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The Routledge Companion to Philosophy of PsychologyReview - The Routledge Companion to Philosophy of Psychology
by John Symons and Paco Calvo (editors)
Routledge, 2009
Review by Luc Faucher, Ph.D.
May 15th 2012 (Volume 16, Issue 20)

In their introduction to The Routledge Companion to Philosophy of Psychology, editors John Symons and Paco Calvo compare the content of their book to what for some time was the official introduction to the discipline for philosophers, i.e. Ned Block's Readings in Philosophy of Psychology. Recall that Block's first volume was centered on issues of explanation in psychology, such as criticism of the various forms of behaviorism or the exposition of the central tenants of functionalism; while the second volume was devoted to issues such as mental representation, mental imagery, grammar and innateness. However, things have changed in the field of philosophy of psychology since Block's Readings was published a few of which are outlined below. For instance, though some topics remain at the forefront of the discipline (the nature of explanation, functionalism, innateness), others have receded in the background (mental imagery, grammar). Further, as the field of the philosophy of psychology has become increasingly crowded, philosophers have begun to specialize and consider a wider range of psychological phenomena (memory, emotions, reasoning, concepts, etc.) and psychological domains (ethology, social psychology, etc.). As a result, there is almost no area of psychology that has not been investigated by philosophers. Finally, the field of psychology itself has changed significantly in last 30 years or so, with the emergence of disciplines such as cognitive neurosciences or evolutionary psychology, among others. The Routledge Companion to Philosophy of Psychology reflects some of these changes and presents a series of chapters -- some of which are written by leading experts in their domain -- organized within five major sections; I'll review the content of each section below.

The First Section, "Historical Background and Philosophy of Psychology", comprises very interesting papers covering a period beginning with the rationalist and the empiricist roots of psychology to more recent cognitivism. The section includes worth reading papers from distinguished historians of psychology, such as Gary Hatfield and Alan Kim. Unfortunately, the section leaves unaddressed some very important parts of history while at the same time featuring very debatable inclusions. For instance, it covers early German experimental psychology, but not later English, French or American forms of psychology -- experimental or otherwise. It doesn't address currents like psychological functionalism, Gestalt, developmental psychology from the likes of Piaget or themes such as the history of the relationships between psychology and neurosciences. Instead, included is a chapter on Freud -- the only historical figure having a chapter in that section. Curiously, the section also includes a piece entitled "The Early History of the Quale" by Brian Keeley. The paper is very interesting, but one wonders how a chapter such as this fits into a section otherwise devoted to historical periods. Why not a chapter on the history of the concept of representation or on the transformation of the concept "soul/mind" or one about memory or attention? Overall this section lacks coherence despite the fact that it features very interesting chapters.

