2008 Colloquium Abstracts

William Casebeer

Lieutenant Colonel, United States Air Force, Chief of Eurasian Intelligence Analysis, NATO Military Headquarters "Whither Naturalized Ethics? Towards the Integration of Evolution, Ethics, and Cognitive Neuroscience"

Attempts to integrate moral theory with insights from the natural sciences-especially the sciences of life and mind-have been problematic, owing in large part to the naturalistic fallacy. However, the naturalistic fallacy has all too often served as an illegitimate impediment to serious attempts to seek consilience between normative ethics, evolution, and the cognitive neurosciences. Here, I briefly sketch one path across the divide between nature and norms. It is not an eliminativist path (the natural sciences show us that norms are illusory), nor is it a radical realism (insofar as that means moral norms exist independent of the critters which are subject to them). Instead, an Aristotelian functional ethic offers a pragmatic perspective on moral norms. I conclude by suggesting that, eliminativist leanings aside, this position closely resembles that of Paul and Patricia Churchland, providing critically needed insight into how it is that the study of norms can become part of a thorough methodological naturalism.

Patricia Churchland

University of California President's Professor of Philosophy, University of California, San Diego; Adjunct Professor, Salk Institute

"Neurophilosophy: Early Days and New Directions"

In 1986, functionalism was still in its heydey, and many philosophers used its platform to deem neuroscience to be irrelevant to their projects. Nevertheless, as neuroscience has developed over the last three decades, insights concerning decision-making, perception, awareness, as well as learning and memory have increased the impact of neuroscience on philosophical problems, if not on philosophy itself. The convergence of a range of sciences on the nature of social behavior, well-envisioned by William Casebeer, means that even ethics is now a problem-domain where science has much to teach us.


Paul Churchland

Valtz Chair of Philosophy and Cognitive Science, University of California, San Diego

"On the Genesis of Conceptual Frameworks: The Hebbian Learning of Causal Processes"

Artificial neural networks, using supervised learning and artificial learning algorithms, have shown themselves capable of learning complex conceptual structures, both in Space and in Time. But an adequate theory of how BIOLOGICAL brains manage to generate conceptual representations of Spatial and Temporal structures will require that we address UNsupervised learning, and the natural shaping of synaptic connections by Hebbean processes. This paper outlines how it is possible for Hebbean learning to generate conceptual representations of both Spatial and Temporal Structures of arbitrary complexity. This allows us to propose a naturalistic, non-Humean and preconceptual, account of how minds learn causal processes. The proposed account suggests an explanation for the curious architecture of the brain's primary sensory pathways.

Peggy DesAutels

Associate Professor of Philosophy, University of Dayton

"Implications of Sex Differences for Neuroethics"

The neuroethics "map" to date has ignored an ever-increasing neuroscience literature on sex differences in brains. If, indeed, there are significant differences in the brains of men versus women and in the brains of boys versus girls, the ethical and social implications loom very large. I argue that recent neuroscience findings on sex-based brain differences have significant implications for theories of morality and for our understandings of the neuroscience of moral cognition and behavior.

Pete Mandik

Associate Professor of Philosophy and Cognitive Science, William Paterson University of New Jersey

"Consciousness without Subjectivity"

I argue that, contrary to the intuitions of many philosophers, consciousness is not subjective, where the relevant notion of subjectivity is one whereby one may only know what it's like to see red by seeing red or what it's like to be a bat by being a bat. The subjectivity intuition is dear to dualists who rely on it in the knowledge argument and dear to physicalists who, unimpressed with the knowledge argument, nonetheless believe in so-called phenomenal concepts. I argue that an appropriate understanding of the neural bases of concepts and consciousness reveals that the subjectivity intuition is actually a strong and false empirical claim. Consciousness has a conceptual structure whereby there is no aspect of it inaccessible to conceptual understanding. And our concepts have a holistic structure whereby there are multiple routes to any point in conceptual space.

Adina Roskies

Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Dartmouth College

Jacqueline A. Sullivan

Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Neurobiology, University of Alabama, Birmingham

"Testing the Limits of Neuroepistemology"

Neuroepistemology (sp., P.M. Churchland 2007) has been characterized in recent years as a viable alternative to standard analytic epistemology. Yet, what sort of alternative is it? And, in what sense is it viable? In this talk, I address these questions by comparing the conception of knowledge on offer in neuroepistemology with that of "justified true belief" at the heart of standard accounts of knowledge. I begin by identifying a set of problems that may arise as a result of the neuroepistemologist's substitution of the traditional notions of "belief" and "truth" for "representation" and "representational success," respectively. Then, I take up the issue of epistemic justification. I argue that in so far as neuroepistemology lacks a viable notion of justification, it cannot claim to be about knowledge in any form-propositional or not. Given this conclusion, which I take to be unpalatable for the neuroepistemologist, I consider whether a neuroepistemology that preserves some notion of epistemic justification is feasible, and I sketch the features that a normative neuroepistemology so conceived would have.