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What is Neurophilosophy?

The term “neurophilosophy” is used for characterizing the investigation of philosophical theories about neuroscientific hypotheses. The neurophilosophy faced the enormous development of imaging methods (neuroimaging), resulting in increased interest in neuroscience to allow interaction between these two disciplines today.

First, it identifies ideas about consciousness derived from common sense, folk psychology, or introspection. Second, it reduces these “soft” concepts to “hard” neuroscientific data. Third, if they are no longer practically useful, it eliminates the original ideas about consciousness in favor of their neurobiological counterparts.

History of Neurophilosophy

Philosophers had researched neuroscience before the mid-1980s. Its early formulation can be found in Canadian philosopher Patricia Churchland’s 1986 book Neurophilosophy: Toward a Unified Science of the Mind-Brain. More than half the pages of this book are related to neuroscience exegesis. With her husband Paul Churchland, they developed a strong reductive neurophilosophy. Neurophilosophy is also manifest in the work of many other theorists (e.g., Antonio Damasio, Christof Koch). Moreover, Kluwer Press, later Springer, began a journal in 2000 dedicated exclusively to the field, Brain, and Mind: A Transdisciplinary Journal of Neuroscience and Neurophilosophy. This journal later evolved into an annual special issue of the international philosophy of science journal on Neuroscience and Its Philosophy.

Current Progress

Neurophilosophy is now specifically taken to be the application of neuroscientific findings to long-standing philosophical issues and concerns. Examples include the nature and function of emotions and the role of emotions in rationality, the nature of conative states like desires, the nature of happiness, and more. A particularly influential direction in recent neurophilosophy is neuroethics, which focuses on the brain bases of moral cognition and judgment and seeks to relate these findings to concerns in philosophical ethics. On the other hand, the philosophy of neuroscience mostly poses questions and concerns from the philosophy of science specifically to or about neuroscience. It applies the tools of philosophical reflection to neuroscience’s products and practices of science. Examples include questions about the nature of explanation(s) in neuroscience, about relations between levels of neuroscientific explanations, about the role of computational models in neuroscience, and the respective roles and influences of theory and experiment in neuroscientific practice.

Reductive neurophilosophy shifts its investigation fully into the empirical realm of neuroscience. Fig.1 Reductive neurophilosophy shifts its investigation fully into the empirical realm of neuroscience. (Klar, 2020)

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  1. Klar, P. What is neurophilosophy: Do we need a non-reductive form? Synthese. 2020, 1-25.
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