The Second Section, "Psychological Explanation", does not suffer from the First Section's problems and addresses a crucial and very active area of philosophy of psychology. The section begins with a rather long and exhaustive chapter by William Bechtel and Cory Wright on psychological explanation -- one of the book's 'must-reads'; their chapter provides a clear account of how psychological explanation is conceived nowadays (in my opinion, this chapter should had been followed with some chapters from Section Four, perhaps Carl Craver's "Levels of Mechanisms" or Michael Wheeler's "Evolutionary Models in Psychology" which are both, in their own ways, about psychological explanation). The section continues with a paper from Ian Ravenscroft about "Folk Psychology". The author is especially interested in a question that has played an important role in the recent discussions about folk psychology, namely: "Is folk psychology a theory?" As some might remember, a positive answer to that question opened a further discussion about the reality of the entities described by such a theory, and the possibility of the theory's elimination. Ravenscroft presents readers with different answers to the question of the theoretical status of folk psychology, one of which he refers to as "folk psychology as mental simulation" and the "folk psychology as a stance". In both cases, folk psychology is not considered as a theory proper, which undermine a possible elimination. In the next chapter in this section, Tom Polger explains what computational functionalism is. As he suggests, functionalism takes different forms as it answers different questions, be they metaphysical, explanatory, theoretical, intentional, semantic and methodological. According to Polger, it is possible to accept one form of functionalism without accepting the others. The chapter presents these forms as well as the criticisms they faced -- for instance, the failure to provide an account of consciousness. In her chapter, Valerie Hardcastle describes the interface between psychology and neuroscience. After presenting what could be called the classical forms of relations between these two disciplines (i.e. the way philosophers have classically thought about these relations, for instance through reduction or autonomy), Hardcastle describes what she considers the most important form of interrelation between psychology and neuroscience, i.e. "explanatory extensions" (for a different take on this issue, see John Bickle in Section Four). Though I tend to agree with Hardcastle, I think that interest in this position lies in a detailed account of the types of explanatory extensions one can find in different domains where psychology and neurosciences make contact. I wish Hardcastle had been able to provide us with a taxonomy of the types of extensions, though perhaps this should not be expected in a 'Companion'-style book. Amanda Sharkey and Noel Sharkey author the chapter "Connexionism", in which they contribute a non-technical history of the movement which is very useful as an introduction for the uninitiated (as it is not too technical), describing the body of work from which the movement originates (the work of McCullogh and Pitt, as well as Hebb) and why its influence has receded in the recent years (the lack of biological realism, being one reason of its decline). The chapter about "Embodied and Extended Cognition" (EM-EC) is written by two fierce opponents of the radical forms of EM-EC: Fred Adams and Ken Aizawa. Though they do a more than decent job at presenting the different views that are regrouped under these labels, I would have preferred a more enthusiastic advocate of EM-EC (for example, Mark Rowlands would had done a great job). While I appreciate the fact that much of the debate between classical cognitivism and EM-EC is not actually a debate (since almost everyone agrees there is some computation going on in the brain, "how much?" and "what kind?" being the critical questions), it seems that the authors are not very keen on presenting some of the new and interesting empirical examples of EM-EC that have so compelled some researchers. The section concludes on a very interesting note, a chapter on "Conceptual Problems in Statistics, Testing and Experimentation" (written by David Danks and Frederick Eberhardt). I think that this is one of the domains that philosophers have neglected for far too long, and one that is ripe for a systematic investigation. Philosophers could really get their hands dirty and get a lot from this domain considering that they could get a better understanding of the value of certain types of explanations and methodologies used in psychology.

The Third Section, "Cognition and Representation", opens with two chapters by Dan Ryder who writes about the "Problems of Representation". The first chapter describes the nature and role of representation in cognitive science; while the second describes various theories of content (mainly, various ways of giving a naturalized accounts of content). Given the importance of the notion of representation in psychology and cognitive science, as well as the place that debates around representation have taken in recent history of philosophy, it is only natural to give the topic a large portion of the book. These chapters are extremely well done, presenting systematically and clearly different theories of representation and various theories of content, as well as related problems and distinctions. Susan Schneider follows with a chapter about "Language of Thought" (LOT), in which she presents the motivation for introducing the idea and the arguments in favor of it. However, as she notes, LOT as lost some (many? all?) of its teeth when Fodor (the father of LOT) recently defended the view that central cognition defies computational explanation. As Schneider observes: if you can't provide a computational explanation of central cognition, why bother with LOT, which is supposed, after all, to explain how conceptual thinking occurs in an internal representational medium? The next chapter is devoted to "Modularity"; Verena Gottschling, its author, uses the classical definition (Fodor's) of module in philosophy to discuss the central features of modularity (innateness, domain specificity, encapsulation). Most of her discussion is focuses on attempting to make sense of the massive modularity hypothesis (MMH). I personally think it is a misstep to present MMH as she does -- i.e. as though the modules were Fodorian modules -- for evolutionary psychologists (who are committed to MMH) reject the equation between what they call 'modules' and 'Fodorian modules'. For latter, it is an empirical question what features a particular module posited by their theory will have. Richard Samuels' chapter "Nativism" is one of my favorites in the book. Samuels starts by distinguishing two forms of nativism, local and global, the first being about concepts, bodies of representation or psychological mechanism while the second concerns the overall nature and extent of our innate psychological endowment. Samuels then presents and evaluates the arguments for each form of nativism. He finishes his chapter with a presentation of two ways of understanding innateness: as canalization or as psychological primitiveness (he favors the latter account). Mark Rowlands then follows with a chapter about "Memory" where he focuses mainly on episodic memory. He puts forward the idea that memory is a normative term, more precisely, a "success term". In a nutshell, a "memory" of something that didn't happen is not a memory; a memory has to be about something which actually took place. He then tries to explain in what sense memory could be said to be constructive and how language could help to diminish the constructive aspect of memory by "making the content of memory less dependent on the vicissitudes of individual episodic recall" (343). The next chapter, "Interactivism" written by Mark Bickhard, is frankly a bit strange. I have been working in philosophy of psychology for some time and never heard of such a thing as 'interactivism'. By the end of the chapter, I am not sure I know much more about it. The last chapter in this section is Shaun Nichols' contribution about 'Propositional Imagination". In this chapter, he proposes a cognitive account of propositional imagination according to which propositions imagined are distinguished from propositions believed by their functional roles, not by their content. His account offers great prospects for a renewed analysis of fiction-related phenomena, such as the paradox of fiction).

