Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel Research Award

Prof. Bence Nanay, University of Antwerp, has received a Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel Research Award for his systematic philosophical theory formation in epistemology and philosophy of mind with special focus on perception and imagination. The Alexander von Humboldt Foundation grants about 20 Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel Research Awards annually, funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research, to internationally renowned academics from abroad in recognition of their outstanding accomplishments in research to date and their exceptional promise for the future. (Host: Prof. Dr. A. Newen)

Emmy-Noether-Research Group: "From Perception To Belief and Back Again"

The group is led by Dr. Peter Brössel and is located at the Center for Mind, Brain and Cognitive Evolution and the Department of Philosophy II of the Ruhr-University Bochum. It is generously funded by the German Research Foundation with more than 1,2 million euros for the period from 2017-2020.

Rational Animals - Prof. Dr. Albert Newen

01.10.2014 - 30.09.2016

Funded by the Fritz Thyssen Stiftung für Wissenschaftsförderung

Questions concerning the mentality of non-human animals have been the subject of philosophical discussions since antiquity. Answers to those questions are obviously relevant to animal ethics, but also to anthropology and philosophy of mind. The goal of this project is to look at the question of animal rationality from these latter perspectives. While anthropologists use the comparison with other species to investigate human nature, philosophers of mind look at animals in order to find out something about the nature of thought in general. Answering these questions requires a truly interdisciplinary approach. First, we need to clarify the semantics of the mental concepts that play a role in this debate: what does it mean to be rational, to have beliefs, to make inferences or decisions or to understand causality or mental states. Secondly, we have to work out behavioral criteria on the basis of which we can test empirically whether the ascription of a mental ability to a given animal is justified. Finally we have to look at the relevant empirical literature of animal behavior (mainly of ethology and animal / comparative psychology) to find out wether there are animals that fulfill those criteria. However, to do justice to the interdisciplinary nature of the project we can´t simply work through the list in this order. Rather it´s a further goal of this project to show how the different questions are intertwined, specifically how empirical findings can (and should) influence traditional philosophical concept formation (on the basis of apriori considerations) and thus enrich philosophical debates.

Lichtenberg Professur - Prof. Dr. Tobias Schlicht

Situated Cognition. Perceiving the World and Understanding other Minds (2014-2019)

The notion of situated cognition comprises several ideas that together challenge and force us to reconsider the classical notion of cognition as used in philosophy and cognitive science. While the traditional view conceives of cognition as constituted by formal operations on abstract symbols, i.e. mental representations, taking place in the brain, the situated approach, in contrast, conceives of cognition as an embedded and (sometimes) extended activity carried out by an embodied agent. Cognitive activities are not confined to an individual's brain, but essentially extend into the agent's body, and even into the agent's physical and social environment. Since bodily and environmental factors then partly constitute cognition, explanations of cognitive activities have to go beyond neural activity and take into account the dynamics of brain/mind, body and world. In this project, these ideas shall be investigated and evaluated in closer detail with regard to two cognitive domains, namely (1) perception of the outside world, and (2) understanding of other minds. 

  1. Perception 
    Implicated in this view is the assumption that perception and action cannot be considered as separate cognitive faculties, but instead have to be understood in terms of one complex perception-action-system, challenging the 'sandwich conception' of cognition, according to which cognitive operations are segregated from sensory inputs and motor outputs. This has theoretical as well as empirical ramifications for the investigation of cognitive capacities and raises many issues, some of which will be explored in more detail, e.g.: (a) what is the role of the body in the active achieve-ment of perception?, (b) can insights from situated cogni-tion be peacefully integrated into the traditional represen-tationalist

  2. Social Cognition
    Situated cognition also forces us to reconsider the nature of social cognition, i.e. our under-standing of other minds, against the background of traditional approaches, and of the methods used in social neuroscience to investigate the mechanisms enabling social cognition. Emphasizing the reciprocity of social interactions and the active role of the embodied agent in such situations against the passivity of a mere observer presupposed in traditional views, it is often suggested that direct interaction and emotional engagement with others constitute our primary ways of understanding what others feel, intend or desire. In the back and forth of interaction, our sensorimotor embodied social know how (employed e.g. in gestures) plays an important role in our attempts to make us comprehen-sible to others and to comprehend others. Important questions regarding this cognitive domain are, e.g. (a) how should we characterize the know how that is bodily executed?, (b) how does this capacity relate to the more sophisticated capacities of acquiring and possessing a theory of mind?, (c) by what neural mechanisms is this know how realized/enabled in the brain?, (d) what role does the mirror neuron network play in constituting social cognition?>

The goal of this project is to develop an integrative (interdisciplinary) account of our perception of the world and our capacity to understand other minds on the basis of situated and embodied cognition.

