24.08J | Spring 2009 | Undergraduate

Philosophical Issues in Brain Science


The final exam is a closed-notes and closed-book exam. You are expected to write essays on any 2 out of the following 4 questions listed below. There is no mid-term exam for this course. Your essays should include a clearly identifiable thesis with supporting arguments. Explain any philosophical/psychological terminology. (30 points each)

  1. In “The logical problem of language acquisition”, Cowie claims that “even if we accept the basic picture of learning and competence that the argument from the Logical Problem assumes, it still fails to support nativism about language learning” (p. 210). What is the ’logical problem of language acquisition’? How can it be turned into an argument for nativism? Can the empiricist reply successfully to the argument? Which is more plausible as a view about language acquisition, nativism or empiricism? Does language acquisition provide the best case for the nativist, or are there better examples?
  2. Our guest lecturer David Hilbert argued for a physicalist theory of color. What is that theory? (Hardin calls it ‘objectivism’ in his paper “Are ‘scientific’ objects coloured?”, which you should reread in preparing for this question.) What was Hilbert’s argument? Was it successful? There are parallel physicalist theories for other perceptible properties: a physicalist theory of taste, a physicalist theory of motion, a physicalist theory of shape, etc. Do these physicalist theories stand or fall together, or might some be true while others are false?
  3. What is physicalism (or materialism)? Do the experiments by Wilder Penfield discussed in class lend any support to physicalism? Jackson thinks that the Cartesian conceivability argument (a.k.a. the ‘modal argument’) against physicalism is not convincing. Is he right about that? Carefully explain Jackson’s own Knowledge argument against physicalism. Assess the argument. Does it establish that physicalism is false? If not, why not?
  4. In “Consciousness and its place in nature”, Chalmers distinguishes Type-A Materialism, Type-B Materialism, Type-C Materialism, Type-D Dualism, Type-E Dualism, and Type-F Monism. Pick one that you think is false. Explain what this theory is, and why you think it’s false. Now take the theory that you think is true (or, at any rate, is the least implausible of the lot). Explain what this theory is, and defend it against at least one objection.

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