How Can Philosophy Be a True Cognitive Science Discipline?


  • William Bechtel

    1. Department of Philosophy, and Interdisciplinary Programs in Cognitive Science and Science Studies, University of California, San Diego
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should be sent to William Bechtel, Department of Philosophy, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, CA 92093-0119. E-mail:


Although philosophy has been only a minor contributor to cognitive science to date, this paper describes two projects in naturalistic philosophy of mind and one in naturalistic philosophy of science that have been pursued during the past 30 years and that can make theoretical and methodological contributions to cognitive science. First, stances on the mind–body problem (identity theory, functionalism, and heuristic identity theory) are relevant to cognitive science as it negotiates its relation to neuroscience and cognitive neuroscience. Second, analyses of mental representations address both their vehicles and their contents; new approaches to characterizing how representations have content are particularly relevant to understanding the relation of cognitive agents to their environments. Third, the recently formulated accounts of mechanistic explanation in philosophy of science both provide perspective on the explanatory project of cognitive science and may offer normative guidance to cognitive science (e.g., by providing perspective on how multiple disciplinary perspectives can be integrated in understanding a given mechanism).