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Philosophy of Mind: Mental Capacities

  • Philosophy of Mind: Mental Capacities (16:730:575)
  • Spring 2018, Thursdays, 9:50am-12:50pm
  • Philosophy Seminar Room, 106 Somerset St.
  • Susanna Schellenberg
  • susanna.schellenbergATrutgers.edu
  • Office hours by appointment

Course Description

In this seminar, we will discuss the nature of mental capacities. This will include a discussion of their function, their individuation condition, their possession condition, their fallibility, their neural base condition, and their informational base condition. We will also discuss the relation between mental capacities and abilities, dispositions, and skills.


  1. 20 page final paper, due June 31.
  2. 300 word abstract for final paper, due March 1st.
  3. Presentation of draft of final paper at the workshop on May 2, including handout or powerpoint/keynote slides.
  4. 2 comments on the reading each week to be submitted by email 10pm the day before class. The comments could be questions or objections.


We will focus on one to three articles each week. We will decide which articles to focus on each week as the semester progresses.

1/16 Mental Capacities: Introduction

1/25 Individuation Conditions of Mental Capacities

•Robert Cummins: The Role of Representation in Connectionist Explanation of Cognitive Capacities 

•Chris Peacocke: A Study of Concepts, Chapter 1 “Individuating Concepts”

2/1 The Possession Conditions of Mental Capacities

•Jerry Fodor: “Having Concepts: A Brief Refutation of the Twentieth Century”

2/8 Noam Chomsky: “On Cognitive Capacity” (Chapter 1 of Reflections on Language)

2/15 The Function of Mental Capacities

•Schellenberg: The Unity of Perception, Chapter 2 “Perceptual Capacities”

•Rahnev and Denison: “Suboptimality in Perception”

2/22 no class

3/1 The Computational Basis of Mental Capacities

•Frances Egan: How to Think about Mental Content, PhiStudies 2014

3/8 The Success and Fallibility of Mental Capacities

•Ernest Sosa: Judgment and Agency, Chapter 2 “Virtue Epistemology: Character versus Competence”

•Tyler Burge: The Origins of Objectivity OUP 2010. Chapter 8 “Biological and Methodological Background”

3/15 spring break

3/22 The Computational Basis of Mental Capacities

•Carl Craver: “Dissociable Realization and Kind Splitting”

•Frances Egan: Function-Theoretic Explanation and the Search for Neural Mechanisms. In David M. Kaplan (ed.), Explanation and Integration in Mind and Brain Science, Oxford University Press. pp. 145-163. 2017.

4/5 The Neural Basis of Mental Capacities

•Scott, L. S., Pascalis, O., & Nelson, C. A. (2007). A domain-general theory of the development of perceptual discrimination. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 16(4), 197-201.

•Keith Frankish (2011). “Cognitive Capacities, Mental Moduls, and Neural Regions”

•Gualtiero Piccinini: Neurocognitive Mechanisms: Explaining Biological Cognition

4/12 Abilities, Dispositions, Mental Capacities

•Barbara Vetter: “Are Abilities Dispositions?”

•Janet Levin: “Could Love be like a Heatwave?”

4/19 Mental Capacities and Skills

•Ellen Fridland: Skill and Motor Control: Intelligence all the way down

•Brian Weatherson: Intellectual Skill and the Rylean Regress

•Background. Ellen Fridland: “They’ve Lost Control”

•Background. Andrew Buskell: How to be Skillfull: Opportunistic Robustness and Normative Sensitivity (2015).

•Alison Hills: The Intellectuals and the Virtues

•Wayne Wu: The Story of Experts and Deviants


4/19 Mental Capacities and Teleology

•Ruth Garrett Millikan: “Biosemantics”, JPhil 1989

•Karen Neander: “Teleological Theories of Mental Content” SEP 2012

4/26 Mental Capacities and Fregean Modes of Presentations

•Jake Beck: “Sense, Mentalese, and Ontology”

•Susanna Schellenberg: The Unity of Perception, Chapter 4


4/26 Rational Capacities and Moral Psychology

•Michael Smith: “Rational Capacities or How to Distinguish Recklessness, Weakness, and Compulsion”

•Eva Schmidt: “Possessing Epistemic Reasons: The Role of Rational Capacities

Wednesday, May 2 (10am – 5pm): Mental Capacities Workshop; Keynote Speaker: Ian Phillips.

May 11-12: Workshop on perceptual capacities and magnitudes in Toronto. All are invited to attend.

October 26-27: Workshop on perceptual capacities and psychophysics at Rutgers. All are invited to attend.