As I hinted to earlier, Section Four "The Biological Basis of Psychology" is in some respects continuous with Section Two and Three and should probably have been fused with them. The section opens with a paper by Arthur Markman about "Representation and the Brain" which examines the notion of representation at the level of neurons- and brain system- levels. Among other things, this chapter poses the question of how to establish what a neuron or a group of neurons represent (Is a mere correlation between the presence of something and the neural firing of some cells sufficient to conclude that the neurons represent that thing?), noting that this question is especially difficult to answer when considering neurons in more central brain systems than in peripheral brain systems. This chapter could (or should) have been Section Three just after Ryder's contribution as the topic is related and makes the problems presented in Ryder's offerings more vivid. In the next chapter, "Cellular and Subcellular Neuroscience", John Bickle invites philosophers to stop looking exclusively to the soft areas (!) of psychology (like cognitive sciences) and take a peek at what happens in cellular and subcellular neuroscience. Bickle believes that one will find in these domains some pretty convincing cases of "mind to molecular pathways" reduction, or as he claims, the kind of real reductionism seen in real science. The chapter is interesting because it presents cellular and molecular neuroscience, as well as a discussion about a new form of reductionism inspired by the Sciences. Carl Craver's "Levels of Mechanisms" is a good complement to Bickle's work: Craver describes the different ways of understanding "level" that one finds in literature. He then focuses on level of mechanisms (contrasting it with levels of realization), which in his opinion play a central explanatory role in neuroscience. As in his book, Craver approaches this question by using as an example work on memory and learning in neuroscience. Michael Wheeler's chapter "Evolutionary Models in Psychology" is very interesting, but the title a bit of a misnomer. The chapter focuses almost exclusively on evolutionary psychology (Santa Barbara-style, sometimes refer to as EPÔ), and does not present other evolutionary models that could be applied to psychology -- such as human behavioral ecology, memetics or gene-culture co-evolutionary models. It does present some of the standard problems encountered by evolutionary psychology, such as the difficulty of specifying adaptive problems encountered by our ancestors (as well as using the right 'grain' to define these problems). Aarre Laasko's "Development and Learning" is a rather long chapter, a bit disorganized, and describes modes of development and learning, the factors influencing them, the levels one needs to use has to go to explain them, as well as the methodological problems linked to their study. The section ends with an excessively long chapter about dynamical systems thinking by Gregor Schöner and Hendrik Riemann. While I acknowledge that presenting dynamical systems theory (DST) in a clear and understandable fashion is challenging, I wish the authors would had made this topic easier for the reader. Sadly, I am fairly certain that this chapter will offer little for undergraduate or graduate students, as it becomes overly technical too quickly and lacks clear examples that would illustrate what kind of phenomena DST tries to explain, how it provides such explanations and why it merits consideration.

