Philosophy 496, Psychology 475

Past Assignments

1. Descartes

29 August

Read Descartes's Meditations 1 and 2. (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 and

Come to class able to answer the following questions:
  • What is Descartes's method?
  • What are the assumptions, requirements, advantages, disadvantages of this method?
  • How would we know if this method were successful? How would we know if it were not successful?
31 August
Read Descartes's Meditations 6. Come to class able to answer the following questions:
  • What arguments does Descartes have that mind and body are different things? Can you list them?
  • Are the arguments sound?
2. William James.

September 5
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. While reading, consider the following questions:
  • What is an emotion, according to James?
  • What arguments does he offer for his view? (E.g., on pages 193-194)
  • What is James's method? How does it differ from the method of Descartes? (This is an especially important question to us.)
  • What role do his theories about the brain play in his theory of emotion?
If you happen to print the article, please bring it to class.

Here's the homework:

Briefly (this should only take a page or two) describe James's thought experiment on page 193. What is it meant to show? Do you think it succeeds? Do the thought experiment yourself -- do you agree with his conclusion?

A Note:

The science journal Nature has a weekly podcast. Last year, 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 disagree with the biographer's assessment of William James's scientific value as a psychologist (she underestimates it, I feel), 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.

September 7
Finish William's James paper "What is an Emotion?" if you have not already done so. Reminder: the link for logging into J*Stor from off campus is here. You log in using your campus ID and password.

September 10
Continuing with discussion of James.

September 12, 14
Contrasting James's methods with Descartes.

Take a look at James's textbook on psychology, available here. Read chapter 1. If you can, browse through some more of it, read some parts, and think about how it is similar to, and different from, the last psychology textbook you read. Look up "associationism" if you don't already know about it. Be ready to answer the questions:
  • What role do other sciences and findings play in psychology for James?
  • What is the relation he proposes between science and Cartesian theories (soul theories)?
  • What criterion does he give for identifying the "expressions of Mind"?

3. Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents

September 14
Background on Freud. Handout selection from The Interpretation of Dreams. Assignment: start recording your dreams, and continue to do so for the next week. Also: read chapters 1 and 2 of Civilization and Its Discontents.

Homework: for the next week, keep paper and a pen by your bed, and try to record your dreams the moment you wake up. I'll ask you to share one with me and then I will pick a few for us to analyze (anonymously! I won't tell anyone whose dream is whose).

September 18
Class is on Tuesday! Read chapters 3 and 4 of Civilization and Its Discontents.

Be sure to continue with your dream journals. If you forgot about this, see past assignments, September 14.

September 19
Read chapters 5 and 6 of Civilization and Its Discontents.

Be sure to continue with your dream journals.

September 21
Read chapter 7 and 8 of Civilization and Its Discontents.

This might be a good day to have a quiz on methods, providing me an opportunity to see how well you're understanding the question of comparing methods.

Interlude: First Person Authority. Carruthers.

September 24 and 28
Read selections from Carruthers.

September 28
Homework: type up and give to me a description of one of your dreams from our dream records.

Two general things (look below for more day-by-day assignments):

(1) I'd like to see each of you individually. It would be a chance to discuss your presentation topic, but also to discuss how you are grasping our goal, where you might need extra work, and so on. Schedule 30 minutes with me when you can; ideally, during office hours, but if those don't work let's arrange over email another time.

(2) We need to put together a schedule for presentations. Here are some suggested topics. Act quickly or get stuck with a topic that frightens you. You can suggest your own but if in doubt these are good items. First come first serve. I will specify what a presentation requires soon. (It will be OK if we do these a bit belatedly: that is, we are not abandoning Freud when we stop reading Freud, so for example it's acceptable to discuss Freud when we are reading Skinner....)
  • Freud's early view of mind (the pleasure principle), and methods
  • Freud's later social view of mind, and methods
  • Falsifiability: what is it, how might it apply to Freud's work?
  • Carruthers and why introspection is important in psychology. Here there are fun examples to consider about dissociations: cases in which people are wrong about their beliefs.
  • What is conditioning? Skinner's notion of conditioning.
  • Skinner's account of language
  • The cognitive revolution: Chomsky's critique of Skinner
  • The cognitive revolution: any classic paper requiring reference to internal mental states (I can give you one of these)
  • The cognitive revolution: explaining aphasias and agnosias
  • Milgram's results and methods
  • Alternative explanations of Milgram's results
  • The assumptions of sociobiology and evolutionary psychology
  • Applications of sociobiological theories to human behavior (we could have several talks on this topic; I can point you to papers about things like why we like pets, or whether people favor different sexes for their children based on social conditions, etc.)

