Philosophy and the Brain Sciences

Authors
Peter Machamer
University of Pittsburgh
Justin Sytsma
Victoria University of Wellington
Abstract
What are the differences between philosophy and science, or between the methods of philosophy and the methods of science? Unlike some philosophers we do not find philosophy and the methods of philosophy to be sui generis. Science, and in particular neuroscience, has much to tell us about the nature of the world and the concepts that we must use to understand and explain it. Yet science cannot function well without reflective analysis of the concepts, methods, and practices that constitute it. For example, experimental methods and their resulting empirical data are essential for understanding the world, yet such data is not a-conceptual. Understanding how and what theoretical assumptions, conceptual assumptions, and practical knowledge guide the use of experimental methods is relevant to understanding the results of that use. In this way, philosophy – whether done by philosophers or scientists – has a role to play in understanding the world. Neuroscience is typically individualistic in focus; nonetheless, the mechanisms of learning and linguistic ability that some neuroscientists study also have a role to play in understanding communication. Philosophy cannot offer adequate understanding, even conceptual clarity, in isolation from empirical investigation. Yet, this does not require that science or scientific concepts will replace or reduce philosophical concepts, let alone those of ordinary language
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