My Philosophy of Mind and Language class is the one most focused on contemporary philosophy. It deals almost exclusively with the 20th-21st Century study of the philosophy of mind and the philosophy of language, primarily in the analytic tradition. We start with seminal figures like Russell, Frege, and Wittgenstein, but devote most of the course to the hottest philosophy of mind and language debates of the last 40 years. We also make room for a few weeks on the European traditions of Phenomenology, Structuralism, Poststructuralism, and Deconstructionism, all of which were ascendent in the last century.
Specifically, we will explore questions related to semantics, meaning, reference, the nature of consciousness, whether artificial intelligence can be ever have a mind or consciousness, the relationship between minds and bodies, the extent our minds are or are not like computers, whether or not there is such a thing as a universal and innate mental language, the extent to which languages and other social structures can be said to “create” the world for us rather than merely represent it to us, the mental capacities of animals, the nature of perception, the meaning and truth of concepts like belief, desire, and pain, whether our “folk” understandings of our inner life based on subjective experience can form the basis of knowledge of psychology or whether it is irrelevant and needs to be supplanted with an entirely different and empirically derived set of categories, what constitutes the kind of mental freedom necessary to make moral responsibility legitimate, the connections between language and logic, the relevance of philosophy of language to understanding moral utterances about things like goodness or badness, rightness or wrongness, etc., the relevance of philosophy of language to understanding the nature of religious beliefs, how speech acts create social meanings and how social meanings transform propositional statements into speech acts, and more.
Each week I rotate to another self-contained topic so students can join in at any time without worrying about having missed anything. While students can keep attending as long as they want and there will always be fresh lectures, most students take about 16 weeks of a given class before moving on to another. So over the course of any given 16 week run of sessions, as students rotate into the class and out at their own pace, I cover all the major topics of the course.
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