With pleasure we announce that the Rudolf-Carnap-Lectures 2016 will be presented by

Prof. em. Patricia S. Churchland
(San Diego)

from March 7th - 9th, 2016.

So please mark your calendars accordingly!

More information about the several lectures
will be posted during the fall 2015.

Prof. Churchland is UC President‘s Professor of Philosophy Emerita at the University of California
in San Diego.

In 1986 she published the ground-breaking book „Neurophilosophy“ which marked the beginning of a new philosophical-empirical research programme, pushing forward the claim that the mind is identical to the brain, based on a strong empirical foundation by looking at
neuroscience. Ever since, philosophy of mind has become
more and more empirically informed and become increasingly

She has been exploring the impact of scientific developments on our understanding of consciousness, the self, free will, decision making, ethics, learning, and religion and issues concerning the neurobiological basis of consciousness, the self, and free will, as well as on more technical questions concerning to what degree the nervous system is hierarchically organized, how the difficult issue of co-ordination and timing is managed by nervous systems, and what are the mechanisms for the perceptual phenomenon of filling-in.

In this series of lectures, she will present her most recent work on aspects of these issues.

Lecture 1. Neurophilosophy: New developments concerning representing and valuing

Within neuroscience, it is well understood that a brain’s capacity to predict is a major driver of evolutionary change. Better predictors that can deploy their predictions in behavior have a better shot at survival and hence at reproduction and passing on their genes. The capacity of a brain to build a neuronal model of its spatial world, as the rat brain clearly does, or to build a causal model of the world, as again, rats are known to do, is highly advantageous. Spatial and causal representation are map-like, and such a style of representation appears to extend to other domains, albeit with higher orders of dimensions. Reasoning, though often assumed to be unique to humans, has been shown repeatedly in nonhuman creatures. Crows easily solve abstract analogical problems ; fish and rats have been shown to make behavior-guiding inferences using transitivity, and rats readily behave altruistically, in the sense that they incur a cost and overcome fears in order to aid another rat in distress.  Human cognition, including human reasoning, is probably a modest extension of the cognitive and reasoning styles of our ancestors, including earlier humans, such as Homo erectus and Homo neanderthalis. A related neurobiological development is the realization that much of the representing of the world in brains involve valuations — of good-for-me, bad-for-me, relevant-to-me, and so on. Valuation is very deep in all nervous systems, suggesting that the fact-value distinction on  which philosophers focus is a relatively recent invention, useful in specialized cultural contexts, whereas neurobiological valuation is extremely ancient.

Lecture 2: The Impact of Social Neuroscience on Moral Philosophy

Social neuroscience, especially in the last decade, has made impressive progress in exploring the neural mechanisms regulating social behavior, including attachment and bonding, aggression, willingness to punish, and the effects of nurturing and social stress on the developing brain.  In parallel, behavioral research on nonhuman mammals and birds has revealed the existence of prosocial choice, consolation behavior as well as altruistic behavior. In combination, the research raises the wider question of what these various results signify for our understanding of human social motivation in general and moral motivation in particular.  Although moral philosophers have discussed norms and values since Socrates and Confucius, the scientific approach has provided new insights and provoked a reconsideration of common assumptions about the nature and origin of moral values.  This talk has four parts: (1) the evolutionary origin of sociality in mammals and birds, (2) a brief geography of moral philosophy (3) presentation of selected highlights from social neuroscience, and (4) discussion of the links between the reward system and reinforcement learning of social norms.  Participants will be encouraged to discuss the implications for public understanding of morality and the moral virtues.

Lecture 3: Nerve Agents. You and your amazing old-fangled reward system

Free will is a topic of practical significance, especially in the context of the law but also in the socialization of children. The idea that free will is an illusion, recently bruited by trendy writers, is rooted on a rigid 17th century Cartesian theory according to which no decision is truly free unless it occurs in a causal vacuum. Because brains make decisions and decisions emerge from causal interactions, free will allegedly gets no purchase. Rather alarmingly, this view may inspire a call to radically revise the criminal law. To update our ideas of free will, it is useful to shift debate away from the obscure metaphysics of causal vacuums to the neurobiology of self-control. Understanding is aided by research that maps the neural mechanisms supporting self-controlled behavior, in humans and other animals. Noteworthy also are data on decision-making that indicate a role for counterfactual learning signals, observing that this function can be impaired by, for example, nicotine addiction. Not surprisingly, genetics play a significant role in the base-line capacities related to self-control, as is suggested by the stable patterns of self-controlled behavior over a lifetime. Although the criminal law is unlikely to be revised to provide a new kind of excuse to reflect genetic differences in self-control and the reward system, such data may be modestly relevant to discretionary sentencing judgments. The more profound importance of emerging data on self-control will concern behavioral interventions aiding the acquisition of self-discipline in children, and to treatment of addictions and compulsions. These discoveries will have enormous social significance in coming decades.


Tobias Schlicht & Albert Newen