In many respects human minds seem remarkably different from the minds of even our closest animal relatives. This seminar will examine some proposed explanations. For example: that humans are unique in possessing linguistic abilities, that they are unique in their mindreading abilities, that they are unique in their capacity for cumulative cultural learning, and others. Special attention will be paid to an idea endorsed by many philosophers, which is that humans are unique in possessing a set of “inferentially promiscuous” propositional attitudes, which can interact with one another and with a variety of inferential and decision-making systems within a central cognitive workspace, resulting in our distinctive cognitive flexibility. This idea will be subjected to sustained critique, drawing on recent work in cognitive science on the nature of working memory.
Readings will involve a number of papers and chapters each week, drawn from both philosophy and cognitive science, and including some of the instructor’s own recent pieces. Participants will be expected to make at least one class presentation, and to write an extended term paper.