Philosophy of Mind and Cognitive Science

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What is the mind? How does it work? What kinds of thing have one? What are the relations among emotion, perception, and thought? How do implicit attitudes influence our actions? What is the place of subjective experience in the natural world? These are some of the questions tackled by our research group in the philosophy of mind and cognitive science. Our aim is to discover the nature of the mental. To do so, we adopt a variety of methods and approaches, ranging from conceptual analysis to experimentation, from phenomenological description to the engagement with psychology, neuroscience, and evolutionary biology. 

Our research breadth is reflected in our teaching. At the undergraduate level, we offer modules in the philosophy of mind, in the philosophy of psychology, in the philosophy of cognitive science, on the emotions, on analytic, naturalistic, and phenomenological approaches to the mental, and on moral psychology. At the postgraduate level, the Department of Philosophy is home to the vibrant, interdisciplinary MA programme in Cognitive Studies, which offers students the possibility to explore cognitive science by taking modules in philosophy, psychology, neuroscience, computer science, linguistics, and archaeology. Our PhD students have been writing on topics as diverse as phenomenal consciousness, geometrical cognition, folk psychology, moral judgment, mental disorders, personal identity, implicit bias, mental representations and their content, art and cognition, perception, mental images. Many of our students have landed jobs in institutions such as the University of Barcelona, the University of Birmingham, and the University of British Columbia.

The Philosophy Department also hosts the Hang Seng Centre for Cognitive Studies, which supports collaborative, interdisciplinary research on fundamental issues concerning the nature of cognition. In the last 20 years, the Centre has been an international research hotspot, coordinating major research projects on innateness, folk psychology, moral psychology, and material culture. 


Thought and action

A central strand of our research concerns the capacity to represent the world in thoughts, and how these thoughts guide our actions. Stephen Laurence has published extensively on the nature of concepts, numerical cognition, animal thought, and the acquisition of thinking capacities—he is well-known for his defence of nativism. Jules Holroyd and Jennifer Saul have done seminal work, both theoretical and experimental, on implicit bias and its role in racism and sexism. Keith Frankish is also interested in implicit cognition and in its relation to conscious thought, an interest that has led him to develop an original and sophisticated layered-model of the mind. Komarine Romdenh-Romluc and Yonatan Shemmer have thoroughly investigated practical reasoning—in particular, how the interplay of desires, intentions and habits rationalises action. Dominic Gregory and Luca Barlassina have offered in-depth analyses of imagination—the former has focused on mental imagery, while the latter on the role of imagination in folk psychology

Representative publications:

  • Barlassina, L. and Gordon R. (2017). “Folk psychology as mental simulation”. Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy
  • Frankish, K. and Evans, J. (Eds.) (2009). In Two Minds: Dual Processes and Beyond. Oxford University Press. 
  • Gregory, D. (2019). “Imagery and possibility”. Noûs.
  • Holroyd, J. (2016). “What do we want from a model of implicit cognition?” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society
  • Laurence, S. and Margolis, E. (forthcoming). The Building Blocks of Thought. Oxford University Press. 
  • Margolis E & Laurence S (Eds.) (2015) The Conceptual Mind: New Directions in the Study of Concepts. MIT Press.
  • Romdenh-Romluc, K. (2014). “Habit and attention”. In D. Moran & R. Jensen (eds) The Phenomenology of Embodied Subjectivity. Springer. 
  • Saul, J. (2013). “Scepticism and implicit bias”. Disputatio.
  • Shemmer, Y. (2007). “Desires as reasons”. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research

Sensory and affective cognition

We are deeply interested in sensory and affective states. Dominic Gregory is a leading philosopher of perceptual imagery and has examined the contents of perceptual experiences vis-à-vis the content of mental images. Komarine Romdenh-Romluc has addressed similar issues from a phenomenological perspective, publishing important work on vision and hallucination. Gerardo Viera’s research focuses on the sense of time, where he has put forward the ground-breaking hypothesis that human and (many) non-human animals are literally capable of perceiving time. As to the affective mind, Luca Barlassina and Max Khan Hayward have developed an original account of pleasure and pain. Luca is also deeply interested in the structure of emotion and moods, an interest he shares with Christopher Bennett. In particular, Bennet is interested in how action can be expressive of emotion.

Representative publications:

  • Barlassina, L. and Hayward, M. K. (2019). “More of me! Less of me! Reflexive imperativism about affective phenomenal character”. Mind.
  • Barlassina, L. and Hayward, M. K. (forthcoming) “Loopy regulations: The motivational profile of affective phenomenology” Philosophical Topics 
  • Bennett, C (2016). “Expressive actions”. In C. Abell & J. Smith (eds) The Expression of Emotion. Cambridge University Press.
  • Gregory, D. (2013). Showing, Sensing, and Seeming: Distinctively Sensory Representations and their Contents. Oxford University Press.
  • Gregory, D. (2018). “Visual expectations and visual imagination”. Philosophical Perspectives
  • Romdenh-Romluc, K. (2018). ”Gestalt perception and seeing-as”. In M. Beaney, B. Harrington & D. Shaw (eds.), Aspect Perception After Wittgenstein. Routledge.
  • Viera, G. (2020). “The sense of time”. The British Journal for Philosophy of Science.

Material beings like us: personal identity, subjective experience, and human nature

Eric Olson is one of the most internationally distinguished philosophers working on personal identity. He is one of the main proponents of the view called ‘animalism’, a materialistic perspective according to which each human being is identical to an animal (i.e., to an organism of the species Homo sapiens), and thus persists only insofar as the animal in question remains alive. This led him to explore a number of metaphysical issues, ranging from dualism, physicalism and functionalism to problems concerning biological individuality and artificial life

The metaphysics of mind is also central to the work of Keith Frankish. Phenomenal consciousness poses the greatest challenge to materialism, since it is unclear—to put it mildly—how our brain can give rise to feelings, sensations, and other conscious experiences. Keith’s solution to this problem is as fascinating as it is radical: materialists shouldn’t worry about phenomenal consciousness because it is an introspective illusion

Inspired by the work of the French phenomenologist Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Komarine Romdenh-Romluc has also developed an important, non-Cartesian perspective on human nature. A proponent of embodied cognition, Komarine is currently exploring the hypothesis that cognitive agents are “bundles of embodied habits and skills.”

Representative publications:

  • Frankish, K. (2016). “Illusionism as a theory of consciousness”. Journal of Consciousness Studies
  • Olson, E. (2007). What Are We? Oxford University Press.
  • Olson, E. (2018). “The zombies among us”. Noûs
  • Romdenh-Romluc, K. (2015) “Merleau-Ponty: actions, habits, and skilled expertise”. In D. Dahlstrom, A. Elpidorou, & W. Hopp (eds), Philosophy of Mind and Phenomenology: Conceptual and Empirical Approaches. Routledge.
REF 2021 illustration

Research Excellence Framework 2021 results

The results demonstrate our research and impact excellence across a broad range of disciplines and confirm that our research is having a significant positive impact on lives across the globe.