand, we will grade the final version under the presupposition that the essay has undergone this process of polishing. If a student decides not to take advantage of it, they should expect to meet the same exacting standards. 


Assessment: 20% for in-class activity, 30% for the discussant question(s), 50% for the final essay, which will be due on January 19th by 12 (noon).


Content of the Course


Week 1:   Course overview. Assignment of presentations

Week 2:   Introduction to the Science of Vision

Week 3:   Psychosemantics. The fundamentals

Week 4:   Psychosemantics of perceptual contents

Week 5:   Formal Models of Content

Week 6:   The content of perception. Imperatival aspects

Week 7: The content of perception. The conceptualism vs. nonconceptualism debate

Week 8:   The content of perception. The liberalism vs. conservatism debate

Week 9:   Cognitive Penetration

Week 10: The relational view of perception

Week 11: Perception and knowledge




(Guidelines on evaluation and marking, including a note on originality and plagiarism, are available at evaluation-and-marking). 


- December 3rd: Long abstract of essay to be agreed with the instructor(s).

-January 7th (optional): Last draft, in order to receive feedback by the instructor(s).  

--     January 19th: Final version of the essay.


Deadlines are finalIn particular, no late submissions of the final version of the essay will be accepted.

Please also note that essays more than 10% over the maximum recommended essay length (3000 words, not including footnotes and references) will be penalized.  

Intended Learning Outcomes:

CB6 – Students should be able to critically understand central texts in the philosophy of the cognitive sciences in a way that puts them in a position to develop and apply original ideas. 

CB9 - Students should be able to communicate their knowledge and their arguments to specialized audiences in a clear and articulate way. 

CG2. Students should be able to design, create, develop and undertake new and innovative projects in their area of ​​expertise. 

CG3. Students should be able to engage both in general and specific discussions in the domain of the philosophy of the cognitive sciences. They should be able to conduct a philosophical discussion (orally and in written form), by putting forward, for example, general arguments or specific examples, in support of one’s position. 

CG4. Students should be able to work both independently and in a team, in an international environment. 

CG5. Students should be able to identify methodological errors, rhetorical, conventional and uncritical assumptions, vagueness and superficiality. 

CE1. Students should be able to critically engage with the concepts and methods of contemporary philosophy of the cognitive sciences.

CE2. Students should be able to identify the core arguments and theories of contemporary philosophy of the cognitive sciences.

CE4. Students should be able to assess the writings of leading contemporary philosophers in the field of philosophy and the cognitive sciences.

CE5. Students should be able to identify and critically engage withthe current state of a particular philosophical debate, and form a reasoned view, even if provisional, about it.

CE7. Students should be able to critically use specialized terminology in the field of philosophy of the cognitive sciences.


Week 1 will be dedicated to an overview of the course and organisational matters. We shall proceed to assign main discussant slots. Please do not miss this meeting. 


General Web Resources 

The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: 

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: 

Field Guide to the Philosophy of Mind: 

Philosophy and Cognitive Science. Selected bibliography: 

PhilPapers: Philosophy of Mind:


Useful websites on how to write philosophy papers: 

Writing a Philosophy Paper (Peter Horban): 

Guide to the Study of Philosophy (Garth Kemerling): 

Tips on Writing a Philosophy Paper (Douglas Portmore): 

Guidelines on Writing a Philosophy Paper (James Pryor): 

Avoiding and Detecting Plagiarism (CUNY Guidelines): 


Useful readings collections:

Tim Crane (ed.). The Contents of Experience. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993. [Crane]

A. Noë & E. T. Thompson (eds.). Vision and Mind. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2002. [Noë] 

T. S. Gendler & J. Hawthorne (eds.): Perceptual Experience. Oxford: Oxford University Press. [Gendler] 



Content of the Course

Week 1: Course overview. Assignment of presentations

Week 2: Introduction to the Science of Vision


Frisby, J. and Stone, J. V. (2010), Seeing: The Computational Approach to Biological Vision, 2nd Ed., The MIT Press (Chapter 1)C. L. Hardin (1988) 'Color Perception and Science', in Color for Philosophers, Hackett


Week 3: Psychosemantics. The fundamentals


F. Dretske, chapter 3 from Explaining Behavior (1988)


R. Millikan (2009). Biosemantics. In Brian P. McLaughlin & Ansgar Beckerman (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Mind. Oxford University Press.


Week 4: Psychosemantics of perceptual contents

M. Tye, chapter 3 of Consciousness, Color and Content, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

M. Matthen, chapter 10 of Seeing, Doing, and Knowing: A Philosophical Theory of Sense Perception. OUP

Week 5: Formal Models of Content

B. Skyrms, chapter 3 of Signals: Evolution, Learning, and Information, Oxford University Press 2010.

Egan, A., (2006). “Appearance Properties?” Noûs , 40 (3): 495–521.

Week 6: The content of perception. Imperatival aspects


S. Siegel (2014). “Affordances and the Contents of Perception”, forthcoming in Does Perception Have Content? Ed. B.Grogaard, OUP.


M. Martínez (2011). “Disgusting Smells and Imperativism”, Journal of Consciousness Studies 22(5-6):191-200


Week 7: The content of perception. The conceptualism vs. nonconceptualism debate


J. McDowell (2009). “Avoiding the Myth of the Given”. In John McDowell: Experience, Norm, and Nature (ed. J. Lindgaard), Blackwell Publishing Ltd., Oxford, UK. doi: 10.1002/9781444306736. Chapter 1.


C. Peacocke, (2001) “Does perception have a nonconceptual content?” Journal of Philosophy 98: 239-64.


Background reading


J. Toribio (2007). ‘Nonconceptual Content’. Philosophy Compass 2/3: 445–460.


Week 8: The content of perception. The liberalism vs. conservatism debate

Susanna Siegel, “Which properties are represented in perception?” In Tamar S. Gendler & John Hawthorne (eds.), Perceptual Experience. Oxford University Press 481--503 (2006)

B. Nanay, (2011) “Do we see apples as edible?” Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 92: 305–322.

Further bibliography on the topic can be found here:

Week 9: Cognitive Penetration


Pylyshyn, Z. (1999). Is vision continuous with cognition? The case for cognitive impenetrability of visual perception. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 22: 341–365.


F. Macpherson (2012) “Cognitive Penetration of Colour Experience: Rethinking the Issue in Light of an Indirect Mechanism”. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 84(1): 24-62.


J. Zeimbekis (2013) “Color and cognitive penetrability”, Philosophical Studies 165: 167–175.


Week 10: The relational view of perception


J. Campbell ‘The relational view of experience’, chapter 6 in Reference and Consciousness 2002 (OUP).


B. Brewer (2006). ‘Perception and content’, European Journal of Philosophy 14 (2): 165-181.


Week 11: Perception and knowledge


J. Pryor (2000). ‘The skeptic and the dogmatist’, Noûs, 34 (4): 517-549


R. White (2006). ‘Problems for dogmatism’ Phil Studies 13: 525-57.