Summer 2019 - PHIL 805 G100

Selected Topics in Philosophy of Mind (5)

4E Cognition

Class Number: 4710

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Tu, Th 2:30 PM – 4:20 PM
    WMC 5602, Burnaby



Selected Topics: 4E Cognition: Embedded, Embodied, Extended and Enactive

[Note: this course is to be taught concurrently with PHIL 467W.]

Important note regarding enrollment: All seats are reserved for Philosophy and Cognitive Science Graduate students. Enrollments from other departments will be considered only upon submission of the Graduate Course Add Form, and with instructor's permission. All such enrollments will be done in or after the first week of classes.

Prerequisites: It is strongly advised that all students have taken at least one general philosophy of mind course prior to this seminar.  Please contact the instructor if you are unsure whether you have the background for this seminar. 

More than 30 years ago, philosophers, linguists, psychologists and computer scientists began to talk about embodied or embedded cognition as a response to the computational theory of mind.  As there were multiple sources of discontent, there was a variety of ideas about what aspects of the computational theory ought to be rejected and the sorts of theoretical constructs that should replace them.  Some theorists took issue with rule-governed symbol-processing as a whole; others focused upon what was represented, how those representations arose, and/or the sense in which rules governed cognitive processes.  Still others took our interactions with the environment—i.e. the constraints and possibilities of a given body interacting with a particular environment relative to its goals—as essential to understanding perception.  Following Gibson, these views often included assertions that perception was ‘immediate’ and that our concepts were shaped by our interaction with the world.  Almost all 4E advocates argued against qualia—purely qualitative states—but in favour of an intentional phenomenology as a legitimate avenue of investigation of, e.g. perceptual states.  Famously, Andy Clark advocated ‘extended cognition’, the integration of external media such as tools as integral to our thinking.  In short, even the theorists at the center of the movement had a difficult time distinguishing between the various threads of ‘embodied cognition’—including the instructor of this seminar!   

The purpose of this seminar is to examine where the movement has gone since 2007, when the first and last book that attempted to untangle the various strands of debate was published—Larry Shapiro’s Embodied Cognition.  Our readings will focus around the new Oxford Handbook on the movement, printed in November, 2018, The Oxford Handbook of 4E Cognition.  Much of the volume is devoted to a new direction in this research, namely towards the embodied nature of social cognition/practices—i.e. on social interactions, emotion, language, learning and culture.  For myself, at least, this represents a welcome change in emphasis. We will be concentrating largely upon these new issues given, well, their newness.
For those of you that have seen this Handbook, it would make a lovely doorstop for that recalcitrant closing door on the 5th floor landing, just outside the philosophy Seminar Room.  Unsurprisingly, we will not be reading, individually, every article within it.  Instead, the trimester will begin with a few lectures on the historical landscape.  We will then turn to a selected group of the Handbook readings supplemented by scientific and/or philosophical papers that present evidence/arguments.  Note that because the volume is a handbook, the articles are short, filled with citations, and present their arguments in broad, non-technical strokes.  Thus, they offer the perfect format for judicious supplementation with both scientific and philosophical articles for longer grad-student lead presentations.  This is one ‘thread’ of the seminar, graduate student presentations on ‘expanded’ handbook chapters.  All students will also present short, critical summaries of the chapters that we cannot cover in detail.  This is the collective part of the seminar in preparation for a final project: A joint book review suitable for submission for publication (if the students desire).  Time will be allotted in class, during the semester, for group work—to begin outlining the review, vote on the most important essays for inclusion, decide who will write which sections, etc.  The review will undergo one revision: from a lengthy form to a shortened, more concise format. (Note: individual contributions will be noted in the text so that each participant can receive an individual grade.) 

COURSE-LEVEL EDUCATIONAL GOALS: completion of this course will satisfy the “Epistemology and Metaphysics” distribution requirement toward the MA degree for Philosophy graduate students.

This seminar is also highly recommented for graduate students in Cognitive Science. 


  • Because this seminar is an attempt to understand an entire field of cognitive science, the requirements and grading will be divided between assignments about the ‘grand picture’ and assignments that are focused on the fine points of arguments/evidence (normally the hallmark of seminars).
  • (1) GRADUATE STUDENTS (PHIL 805): Class presentation of a major chapter plus supplementary material.  Within 3 weeks after the presentation, a ~10-page short paper on the material presented.
  • (2) BOTH GRADUATE AND UNDERGRADUATE STUDENTS (PHIL 467W/805): A joint book review of the Handbook.  Students will be working on this throughout the term, with a re-write of the long format review due within one week of the end of classes.
  • The grade distribution for this course will be decided once we have the registration numbers in hand, of both undergrads and graduate students.  This distribution will be decided prior to the first class.



The Oxford Handbook of 4E Cognition (2018)

NOTE: most of the authors in the Handbook have proofs of their chapters on their individual websites.  This is handy given the price of the Handbook, namely $161.00 in Hardback and $131.00 in Kindle form.  However, Amazon is also selling used copies (already?) at about $30.00 each, so that is a reasonable price to pay for having the whole volume.  You would be wise to grab one once enrolled. (We will talk about access to readings on the first day.)

Graduate Studies Notes:

Important dates and deadlines for graduate students are found here: The deadline to drop a course with a 100% refund is the end of week 2. The deadline to drop with no notation on your transcript is the end of week 3.

Registrar Notes:

SFU’s Academic Integrity web site is filled with information on what is meant by academic dishonesty, where you can find resources to help with your studies and the consequences of cheating.  Check out the site for more information and videos that help explain the issues in plain English.

Each student is responsible for his or her conduct as it affects the University community.  Academic dishonesty, in whatever form, is ultimately destructive of the values of the University. Furthermore, it is unfair and discouraging to the majority of students who pursue their studies honestly. Scholarly integrity is required of all members of the University.