Philosophy 496, Psychology 475

Past Assignments
I. Roots of psychology

29 August
Two assignments!
  1. Send me an email describing (1) your immediate plans after college. Do you intend to seek a job, go to graduate school, travel the world? (2) What would you like to ultimately do in the long term? What career are you aspiring to? My email is "". (If you answer to either or both is, "I don't know," that's fine. I want to know where philosophy or philosophy-psychology might fit into your plans, or how it might help you make plans.)
  2. A reading and some questions. Read Descartes's Meditations 1, 2, and 6. (If you've not read the Meditations, try to take the time to read them all, in order.) The edition we put in the bookstore is good and cheap, but otherwise translations on the web can be found at and
There are three questions for you to answer on Blackboard.
31 August
Answer the questions about Meditation 6 that are on Blackboard.
5 September
Homework and a reading.

Here's the reading:

Read at least the first half of William James's paper (available on JSTOR), up to an including page 194, "What is an Emotion?" (Mind, Vol. 9, No. 34 -- April 1884 -- pages 188-205). . Please read it closely. It's really very straightfoward, I'm pleased to say.

If you are off campus you can access JStor at:

The homework is a few brief questions on Angel.

A Note:

The science journal Nature has a weekly podcast. A few years ago, along with their usual episode, they had a special issue with an interview with a biographer of William James. It's only a few minutes long, and worth a listen for a different view on his biography. I have some doubts about the biographer's assessment of William James's scientific value as a psychologist, but there were things here I didn't know at all about his life that were interesting.

It is here at and also available via iTunes if you search for Nature Podcast and then find the special episode on William James.
7 September
We will continue our discussion of James.

Philosophy club meets at 4:30pm in MCC 211. The meeting will be a showing of the 2017 movie Annihilation.
September 12
Read the handout, which is a passage from The Interpretation of Dreams. Homework: due at the end of next week, try to record a dream that you've had. Keep pen and paper by your bed and attempt first thing in the morning to write down your dream. When you have captured a dream, log into Blackboard and record it there. We might look at some of these dreams later (we will make them anonymous, fear not).

We'll begin class with a discussion of the papers. Please think about what you would like to write your term paper on.

September 14
Read chapters 1 and 2 of Culture and Its Discontents. Answer the questions on Blackboard.

September 17
Read chapters 3 and 4 of Culture and Its Discontents.
Answer the questions on Blackboard.

September 21
Read chapters 5 and 6 of Culture and Its Discontents.

Your dream description is due. Keep pen and paper by your bed and attempt first thing in the morning to write down your dream. When you have captured a dream, log into Blackboard and record it there. We might look at some of these dreams later (we will make them anonymous, fear not).

September 24
Read chapters 7 and 8 of Culture and Its Discontents. Answer the questions on Blackboard.

September 28
Critical reasoning and logic standardized exam.

October 1
Read the selection from Everybody Lies.
Answer the questions on Blackboard.

We will discuss Freud and falsifiability.

October 3
Read pages 503-507 of B. F. Skinner "Operant Conditioning" (the rest of the paper is recommended but not required). This paper from 1963 outlines some important ideas. I apologize: the version we have from interlibrary loan has writing on it! Ignore the notes.

I've posted some questions on Blackboard. I know it's short notice; I'll keep them active till Friday. Still, better if you answer them before class so you are more comfortable with our discussion.

There are some interesting and helpful videos of Skinner available. Please watch: I also recommend the following:
In class, we will discuss the logic assessment, and then Skinner's paper. Bring the reading selection to class so you can follow along.

October 5
Read the selection from B. F. Skinner, "Whatever Happened to Psychology as the Science of Behavior?"

Answer the questions on Blackboard.

Of interest:

II. Contemporary subdisciplines of Psychology. Plus: the case of non-human animals

October 8
Read Shepherd and Metzler 1971. This is super short! Available as a pdf on BlackBoard.

October 10
Read chapter 1 of Are we Smart Enough...? Answer the questions on Blackboard, which are:
  • What is an "Umwelt"?
  • What is the author's definition of "cognition"?
  • What does the example of the failed and then corrected gibbon test show?
  • What is "anthropodenial"?
October 12
Read chapters 2 and 3 of Are we Smart Enough...?

I mentioned some sources for the concerns about behaviorism that have arisen. Here are a few:
  • Language. Chomsky's famous review is here.
  • What I called the "hidden teleology" criticism includes Dennett's "Skinner Skinned." I'll put a copy on Blackboard as soon as I can get one for you.
  • One shot learning with long delay. Here is a copy of Garcia et al's paper in J*Stor.
October 15
Read chapter 3 of Are we Smart Enough...?

