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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, 2011
Review by David Pereplyotchik
Mar 12th 2013 (Volume 17, Issue 11)

The philosophy of psychology is a subfield of the philosophy of science that aims to clarify the concepts, commitments, and arguments prevalent in psychological research.  It has strong affinities with the philosophy of mind, the practitioners of which increasingly see empirical results as bearing heavily on foundational questions concerning, e.g., consciousness, perception, and thought.  It's not easy to put together a collection that satisfies all of the diverse interests that define this strongly interdisciplinary pursuit.  The editors of The Routledge Companion to Philosophy of Psychology, John Symons and Paco Calvo, have succeeded in assembling 42 short essays that jointly convey a comprehensive snapshot of the field, covering everything from neural networks to Buddhist conceptions of eudaimonia.

The companion's likely audience includes graduate students, professional philosophers, and philosophically minded psychologists, all of whom would benefit from the breadth of coverage and the concise (15-20 page) articulations of important debates and results. The companion is not, however, suitable for most undergraduate courses.  Many of the entries presuppose acquaintance with ground-level notions, and the lack of internal references between related entries presupposes a prior familiarity with the relations between various topics.  Even if set alongside primary texts, the companion covers far too much ground to fit comfortably into a semester-long undergraduate course.  Instructors teaching philosophy of psychology at the undergraduate level will likely assign only a handful of the essays during a typical semester, and then only to their advanced students.

The majority of the contributors are junior-level associate professors, postdoctoral researchers, and graduate students.  A handful are rising stars in their domains, e.g., Jonathan Cohen and Christopher Mole.  Still others are established heavy hitters like William Bechtel, David Braddon-Mitchell, and Stephen Stich.  The essays vary in quality.  Most contain clear, informative, and argumentatively subtle expositions of their subject matters, but a scattered few struck this reviewer as being poorly written, too narrow in scope, or philosophically sterile.  Many of the authors survey the recent literature on their topic, often maintaining neutrality, rather than endorsing their favorite positions.  In this respect, the collection resembles the free online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, with which it shares many other commonalities.

The companion is divided into six sections.  Section I introduces the reader to core historical positions, including rationalism, empiricism, behaviorism, Freudian psychoanalysis, and cognitivism.  In addition to these usual suspects, one finds an interesting historical treatment of the vexed notion of qualia by Brian Keeley--an offbeat but very useful contribution that dovetails well with Tim Bayne's entry on consciousness. 

Gary Hatfield's essay provides a helpful overview of the rationalist commitments of Descartes, Spinoza, Malebranche, and Leibniz, highlighting aspects the Aristotelian view against which many of these thinkers were reacting.  Hatfield points out that the Aristotelian view of psychology included the study of many things that Descartes would later conceive of as nonmental.  The entry then delves into some of the intricacies of Descartes's theories of vision, physiology, and the passions.  Hatfield provides a nuanced rendering Descartes's position on the mind-body distinction.  One place where I had doubts was in Hatfield's treatment of unnoticed (as against merely unremarkable or unremembered) judgments.  He reads Descartes as countenancing these, but Descartes famously defines thought, including judgment, as an activity of which the mind cannot be wholly unaware.

Raymond Martin's entry on empiricism is decidedly less successful, focusing almost exclusively on topics surrounding personal identity and the self (including the nature and development of the self concept).  Given the editors' inclusion of a separate entry dedicated to personal identity, it would have made more sense to devote this entry to discussing the core empiricist themes that, bizarrely, go almost entirely unmentioned here--e.g., resemblance-based theories of intentionality, concept empiricism, the copy principle, and the abstraction involved in forming general ideas.  Most strikingly, associative principles are omitted entirely, and their influence on behaviorism and connectionism is explicitly denied:  "[T]hroughout the first half of the century empiricism, particularly in its incarnation in epistemology, continued to be a potent force in philosophy, but was much less so in psychology" (38).  Nothing could be further from the truth.

Section II discusses contrasting views of psychological explanation in contemporary cognitive science.  Classical computationalism and connectionism are both well represented, as are the more recent embedded/embodied views of cognition, which are ignored in similar collections (e.g., the recent Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Cognitive Science).  Neuroscientific explanation enters here as well.  Of particular note is Valerie Gray Hardcastle's treatment of the important topic of pain, which is conceptualized in surprisingly divergent ways by theorists whose accounts are pitched at different levels of explanation.  This is one place where cross-references between the entries would have benefitted the companion.  Earlier entries blithely perpetuate the unfortunate tendency amongst philosophers to ignore the complexities and mysteries surrounding the phenomenon of pain, naively conceiving of it as involving little more than detection of bodily damage.

Section III tackles more traditional topics in philosophy of mind and metaphysics, e.g., representation, the language of thought hypothesis, and innateness.  Strangely, there is no entry on concepts as definitions, prototypes, or exemplars.  

