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

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Neuroscience Textbooks
  • Mechanisms
  • Psychoneural Reduction
  • Experiments: Neurobiology
  • Experiments: Cognitive and Systems Neuroscience
  • Representation
  • Neural Computation
  • Neurocognitive Architecture
  • Neuroscience of Sensation and Perception
  • Neuroscience of Consciousness
  • Neuroethics and Neurolaw

Philosophy Philosophy of Neuroscience
John Bickle, Gualtiero Piccinini
  • LAST REVIEWED: 15 December 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 February 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0399


Contemporary neuroscience is transforming how we know and understand ourselves in the world. Neuroscientists scan human brains to infer what individual persons, and interacting groups of people, are thinking and feeling. They use laser light and designer gene technologies to turn on and off specific circuits in behaving animals. Neuroengineers develop prostheses that can replace damaged neural structures. Philosophers have been taking notice of these developments and sometimes contributing to them. The philosophy of neuroscience investigates foundational questions across this interdisciplinary field and explores their relevance to long-standing philosophical disputes. Such questions cover norms of experimental methods, the nature of neuroscientific explanation, the nature of and relations among levels of theory, phenomena, and mechanisms, whether mind reduces to brain, whether neural states are representations, whether neural processes are computations, and the neural basis of consciousness. The philosophy of neuroscience overlaps so-called neurophilosophy, which is the appeal to neuroscientific results to address traditionally philosophical questions. By most accounts, the topics in this bibliography may be classified as either philosophy of neuroscience or neurophilosophy, depending on terminological preferences. According to Google Ngram Viewer, usage of the term “neurophilosophy” peaked in 2001 and then declined in favor of the term “philosophy of neuroscience.”

General Overviews

Although philosophers had previously dabbled in neuroscience, the publication of Churchland 1986 marks a useful start date for the philosophy of neuroscience. Churchland 1995 brings resources from “connectionist” neural networks to bear on general issues in philosophy of mind and science, as well on social and political concerns. Bechtel, et al. 2001 is the first reader for the field, combing classical and contemporary sources. Brook and Akins 2005 updates the field with new work; many of the chapters are written by philosophers funded by Akins’s McDonnell Project in Neuroscience and Philosophy, which provided opportunities for philosophers to train with neuroscientist mentors. Bickle 2009 provides a “snapshot” of the field after its first two decades and speculates where it is foreseeably headed, with chapters written by most of the field’s initial contributors. Kaplan 2018 focuses primarily on the relationship between psychology and neuroscience, mostly from perspectives informed by “new mechanist” accounts of explanation and “interventionist” accounts of causation. Bickle, et al. 2019 is an overview of the field’s landmark results; it has been updated periodically over the field’s three decades of development. Gold and Roskies 2008 provides a similar overview with different emphases and usefully locates the philosophy of neuroscience within the philosophy of biology more generally.

  • Bechtel, William, Pete Mandik, Jennifer Mundale, and Robert S. Stufflebeam, eds. Philosophy and the Neurosciences: A Reader. Oxford: Blackwell, 2001.

    A collection of readings from philosophy and the neurosciences, both classic and contemporary, on various topics that defined the first decade of philosophy of neuroscience. Edited by a faculty member and early PhD recipients of the Philosophy-Neuroscience-Psychology Program at Washington University in St. Louis.

  • Bickle, John, ed. The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy and Neuroscience. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.

    A “snapshot” of the field at roughly its quarter-century mark, with individual chapters written by most of the philosophers (and a number of neuroscientists) whose work defined the field’s initial development.

  • Bickle, John, Pete Mandik, and Anthony Landreth. “Philosophy of Neuroscience.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2019.

    Online, occasionally updated coverage of the main topics and landmark results that have defined the philosophy of neuroscience for more than three decades.

  • Brook, Andrew, and Kathleen Akins, eds. Cognition and the Brain: The Philosophy and Neuroscience Movement. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

    Collection of essays intended to update the philosophy of neuroscience, mainly written by philosophers funded by Akins’s McDonnell Project in Neuroscience and Philosophy.

  • Churchland, Paul M. The Engine of Reason, the Seat of the Soul: A Philosophical Journey into the Brain. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1995.

    Application of the vector phase-space model derived from “connectionist” neural network research to a variety of issues in the philosophy of mind, philosophy of science, and even moral, social, and political philosophy.

  • Churchland, Patricia Smith. Neurophilosophy: Toward a Unified Science of the Mind-Brain. Cambridge. MA: MIT Press, 1986.

    This book serves as a useful starting point for the field. Topics include rudiments of neuroscience, philosophy of science, and contemporary philosophy of mind, and then-emerging theories of brain function.

  • Gold, Ian, and Adina L. Roskies. “Philosophy of Neuroscience.” In The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Biology. Edited by Michael Ruse, 349–380. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.

    Chapter-length presentation that investigates the nature of neuroscience in relation to biology more generally, and surveys then-recent work on the neural basis of consciousness and the application of neuroscience discoveries to traditionally philosophical concerns.

  • Kaplan, David M., ed. Explanation and Integration in Mind and Brain Science. New York: Oxford University Press, 2018.

    An up-to-date collection of chapters on mechanistic and interventionist explanations in neuroscience and psychology, with an eye toward exploring approaches for integrating work across the two sciences.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.