The first chapter of the Fifth Section, "Perceptual Experience", addresses "Consciousness" and is written by Tim Bayne. The author first focuses on defining consciousness and its associated phenomena and then proceeds to describe its methods of study and the challenges of explaining consciousness. In "Attention", Christopher Mole describes what could been seen as the first paradigm in the study of attention, Donald Broadbent's 'bottleneck model' of attention. Mole then goes on to explain how contemporary research has distanced itself from three of the main assumptions of that model. I found this chapter very instructive, focusing as it does on phenomenon that philosophers so often neglect. The chapter about "Introspection" by Jordi Fernandez explores how our concept of introspection could be transformed by cases such as thought insertion and thought control that characterize some cases of severe schizophrenia. The chapter is interesting, but one would have wished an account more focused on the different views offered by philosophers and psychologists on the phenomenon. The chapter "Dreaming" by John Sutton is among my favorites in the book. Though not entirely overlooked by philosophers (for instance, Owen Flanagan wrote a beautiful book on the subject a couple years ago), dreaming might not have received its fair share of attention. Sutton argues in favor of a cognitive neuroscience of dreaming that would not only be brain-based (like Allan Hobson's theory), but that would give a place to (cognitive) constructive processes. In "Emotion", Anthony Atkinson presents the classical divide in the study of emotions between the social constructivist and the biological points of view. Atkinson also reviews more recent theories such as the "emotions as embodied appraisals" (advocated by Damasio and Prinz) or the "situated emotions view" (put forward recently by Griffiths and Scarantino). In "Vision", Valtteri Arstila succinctly describes the anatomical basis of vision and then turns various classical theories of vision in psychology (i.e. Gestalt, Gibson's theory of direct perception, Marr's computational theory of low-level vision) as well as more recent theories such as enactive or embodied theories of vision. Jonathan Cohen short chapter "Color" presents different theories about the nature of color, from eliminativism to primitivism, as well as the criticisms each has received; this is clear and may indeed motivate students to immerse themselves further in this fascinating topic. In "Audition", Casey O'Callaghan invites us to consider four areas of research in sound perception: auditory scene analysis and the nature of sound; spatial hearing (how sound gives us information about location and distance); the audible qualities such as pitch, timbre and loudness); and cross-modal interactions between senses. The Section comes to a close with the excellent "Temporal Content of Perceptual Experience" by Rick Grush. Grush's chapter opens with a brief historical review of the way philosophers have tackled the question of temporal content of perceptual experience, then proceeds to introduce what Grush considers the standard view on temporal perceptual experience -- what he calls the 'mirror model'. Using standard cases of visual illusion as examples of the fact that perception is active, Grush argues that some cases of temporal perception need to be understood as involving top-down contributions. He then offers some models of how temporally extended episodes can be understood, among which are the smoothing model and the trajectory estimation model (which he favors). According to the latest model, the brain produces estimations of the evolution of perceived events over some determined interval. These estimates could be revised to reveal that what we estimate at time t1 to be an event that will continue until time t3 could be revised if the event stops at t2; the fact that we use estimate of this kind could be used to explain some temporal illusions.

The Sixth Section of the Companion -- "Personhood" -- comprises a motley collection of topics: action, moral judgment, personal identity, confabulation and … "Buddhist Persons and Eudemonia";  "miscellaneous" might have been a better title for that section. This final section opens with Alfred Mele's "Action and Mind" about which I am slightly unsatisfied. Mele takes a long time to present his position about action, and then spends the remainder of the paper discussing Benjamin Libet's empirical studies about initiation of action and their interpretations. I feel this chapter is a missed opportunity to discuss some aspects of action (like initiation, control, attribution, etc.) which has been the object of a great deal of interesting empirical studies and philosophical reflections, none of which are alluded to by Mele here. That chapter is followed by Jennifer Nado, Dan Kelly and Stephen Stich follow with "Moral Judgment", an excellent chapter where Nado and her colleagues first address the question of how to define morality, i.e. how to distinguish moral rules or moral judgments from other kinds of rules or judgments. As the chapter demonstrates, this isn't easy as it sounds. The second question they address is the role of reason and emotion in morality, where they suggest the jury is still out concerning the role of each in moral judgments and action. Marya Schechtman is in charge of the chapter "Personal Identity" which I really liked. She begins the chapter by presenting the standard 'psychological continuity theory'. She then presents some of the classic objections that have been addressed to it and the alternative theories developed to answer these objections. Schectman then turns to the biological approach (essentially Eric Olson's view as developed in his The Human Animal: Personal Identity Without Psychology; 1997), which distinguishes metaphysical questions from practical questions about who we are. William Hirstein follows with a paper on confabulation. He tasks himself with providing a satisfying definition of confabulation, one that would capture the various uses of the concept in the literature, then makes connections between confabulation and other philosophical concepts (such as self-deception or human rationality) or with traditional epistemological concerns. The section closes with Owen Flanagan's paper on "Buddhist Persons and Eudaimonia". In that section, Flanagan explains Buddhism's concept of 'personhood' and demonstrates how metaphysical conception plays a role in the moral conception of life. Of topics discussed by Flanagan, two struck me as being particularly interesting: firstly, the very developed taxonomy of consciousness states of Buddhism that inspires a desire to rethink (and to relativize) the way we go about taxonomizing the mind; secondly, the way comparative neuroscientific studies of happiness should probably take into account the differences in the conceptions of happiness in different cultures. The choice to include a chapter about Buddhism is a bit strange given that the book does not have a section about Antic philosophy of mind or on cultural psychology or other topics that would seem to be more important or equally relevant to present in a companion. Not that I think that Buddhist philosophy of mind is not important or interesting in and of itself, but it is hardly at the center of lively debates in philosophy of psychology.