The entry on modularity would have benefitted greatly from more careful proofreading, as well as some discussion of specific modularist proposals in psychology--e.g., the mechanisms of language comprehension or face-recognition.  The level of abstraction at which the discussion is pitched is unlikely to be useful to those who are not already familiar with the debate.

The entry on interactivism was particularly disappointing, consisting of a list of unargued slogans, grand promises, and quick dismissals of nativist proposals.  Alternative naturalization programs (Fodor's, Millikan's) are alleged to fall prey--one by one, redundantly--to a dubious argument that charges them with a principled inability to accommodate so-called "error-guided behavior."  This crucial term is never explained. Bickhard does not spell out what exactly such behavior consists in and why its cognitive explanation cannot be captured by the views at which he takes aim.  Readers will gain little of value from this entry.

By contrast, Richard Samuels' treatment of the topic of innateness is admirable in its clarity and balance.  Having distinguished between local and global versions of nativism, Samuels considers some general arguments for the former.  He points out that the commitment to the continuity of psychology with physiology cuts no ice, and that some nativists' insistence on a strongly classical computationalism is tendentious.  He then considers arguments for a "local" nativism about language, again in a way that is fair and informative.

Section IV delves into biological approaches to the mind.  The introduction to the companion stresses the interdisciplinary character of the field, emphasizing the contemporary philosopher's need to be informed about results in evolutionary biology and neuroscience.  In this respect, the companion certainly delivers.  Markman's entry on representation in relatively large-scale brain mechanisms provides a gentle introduction to neuropsychology.  Bickle's discussion of (sub)cellular neuroscience is more advanced, but makes an admirable effort to draw philosophical morals, arguing for a reconceptualization of the notion of intertheoretic reduction.  The other entries in this section also repay close attention.

Section V deals with topics pertaining to perceptual experience and self-awareness, including vision, introspection, attention, emotion, and dreaming.  Tim Bayne's entry on consciousness wades into the terminological mess associated with the notion of qualia, but doesn't draw explicit connections to Keeley's entry on that notion--another missed opportunity to unify the companion.  Bayne helpfully discusses the relations between qualia, subjectivity, phenomenality, phenomenal intentionality, intentionalism, and representationalism.  I also found very useful his discussion of split-brain experiments, in which he offers a clear contrast between his own interpretation of the results and two rival views. 

The entry on introspection was decidedly less helpful.  Here, one would have expected a discussion of the history of introspectionist psychology and its demise, and of what role introspective report should play in psychology today.  Instead, one finds a detailed discussion of thought-insertion and related disorders.  Though interesting, this is unlikely to be useful to those wishing to get a survey of the controversies, historical or current, surrounding introspection.

In a remarkably clear and accessible entry, Jonathan Cohen lays out the major positions on the metaphysics and epistemology of color, though, curiously, without any discussion of the neuropsychology of color perception.  Valtteri Arstila's entry on vision is, by contrast, rich in its discussion of mechanisms, though, here again, there is very little discussion of color experience as such.  Still, the reader is treated to first-class accounts of Gibson's and Marr's theories of vision, nonconscious visual processing, and the binding problem (inter alia).  Going beyond vision, the editors also included an entry on audition, which I found informative.  An entry on haptic experience and pain would have been appropriate here as well--an unfortunate omission.

Finally, section VI deals with a grab bag of issues loosely organized around the heading of "personhood."  Here, we find entries on such diverse topics as agency, moral judgment, personal identity, confabulation, and eudaimonia.  While several of these entries were authored by leading figures--Mele, Stich (co-author), and Flanagan--the section lacks cohesion, overall.  The entries on confabulation and action, for instance, could have easily appeared in other sections of the companion.

In sum, The Routledge Companion to Philosophy of Psychology provides a helpful survey of the issues that define one of today's hottest areas of philosophical research.  As with any collection of this scope, there are bound to be some lackluster contributions and missed opportunities.  Nevertheless, most of the entries are clear, engaging, and balanced, and the companion is, on the whole, a welcome research tool for graduate students and professionals seeking to enrich their understanding of foundational issues in cognitive science.

 

© 2013 David Pereplyotchik

 

David Pereplyotchik, Hamilton College


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Can't remember our URL? Access our reviews directly via 'metapsychology.net'


Metapsychology Online reviewers normally receive gratis review copies of the items they review.
Metapsychology Online receives a commission from Amazon.com for purchases through this site, which helps us send review copies to reviewers. Please support us by making your Amazon.com purchases through our Amazon links. We thank you for your support!


Join our e-mail list!: Metapsychology New Review Announcements: Sent out monthly, these announcements list our recent reviews. To subscribe, click here.

Interested in becoming a book reviewer for Metapsychology? Currently, we especially need thoughtful reviewers for books in fiction, self-help and popular psychology. To apply, write to our editor.

Metapsychology Online Reviews

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Metapsychology Online Reviews
ISSN 1931-5716