Phenomenological Psychology

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Philosophy of Mind and Clinical Psychology – Syllabus

January 4th, 2010 by David Kronemyer · 2 Comments

Course Outline

This class is about an academic discipline called philosophy of mind and its relationships to and implications for clinical psychology.  “Philosophy of Mind” studies mental phenomena such as the nature of mental events, awareness, consciousness (especially “self-consciousness”), understanding, intelligence, rationality, and even the nature of the “self”.  It seems as though it should be closely linked to clinical psychology.  After all, they both are about the “mind” and the “brain.”  The fact of the matter, though, is that despite these thematic links, there is almost a complete disconnect between the two.  Philosophers engage primarily in abstract speculation.  Psychologists, on the other hand, primarily are scientists.  They devise experiments and achieve empirical results.  One of the main objectives of this class will be to see if there is a way to validate operationally some of the theories philosophy of mind has proposed.  For example, favorite topics in the philosophy of mind are the nature of perception and processes of inferential reasoning.  Are the positions various philosophers have taken regarding these issues just hypotheses, or can evidence be developed to support them?

We will begin with a brief overview of the history of philosophy of mind, starting with Aristotle and ending with Descartes.  Most of this is pretty boring.  It deals with intractable problems that seemingly have plagued philosophers for years but that no longer really are all that interesting, such as the “problem of other minds,” the “mind/body problem,” and theories of monism and dualism.  Nonetheless it is important to have some background regarding these issues – not so much for the substantive propositional content of the material, but rather to become able to discern the ways in which it subtly inflects current discussion.

There is a huge schism in philosophy between the “Continental” philosophical tradition and the “Analytic” one.  Continental philosophy started with Descartes, then evolved through Kant, then ended up with the phenomenology of Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger.  Analytic philosophy started at Oxford and Cambridge in the 1930s, then moved to North America.  Most philosophy departments in the United States are strongly oriented towards the beliefs and practices of analytic philosophy.  In fact, with a few exceptions, contemporary philosophers find continental philosophy almost heretical.  We will explore the differences in attitude and outlook between the two.  These different narratives are seen as competing, when in fact they consider different questions.  For example, continental philosophy has a good story about the “emotions,” a topic about which analytic philosophy has almost nothing to say.

We will review developments in philosophy of mind in the early 20th century, beginning with Bertrand Russell.  Due to Russell’s influence, philosophy of mind gradually got hijacked by philosophy of language.  It stayed this way for some time, really until the 1960s.  We will look at some of Russell’s interlocutors, and the alternative theories they proposed.  Interesting and important work now is being done in philosophy of mind by people like Daniel Dennett and John Searle.  We will examine their theories (and those of a few others) in some detail.  Among other topics we will consider some implications of “artificial intelligence” and recent conjectures about the relationship between mind and quantum theory.

The most interesting part of philosophy of mind is the frontier between “mind” and the brain.  We will investigate the nature, scope and extent of the relationship between the two, and whether the phenomena philosophy of mind purports to address can be explained neurologically.  How do neurological processes in the brain give rise to subjective experience?  We will review basic brain anatomy and the mechanics of neural transmission of information.  Epistemic constraints on our experience strongly imply something must be happening with these, however, the relationships are tentative and not well understood.  We will consider some interesting case histories to illustrate this juxtaposition.  These include: the neurochemistry of extreme outlying pathologies, such as schizophrenia, psychotic disorders and temporal lobe epilepsy; the mind-set of would-be suicide bombers, mass murderers and mothers who drown their children; dissociative fugue (DSM-IV 300.13); dissociative trance disorder (a DSM-IV category suggested for further study); the etiology of culture-bound syndromes (such as those defined at DSM-IV, Appendix I); and the empirical status of various (allegedly) empirically-supported therapies.  Do these involve just pathologies of belief, or can they be addressed empirically through research?

Textbook

While there are many readers and compendiums of journal articles, there is no good textbook.  Most books on the subject adopt a strident perspective of their authors, who make it sound as though theirs is the only point of view worth considering.  An added disadvantage is they have the subversive capacity to lull one into believing that’s true.  In lieu of a text, there will be reading assignments from selected journal articles, all of which are available on JSTOR.

Grading

There will be a midterm paper and a final paper, both of which will count equally.  Both should be around 10 pages in length (plus or minus) and cite to applicable literature.  You will have a choice among several different paper topics.  They will be posted at least 10 days before they are due.  Papers are expected to demonstrate clinical psychology (and philosophical) ability by showing mastery of the subject material, ability to identify premises, draw sound inferences, expose misconceptions, and use the English language with precision.

Class Attendance

As there is no text, virtually all of the topics for the midterm and final papers will be developed and discussed in class.  Attendance and participation therefore are important.  If either of your papers are on the cusp of getting a better grade then these factors will decide the issue.