As one might suspect by now, I have some misgivings about this collection. First, missing from the Companion are sections on the following important topics: concepts, reasoning, language, ethology, social cognition, situated cognition, deficits and pathology, neuroimagery, neuropsychology, artificial intelligence. Many of these topics are the subject of research and interest in today's philosophers of psychology they would have deserved a chapter of their own. Second, I find that some of the chapters not 'introductory' enough. I took the Routledge Companion for a test drive last semester while I was teaching a philosophy of psychology class. Each time I gave a class on a topic, I would go to the Companion and read that section. At times, I was offered a good and clear picture of the question I was interested in (for example, Hatfield, Samuels, Cohen, Nado et al., are examples of such chapters), yet other times, the chapter would make things more confusing or would be more concerned with presenting and criticizing a particular position instead of "objectively" introducing the topic (for example, the chapter about modularity). Finally, I compared the Routledge Companion to Philosophy of Psychology to other similar collections that I have used in previous semesters -- for instance Philosophy of Psychology and Cognitive Science (P. Thagard, D. M. Gabbay and J. Woods; North Holland), A Companion to Cognitive Science (W. Bechtel and G. Graham; Blackwell), The Routledge Companion to Philosophy of Science (Psylos and Curd, Routledge), The Companion to the Philosophy of Action (O'Connor and Sandi; Blackwell). Of the latter group, my favorites are the last three, they cover their respective domains with a collection of relatively short papers, each one giving you a quick and readable introduction to key topics -- which is what I came to expect from this kind of Companion. A Companion to the Cognitive Science offers the shortest chapters, but it covers roughly the same terrain as the Routledge Companion to Philosophy of Psychology, only in a more systematic way and with a substantial and relevant introduction to the history of the field of cognitive science. Thagard and colleagues' Philosophy of Psychology is a different format: though also aiming to introducing the reader to major questions in philosophy of psychology and cognitive science, the papers are much longer than in Symons and Calvo. Despite the fact that the chapters are longer, the latter often time offers a clearer account of the domain under examination than in some of the chapters in Symons and Calvo's Routledge Companion. Since it covers many topics (situated cognition, simulation, artificial intelligence, to name a few) that are not addressed in Routledge Companion, Thagard and colleagues' should be used as a complement to the first.

A final note about organization and format in the Routledge Companion: more than once I was looking for a reference provided in a chapter but could not find it in the bibliography. Additionally, some chapters have a "further readings"' section, while other do not, and some have only a "further readings" section without a bibliography. If the function of a Companion is to orient the uninformed reader in the literature, then it would have been far better to be more systematic.

In conclusion, I have mixed feelings about the Routledge Companion to Philosophy of Psychology. On one hand, I am not exactly satisfied with the "architectonic" of the book: some important topics are not covered; some included are non-essential. On the other hand, most papers do exactly the job they are expected to for such a Companion, and there is no shortage of clearly presented and well-articulated introductions to different topics in the book. I'd recommend the book to be used as one tool among others to get an idea of what is going on in a field that has grown so much since Ned Block's Philosophy of Psychology volumes. (Some of my personal book suggestions to complement the Companion appear in the previous paragraph, others include papers on specific topics found in Philosophy Compass or entries of the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy).

 

© 2012 Luc Faucher

 

 

Luc Faucher, Ph.D. is an professor in the Department of Philosophy at the Université du Québec à Montréal.


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