Humanities: Philosophy

Philosophical Foundations of Integrative Neuroscience

A question of special relevance to the Centre for Integrative Neuroscience (CIN) is: what exactly is integrative neuroscience? A fundamental question arising from this is how different levels of neuroscientific investigation relate to each other, and more widely, how do they relate to 'higher level' sciences such as psychology, and beyond that to philosophical questions about the mind.

In this respect the Centre takes its cue from the ideas of Werner Reichardt and the questions he raised about levels of investigation and explanation. From these stem the structure and the aims of the CIN itself, as it is based on the idea that integrative research is essential to making progress in explaining neural, sensory and cognitive phenomena. In particular, Marr’s (1982) three levels of analysis, heavily influenced by Reichardt’s multi-level integrative approach in researching visual processing (e.g. Reichardt and Poggio 1975, 1979), suggests that research can be divided into three distinct computational, algorithmic, and implementational levels. But it is worth investigating whether these are the only, or the best, ways to think about levels in neuroscience (e.g. Craver 2007), and to what extent current neuroscientific explanations are integrated, to what extent they can be integrated, and to what extent they should be integrated (Bechtel 2008, Mitchell 2003).

Foundations of Empirically Informed Philosophy of Mind

In bridging philosophy and neuroscience, CIN is committed to a research program of empirically informed philosophy of mind.  Since the beginning of co-evolution of philosophy and neuroscience in the mid-1980’s, philosophy of mind has been immensely enriched by the theories, concepts, and methods of neuroscience, and vice versa.

This perspective on philosophy of mind signifies a new approach to empirical work that is fundamentally distinct from earlier ones. Current philosophical approaches to the mind fall roughly into four camps:

(i) Eliminativism,

which sees traditional common sense and philosophical vocabulary about the mind as part of a scientific theory that is theoretically inadequate and seeks to replace this with work in neuroscience (Churchland 1986).

(ii) Isolationism,

which sees philosophy of mind as concerned with articulating claims that are insulated from empirical work. On this view, neuroscience is seen as just providing mechanisms or enabling conditions with little bearing on philosophical work (McDowell 1994).

(iii) Cognitive Scientism,

which appreciates that philosophy of mind must be open to empirical research and claims that neither philosophy nor the cognitive sciences are isolated from each other (e.g. Fodor 1983, 2000). It further claims that all the relevant disciplines must collaborate in a new discipline of cognitive science. However, on this picture, philosophy of mind is not autonomous from cognitive science but a form of theoretical cognitive science.

(iv) Empirically Informed Philosophy of Mind:

In this view, philosophy is recognized as an autonomous enterprise, but not one that is insulated from empirical work. This is a distinctive view of the methodology of philosophy of mind that retains the research area’s credentials as philosophy in the strictest sense of the term, but also acknowledges that such work must be empirically informed and constrained.

The CIN favors the latter two camps, though the last of the sketched positions offers a distinctively philosophical view on the relation between philosophy and neuroscience with respect to the mental phenomena.


Bechtel, W. (2008). Mental mechanisms: Philosophical perspectives on cognitive neuroscience. New York: Routledge.

Churchland, P. S. (1986). Neurophilosophy: Toward A Unified Science of the Mind-Brain. MIT Press.

Craver, C.F. (2007). Explaining the brain. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Fodor, J. A. (1983). The Modularity of Mind. MIT Press.

Fodor, J. A. (2000). The Mind Doesn't Work That Way: The Scope and Limits of Computational Psychology. MIT Press.

Marr D. (1982). Vision: A computational investigation into the human representation and processing of visual information. San Francisco, USA: W.H. Freeman and Company.

McDowell, J. (1994). The content of perceptual experience. Philosophical Quarterly 44 (175):190-205.

Mitchell, S. D. (2003). Biological complexity and integrative pluralism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Reichardt, W. E. & Poggio, T. (1075). A theory of the pattern induced flight orientation of the fly Musca domestica II. Biological Cybernetics, 18, 69-80.

Reichardt, W. E. & Poggio, T. (1979). Figure-ground discrimination by relative movement in the visual system of the fly. Part I: Experimental results. Biological Cybernetics, 35, 81-100.