October 1
Read the introduction and biography/afterward of Civilization and Its Discontents.

4. Skinner, Walden II

October 3
Behaviorism background.
Read chapters 1-4 of Skinner.
I will also email or give you hardcopy of the sample dream(s).

October 5
Homework: Interpret someone's dream. Bring to class your interpretation of the dream assigned to you.
Also: read chapters 5-8 of Skinner.

October 8
Read chapters 9-12 of Skinner.

October 10
Read chapters 13-16 of Skinner.

Note regarding presentations. We'll mingle these into our discussions. They should aim to be about 30 minutes, you should consider visual aids such as the dreaded PowerPoint or Prezi, and you should end with questions that we can discuss in the time that follows. I will distrubute and discuss this day the rubric that is used to assess the presentation itself.

October 12
Read chapters 17-20 of Skinner.

October 15
Read chapters 21-24 of Skinner.

October 17
Read chapters 25-28 of Skinner.

October 19
Retention exams. No preparation required.

Read chapters 25-36 of Skinner.

5. Some selection(s) of cognitive psychology

October 22
Final thoughts on Skinner. We'll be turning to the cognitive revolution. I may introduce Chomsky's critique of behaviorism. You may be interested to read his famous review, which you can find here. Note this begins with a preface that Chomsky added later; you have to scroll down to where it clearly identifies the 1959 review as such to find the original article. This copy of the review appears to be missing some italics, so reading it requires some careful interpretation.

October 24
Ray will discuss some important results that helped spark the cognitive revolution: Stroop and Shephard.

6. Milgram, Obedience to Authority

October 29
Read Milgram chapters 1-2.
Dan Goldman will bring us back to behaviorism, and introduce the idea of philosophical behaviorism. We can contrast this with Milgram.

October 31
Read Milgram chapters 3-4.

Midterm test will be due at the beginning of class. You will also get a homework assignment, handed out in class. This will be due on November 5.

Midterm exam. The psychoanalytic school and the behaviorist school of psychology overlapped in time, but there was little interaction between them. Write a 4-5 page paper (approximately 1500 words), word processed, answering one of the following questions. The paper will be due October 31. Give your paper a title, such as you would give it if you were submitting it to a journal. However, nowhere on the paper should you write your name.
  • How would Freud critique Skinner's utopian vision of Walden II? Cite appropriate passages of Civilization and its Discontents and of Walden II to defend your argument.
  • How would Skinner critique Freud's anti-utopian vision? Cite appropriate passages of Civilization and its Discontents and of Walden II to defend your argument.
  • Both Freud and Skinner had a lasting influence on psychology. Pick one of the two, and demonstrate how key ideas of the psychologist endured in contemporary psychology. Please cite at least one contemporary work of psychology, and one work of the scholar you are discussing (Freud or Skinner) to provide textual evidence for your argument.
In asking you to look at other works, I am not asking you to write a research paper. Rather, can you show that the scholar in question has the view that you attribute to him? Do that by finding a quote that illustrates your characterization, if possible. For sources you can use our books, of course, but you can also try the library and also the psychology subject library guide.

November 2
Tyler will present.
Read Milgram chapters 5-6.

November 5
Akil will present. Read Milgram chapters 7-8. The homework, given to you on Wednesday October 31, is due today November 5. The homework is:

Assignment: Blind Peer Review.
Read carefully and then review the attached paper. Evaluate it for clarity of writing; validity or force of argument; and its adherence to the assignment, which is copied below. Write up your comments in a form that is constructive (that is, that makes clear how the paper can be improved), put your blind-peer-review number but not your name on the comments, staple your comments to the paper, and hand them both in to me on November 5. You may write on the paper also (e.g., comments about grammar, and so on).
Your comments will be graded by me based on their thoughtfulness. They will count like a homework assignment. The person who wrote the paper will also see your comments, but he or she will not know who you are.

November 7
Read Milgram chapters 9-10.

November 9
Dan Parks will present.
Read Milgram chapters 11-12.

Some observations about current status of the class:

November 12
Revised papers due.

Read Milgram chapters 13-15. You will be shocked with 450 volts if you do not complete the book.

Please read the short paper by Nissani, which is widely available, including here and also in pdf form in various places, along of course with my handout. We would like to compare his explanation to Milgram's.

Please note that I am not in the habit of answering emails from people who skip class. Think of it as me skipping your emails.