Before Wednesday, answer the questions on Blackboard.
October 17
Read up to the end of chapter 2 in Obedience to Authority. The reading is posted on BlackBoard and was also mailed to you. Answer the questions on Blackboard.
October 22
Read chapters 3 and 4 of Obedience to Authority.
October 24
Midterm. Here are some study questions:
  • Among the scholars we have read, which is a dualist? What is dualism? Which is a reductivist? What is reductivism?
  • What is James's theory of emotion? What kind of arguments does he use to defend it?
  • What is Freud's theory of dreams? What are some challenges for Frued's theory of dreams?
  • B. F. Skinner thought we could improve society very greatly using conditioning. He wrote a utopian novel depicting a much better society based on positive operant condition. How would Freud critique such a utopian vision? Cite appropriate passages of Civilization and its Discontents.
  • What are some of the challenges we can find in ethology, to Skinner's behaviorism? How does ethology offer some reasons to reject strong forms of behaviorism?
  • How does the Shephard & Metzler paper challenge behaviorism?
  • Consider the problem of Clever Hans. Take a phenomenon like a parrot that reportedly can act on English commands to select objects of a shape and size described. How might this be a Clever Hans issue? Describe a hypothetical case where it could be one. How could we create an experiment so that we are sure this ability is not a Clever Hans case?
  • Consider the Savage Rumbaugh experiment with the grapes in the cup. Could you give a behaviorist account of the observed result? If the result is observed after no training on this particular case, can you still give a behaviorist explanation? Or do we need to add some other kind of explanation?
  • Describe the Milgram Experiment. What is being tested? How is obedience operationalized? What did most people expect to happen? What effect did proximity to the "learner" have on the results?
Thinking about turnpapers, which will be due in December: if you have a special interest, let me know and we can discuss it. But here are some suggested topics.
  • What if any ethical lessons can we learn from evolutionary psychology? What mistakes do we have to be on the lookout to avoid. Consider very specific examples to make your argument concrete. Answer some of the criticisms in the letter to the New York Review that we discussed.
  • Pick an animal and a cognitive skill that humans have. For example, tool use, language, or planning for the future, logical reasoning. Then, review some of the literature and tell us whether you think we can reasonably argue that the organism has that kind of capability. How do we best identify that the capability is present? What evidence tells us the organism has it? Consider the objections of a behaviorist. Consider the Clever Hans problem. (You could also do this for some mental event kind (fear), though that may be to easy.)
  • Consider an emotion, like fear. What kind of theory of emotion does the behaviorist, the cognitivist, and the evolutionary psychologist offer? How should decide between them? Are some of those theories consistent with other theories?
  • Do we still need introspection in psychology? Why or why not? And for what kinds of data do we need it? And how has use of introspection changed, if at all? Consider several examples.
  • Given one of the classic cognitivist papers, such as one describing the Stroop effect. Explain how that hypothesis requires that we emend behaviorism. Specifically, what elements of behaviorism are retained, and what altered, in contemporary experimental psychology (such as cognitive psychology)?
  • Explain and evaluate the concern raised about Kahane that we have a reproducibility crisis in social psychology.
  • Consider a contentious claim in evolutionary psychology, such as one about sex differences or human dispositions to hierarchy. What is the reasoning that leads to the claim being seen as having relevance to ethical debate? Can we have the same ethical principles while still retaining the evolutionary psychological claim, perhaps by changing the suppositions of our ethical theory? How might ideology confuse or bias the scientific efforts, if at all? Can we control for that?
  • Review a claim made in evolutionary psychology. What is being assumed (about inheritance, about the target of selection, etc.)? Does the argument plausibly show that the behavior is an evolutionary stable strategy? What are some concerns that we might have about this kind of explanation?
  • Is there a concensus about the method of psychology? How do the various subdisciplines of psychology work together or relate to each other? Give examples. If not, then is this because psychology is new, or because the mind is special (that is, explaining the mind requires special methods because it is a different kind of thing)?

25 October
Steinkraus talk, "Climate Justice and Carbon Renewal" in MCC room 132 from 4-5 pm. Come along! It will be interesting to get a philosophical perspective on a problem that will define your future.

For the rest of the semester, our themes will be:
1. We will continue our survey of branches of psychology, to ask about their method, by consider one last sub-discipline: evolutionary psychology.

2. We will take a few weeks to turn to some pure philosophy, after completing our philosophy-of-psychology review. The questions we can consider are:
  1. Are there any ethical implications to evolutionary psychology?
  2. Are there mental phenomena beyond psychology? The problem of consciousness.
  3. Does psychology and ethology help us answer questions in environmental ethics?
This part of the course is an opportunity for you to apply all that you've learned, and have fun thinking about implications. 26 October
Read chapter 6 of Milgram. Chapter 5 is good but not required.

