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How I (Almost) Became a Philosopher of Cognitive Science

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Guest post by Carl Sachs, Marymount University My graduate school mentor once said that one’s academic career is shaped like an hour-glass: one’s interest grows increasingly narrow as one progresses through graduate school, then broadens slowly afterwards. (Writing a dissertation is the neck, which is why it is so emotionally difficult.) For some of us, it is only after getting tenure that the focus can slowly broaden; others at more teaching-oriented schools can broaden more rapidly. This story is about why I changed research interests and how I did so in order to produce a publishable paper. For the past several years (after completing my Ph.D.) my research has focused on Wilfrid Sellars and the so-called “Pittsburgh School of Philosophy.” (I use this term with some misgiving but it is becoming more widespread.) I was particularly interested in the question as to whether intentionality and normativity can be “naturalized.” The criticisms I received on my first book led me to realize that I needed a much more careful engagement with evolutionary theory, cognitive neuroscience, and animal ethology. Fortunately I was already on good terms with philosophers who work on those issues – some were old connections from graduate school, others were people I had met at conferences. In addition to my real-world intellectual community I had also cultivated an extensive professional network on social media. Hence I knew whom to ask for advice about how to proceed. These conversations – some in real-life, and many online – led me deeper into philosophy of cognitive neuroscience. Much of this was entirely new to me (I never even read Fodor until last year!) and much I had not read carefully since my early years of graduate school. This led me to take a renewed interest in enactivism, which I had not read since an early encounter with The Embodied Mind (Varela et al., The MIT Press 1992) in college led me to Merleau-Ponty and Continental philosophy. The question I found myself. . .

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News source: The Philosophers' Cocoon

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