In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Philosophy of Cognitive Science

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Textbooks
  • Reference Works
  • Anthologies
  • Philosophy of Neuroscience
  • Theory of Content
  • Mental Imagery
  • Innateness
  • Simulation Versus “Theory” Theory

Philosophy Philosophy of Cognitive Science
Peter Mandik
  • LAST REVIEWED: 12 January 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 June 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0019


Cognitive science is an interdisciplinary study of the mind loosely united by the idea that the mind is a computer. Philosophy is one of the main contributing disciplines (along with psychology, neuroscience, linguistics, and computer science), and many of its contributions concern the conceptual foundations of the separate disciplines (e.g., psychology and artificial intelligence), explorations of the relations between the disciplines (e.g., is psychology reducible to neuroscience?), and examinations of core uniting ideas (e.g., how best can we understand the idea that the mind is a computer?). Much contemporary philosophy of cognitive science overlaps with contemporary philosophy of mind. The present work tries as much as possible to focus on work peculiar to the philosophy of cognitive science, but the reader is advised to see pertinent work discussed in other Oxford Bibliographies Online articles, especially Metaphysics of Mind and Consciousness.

General Overviews

The works presented here address the philosophy of cognitive science considered as a whole. Two sorts of general overviews are represented. The first takes on, as a philosophical project, the problem of how best to view the enterprise of cognitive science (an enterprise to which philosophy may contribute). Overviews of the first sort include Bechtel 2010, Davies 2005, Dennett 2009, and von Eckardt 1993. Dennett 2009 is the shortest, and von Eckardt 1993 is the lengthiest. Dennett 2009 is perhaps too brief to serve as a solid overview, but the author is such a major player in the field that this piece merits attention. Bechtel 2010 is the next in order of brevity and surpasses Dennett 2009 in terms of use as an overview. The second sort of general overview is more descriptive than prescriptive and details the main kinds of philosophical contributions that have been made under the heading “philosophy of cognitive science.” Overviews of the second sort include Andler 2009, Grush 2002, and Thagard 2008. Grush 2002 is the best of these three. The Andler 2009 approach is a bit idiosyncratic, and the treatment is longer than that in Grush 2002. The aim of Thagard 2008 is more to supply an overview of cognitive science than the philosophy thereof. However, the intended audience of Thagard 2008 is philosophical, and thus the work serves as a useful overview to the philosophy of cognitive science.

  • Andler, D. “Philosophy of Cognitive Science.” In French Studies in the Philosophy of Science. Edited by A. Brenner and J. Gayon, 255–302. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer, 2009.

    A slightly idiosyncratic essay and not as brief as other overviews listed in this section.

  • Bechtel, W. “How Can Philosophy Be a True Cognitive Science Discipline?” Topics in Cognitive Science 2 (2010): 357–366.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1756-8765.2010.01088.x

    Spells out an answer to the titular question by focusing on philosophical contributions to the understanding of the mind-body problem, representation, and explanation.

  • Davies, M. “An Approach to Philosophy of Cognitive Science.” In The Oxford Handbook of Contemporary Philosophy. Edited by F. Jackson and M. Smith, 358–394. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.

    Wide-ranging in the topics covered and deep in their treatment. Perhaps not terribly accessible, however, to novices. Davies gives a subtle and complex overview of the relation of the classical approach to cognitive science to key areas of interest in philosophy.

  • Dennett, D. “The Part of Cognitive Science That Is Philosophy.” Topics in Cognitive Science 1 (2009): 231–236.

    Very brief, focusing on the question of what philosophy can contribute to cognitive science. Dennett’s emphasis here, as in his other works, is highly deferential to the natural sciences. Worthwhile primarily because it is written by one of the giants of cognitive science philosophy.

  • Grush, R. “Cognitive Science.” In Blackwell Guide to the Philosophy of Science. Edited by P. Machamer and M. Silberstein, 272–289. Oxford: Blackwell, 2002.

    The best of the overviews in this section, covering most of the main relevant topics in a concise and accessible way. The main areas covered here are cognitive architecture, theories of content, and the embodied/dynamic counterrevolution.

  • Thagard, P. “Cognitive Science.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by E. Zalta, 2008.

    An introduction to cognitive science for a philosophical audience. Useful, nonetheless, for what it has to say about the philosophy of cognitive science.

  • von Eckardt, B. What Is Cognitive Science? Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1993.

    Book-length treatment of the titular question, offering an answer that is highly focused on the notion of mental representation.

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