7. Alcock, The Triumph of Sociobiology

November 14
Last thoughts on Milgram, and alternative interpretations of Milgram.

Background on sociobiology. Read Alcock chapters 1 and 2.

November 16
Don will present.

While re-reading Alcock chapter 1 and 2, Molly would like you to consider:
  1. What is an ultimate, and a proximate, explanation?
  2. What is the definition of sociobiology? Of evolutionary psychology?
  3. What were the (political) objections to sociobiology?
  4. What is the "just so stories" objection to sociobiology?
  5. According to Archer (whom Alcock reviews in chapter 2) why do we keep pets?

November 19
Read Alcock chapters 3 and 4.

Homework. This can be handed in on the 16th if you want to hand it in early. Consider Nissani's interpretation of the Milgram experiment. Can you think of and describe an experiment that would test whether Milgram or Nissani was right? Nissani gives a vague gesture towards an idea, but if you use his idea, tell us how in more detail you would set up the experiment. You can do this in a page or two. The key challenge is to outline a way to distinguish obedience from conceptual conservativism.

Don shared some good links for us. Here's one where Zimbardo talks at TED and compares his experiment to Abu Ghraib. Here is Zimbardo's documentary on the experiment.

November 26
Remember, you should have read Alcock 1-3.
We were reviewing Archer's explanation of pet ownership (Alcock chapter 2). What is it? More precisely, how do we define "parasite," and what is a "social parasite"? Parasite on what? That is, what trait is being posited and is supposedly being exploited?

November 28
Molly will present.
Read Alcock chapters 6 and 7.

Homework assignment due. This is a quick assignment, to get you thinking about sociobiology -- and especially to think about sociobiological explanations.

The evolutionary psychologist looks to describe some of human behavior by offering theories about why such behavior might be produced by an evolved and inherited trait. Apparent altruism (which we understand here as actions which seem likely to reduce the individual's fitness in order to benefit the fitness of another unrelated individual) poses a special problem to such explanation (especially if the apparent altruism appears to be the product of an inheritable trait). After all, individuals that refrain from such altruistic behaviors would seem to be more likely to be more fit, and so more likely to pass on their (less altruistic) traits. Thus, most altruism would appear to not be an evolutionary stable strategy.

Your task is to do two things. (1) Using your own knowledge of common human behaviors, find the best example you can of apparent altruism. Your example can be something you've observed, read about in a reliable news source, or otherwise is reliably a common kind of behavior (and not a once-occuring thing). (2) Briefly, assess what the prospects are, as far as you can see, of the sociobiologists coming up with a theory of how that apparent altruism might actually be a fitness-enhancing trait. For example, can you offer a plausible explanation consistent with evolutionary psychology?

(Let me note that helping your actual blood kin is not a good example of apparent altruism. Recall Hamilton's explanation of kin selection. Also, we are assuming genocentrism -- for our purposes, this means we reject explanations that a behavior is an evolutionary stable strategy because it helps the group or species.)

You should be able to do this in two pages, typed, or less. Bring them to class Wednesday, I'll bring them back Friday, and we'll discuss them. They'll be graded generously for effort and insight.

November 30
Marissa will present.
We will discuss your apparent altruism cases.
I'll also have some e.p. papers to see as examples more generally.
Read Alcock chapter 8.

December 3
Andrew will present.
Read Alcock chapter 9.

Several times Alcock mentions the critical response to (he describes it as an underhanded attack of) Wilson's seminal Sociobiology. The letter he mentions is easy to read, and available here .

Given that we are now allowing the option of either the final term paper or the final exam, I'll have to alter the grading. I will use the following weighting:
  • Homeworks: 25%
  • Presentation: 20%
  • Logic exam: 5%
  • Midterm: 25%
  • Final paper/test: 25%
This counts the presentation and the homeworks a bit more, and the logic test a bit less.

December 5
Tony will present.
We will also discuss some of the examples of evolutionary psychology results that Alcock presents.
Read Alcock chapter 10. If you're behind in Alcock, catch up by finishing the book (you may skip chapters 4 and 5).

A very simple homework, to be sure we reviewed evolutionary psychological explanation. Consider, as Alcock does, the widespread drinking of alcohol. In a brief note (1-2 pages), answer all of the following questions.
  • Why might we think drinking alcohol is related to an inheritable trait?
  • Why does the drinking of alcohol appear to present a challenge to evolutionary psychological explanation? What do we expect of evolutionary psychological explanations?
  • What is the "novel environment hypothesis"? How does Alcock use it to try to explain the widespread drinking of alcohol?