21st Century Philosophy (PHIL*3280) | College of Arts

21st Century Philosophy (PHIL*3280)

Code and section: PHIL*3280*01

Term: Fall 2018

Instructor: Don Dedrick


This course will focus on a book by the Australian philosopher Kim Sterelny: Thought in a hostile world. It’s a book about the evolution of cognition that integrates a number of the findings of the behavioural and biological sciences (psychology, animal ethology, evolutionary biology, game theory...) into a unified picture. Of particular philosophical interest is Sterelny's focus on folk psychology. That's the idea that our "folk concepts" of belief and desire play a real explanatory role in our actions. So, for instance, I can explain you are a student in this course by saying that you desired to study the evolution of cognition, and that you believed this course would help you to do so. And so you signed up for the course: desire-belief-action. There are two opposed views as to this sort of explanation. The first says that we can use folk concepts successfully because they are real. The second says they are some sort of cultural artifact, ultimately to be replaced by more scientific concepts and explanations, and not really very successful, anyway. Sterelny charts a middle course: he thinks that they are cultural artifacts and that they are real, though both the notion of “cultural” and the notion of “real” are given novel spins.


I view the course as having two main objectives. The first is to study Thought in a hostile world, and to come to some assessment as to its strengths and weaknesses. The second, more important from my point of view, is to equip you for thinking about the nature of our thought as viewed through a historical, evolutionary lens. By the end of the course you should have a good grasp of many of the fundamental ideas and concepts that virtually everyone that works in this area has an opinion on, and deploys in some way or another. The nature of cognition really is a 21st century topic, across many fields not just philosophy. This course will provide you with many of the tools for participation in this area of study.

Requirements: Essay, midterm, quizzes.

Text (available from bookstore):


Course Outline