Not “neurophilosophy,” just plain “philosophy”

I am going to avoid using the term “neurophilosophy” for several reasons.

     It is an ungainly word. As George Orwell noted in his essay, “Politics and the English Language,” stringing together words from Greek or Latin roots has a deadly effect on the sound of writing.

     One connotation of the term is that philosophy itself is not broad enough to include information from neuroscience, and so a new variant of philosophy needed to be created. Not so. Philosophy has always taken in information from other fields, especially the sciences. It has only been recently, i.e., within the last 100 years, that a new conception of philosophy has come into being, according to which it is a strictly a priori, logical, or conceptual enterprise, and thus had no real need to consider empirical content. I will be arguing against this conception of philosophy in later postings.

     Philosophy, like many disciplines, has a tendency to create cliques, or “mafias” of people who attempt to take over sub-disciplines. This hurts the subdiscipline greatly, since questions about who gets published, who gets invited to conferences, who gets grants, etc. are then decided by fundamentally irrelevant concerns, mainly whether that person is a member of the clique. It also conveys to students of philosophy that the way to succeed in the field is not to do good, original work, but to ingratiate yourself into the clique. The movement to convince philosophers that neuroscience is relevant has shown signs of degenerating into a clique, something I devoutly hope will not happen. Certainly Paul and Patricia Churchland, who made the term “neurophilosophy” popular, did not intend this, and have always been open, inviting, and supportive to philosophy students interested in merging neuroscience and philosophy. Perhaps if we don’t employ the label, we can keep the movement from narrowing.


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