Here is a nice video of The Milgram Experiment. Please view it as soon as you can spare the 40 minutes.
October 29
Read chapter 10 of Obedience to Authority.
October 31
In class, we will have our philosophy content exam. This is an assessment test; you do not need to prepare, and are asked to just do your best. It will count as extra credit, based on your score.

Homework. Consider experiment 17 or 18. What implicit hypothesis is being tested? How would we know if it's false? How does the experiment test the hypothesis? Use our scientific method framework, and explain the precise logic of how the prediction refutes the alternative hypothesis.

There was an interesting editorial in the NY Times about learning in humans. Read it here. It's about the social psychology results that are strikingly inconsistent with a simplistic behaviorist view.

We mentioned Zimbardo in class. Here is a description of the experiment; Here is is Zimbardo's Ted Talk.
November 2
Read chapter 6 of Are we Smart Enough...?

Answer the questions on Blackboard; these are:
  • What is the cooperative pulling paradigm? Why is it a useful test?
  • What is the problem with the dissimilar set-up comparing ape with human child cooperation in Crawford's study?
  • How do chimps treat freeloaders (in Suchak's experiment)? What is a freeloader?
  • With the cleaning fish, why do you think roaming fish get treated first by cleaners (before local fish)?
In class, we will discuss the role of social psychology.
November 7
Read the very short article by Proctor et al: "How fairly do chimpanzees play the ultimatum game?" This is now on BlackBoard. Answer the questions on BlackBoard.
November 9
Read A primer on sociobiology by Cosmides. This is a good alternative overview for us, but a little long, so get started on it and we'll continue to talk about it next week. It's a supplement to my lectures on the essential ideas of evolutionary psychology. See it as a resource for the many technical terms we have introduced and discussed!

A couple of questions.
  1. Would it be best to divide our remaining 3 weeks, do we want to divide our time evenly between consciousness and environmental ethics? Would that be the most fun?
  2. For papers, I think I should review drafts, so they should be due no later than December 3rd so I can get them back to you. But if we do peer review, they should be due earlier. Does peer review sound like something you would like to do? Or would you prefer the additional time?
12 & 14 November
Please read the paper by Archer--it's super fun!--and answer the questions on BlackBoard.

Here is the letter that was published denouncing Edward Wilson's book Sociobiology. It's very interesting because it makes some of the most often repeated arguments against evolutionary psychology.

I mentioned that there's a literature on jealousy using evolutionary psychological principles. Here is a highly cited paper make a form of the most common argument in this regard.
III. Philosophical questions for psychology

19 November
We'll discuss some last thoughts about evolutionary psychology, and then ask, "What is consciousness?"
26 November
This week, we'll discuss consciousness. Is it something our methods cannot explain? We'll consider the Zombie Argument.
28 November
Reading: Jackson's Epiphenomenal Qualia. Citation: The Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 32, No. 127. (Apr., 1982), pp. 127-136. The important part is the first sections where he describes his two thought experiments. Answer the following questions, either on Blackboard or on a page you bring to class:
  • What does Jackson aim to show?
  • What is the Mary thought experiment?
  • What does Jackson claim the Mary thought experiment shows?
  • What is "epiphenomenalism"? Why does his argument, he claims, lead to such a view? Does it?
3 December
Read chapter 7 of Are We Smart Enough. Optional is the paper, "What is it like to be a Bat?" We will discuss the question: are other animals conscious? How can we know?

Drafts of papers due! I must get them this day if I am to give you comments before the end of the week.

This week, we'll discuss animal ethics and psychology.
5 December
Read the selection from Peter Singer, "Animal Liberation or Animal Rights?"

Recommened: read chapter 8 of Are We Smart Enough.

Homework: start a LinkedIn profile. Then, send a link request to me. After you do this, if you are a philosophy major, I will send you an invitation to join the Oswego Philosophy Department Alumni page. If you are philosophy-psychology major, I will send you an invitation to join the Oswego Philosophy-Psychology Program Alumni page. We are growing these groups slowly, but in the future, when we have hundreds of alumni in the groups, it can serve you as a resource to find advice, job tips, and other information.
6 December
I will be in my office from 9-12 and 1-4. If I can help in any way, stop in and see me.
7 December
I'll bring you your drafts back with my notes.

We will continue our discussion of animals and ethics, and attempt a summary of what we've discovered.
10 December
Office hours 10-11 am.