An Argumentative Approach to Defeasible Reasoning:

Towards a Unifying Base Theory - Jun.-Prof. Dr. Christian Straßer

The group is supported by a Sofja Kovalevskaja award in 2014 of the Alexander von Humboldt-Foundation, funded by the German Ministry for Education and Research.

Defeasible reasoning (in short, DR) is indispensable when dealing with a world full of uncertainties: we constantly draw conclusions that we may reject later in view of new information. Examples of DR are numerous: induction, abduction, inferences on the basis of expert opinion, etc. We find DR in everyday reasoning, in expert reasoning (e.g., medical diagnosis), and in scientific reasoning. When reasoning defeasibly, people sometimes make mistakes (they fail to reject conclusions when there are good reasons to do so). Given that DR is central for human reasoning, this urges us to study DR with exact formal methods. Only in this way, are we able to explicate and evaluate reasoning processes in a precise way and to assist and correct people in reasoning. One of the central ideas behind this project is that DR is best studied from an argumentative angle according to which an inference is retracted if and only if it cannot be defended against counterarguments. Besides its technical elegance, it has been argued that the argumentative approach is empirically adequate.

However, there are still many foundational issues and the given tools are still very limited in expressive power. DR has also been intensively studied within the domain of nonmonotonic logic, leading to a plethora of logics for different types of DR. What is lacking though, is a formal base that unifies the modeling of various types of DR and that is sufficiently expressive to handle real-life examples of DR.

The aim of this project is: (i) to provide a unifying theory for the formal study of DR from an argumentative perspective and (ii) to apply this theory to actual cases of DR. For (i), we will integrate techniques from highly unifying nonmonotonic logics (such as Adaptive Logics) into argumentation frameworks. For (ii), we will focus on two domains: normative reasoning and scientific reasoning.

Homepage of the project:http://homepage.ruhr-uni-bochum.de/defeasible-reasoning/index.html

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DFG Project Doxastic Agency and epistemic responsibility

Prof. Dr. Heinrich Wansing

01.12. 2015 – 30.11.2018

The project investigates some important concepts from epistemology, namely doxastic agency and epistemic responsibility. Epistemic subjects, who hold beliefs and possess knowledge, are regarded not only as entertaining certain mental attitudes toward propositions, but as agents capable of making choices. This topics is today a central one in philosophy: on the one hand, contemporary theoretical philosophy has deeply investigated the connection between the practical dimension of responsibility and that of agency and knowledge; on the other hand, contemporary epistemology has developed a number of notions and theories that deal with the two concepts.
This project aims at integrating the basic concepts assumed in the epistemological debate with a formal mechanism that allows for the unambiguous expression of such concepts and the rigorous checking of valid principles and satisfiable statements.

The project approaches epistemic responsibility of agents from the perspective of philosophical logic. In particular, the aim of the project is to provide clarification and new insights on three key issues: (i) the crucial distinction between a passive reception of updates an active search for information; (ii) the connection between the notion that 'we could have formed our beliefs otherwise', and its link with the assessment of our conduct; (iii) the distribution of cognitive labor in cases of testimonial belief?
In order to fulfill its purpose, the project develops and investigates suitable formal languages interpreted in branching-time structures so as to obtain a rigorous formal framework for representing epistemic responsibility. As a result, there emerges a comprehensive and rigorous formal account of the agentive dimension of belief formation.
While the methodology of the project is formal, the problems it deals with are key problems in theoretical philosophy, and they are connected with some of the most important topics in epistemology.

The maximization of true beliefs and the minimization of false beliefs is usually regarded as a crucial epistemic goal, and forming beliefs in a reliable way is one of the key concerns of our epistemic practices. Whereas the reliability of methods and processes obeys objective criteria, which seem to be independent from the epistemic agent involved in a specific situation, there are also features of belief formation that call for a more active role of the epistemic subject. If we take our evidence to be insufficient to form a certain belief, we are able to decide to search for further evidence and we can decide when and where we trace additional information and how careful we scrutinize fresh evidence. If we are in doubt about the quality of our evidence, we are able to reflect upon it and to revise it accordingly.

These forms of doxastic agency contribute to our practice of belief formation and they give us an active role in this enterprise. Doxastic agency, it goes without saying, can prove reliable or unreliable, and in both cases (but more pressingly in the second one), the chance for an alternative belief formation proves crucial in assessing the agent's epistemic performance. In particular, such a chance seems to be crucial in order to assess the epistemic responsibility of the agent. In this project, the notion of a reliable belief formation will be investigated and given formal expression.

The application of formal tools to the topics of doxastic agency and epistemic responsibility looks promising, since formal representations of agency and belief have proved to be both extremely useful and influential over the last decades. In particular, formal studies have resulted in an in-depth investigation of agency operators, an analysis of the notion of responsibility, and new systems of doxastic and epistemic logic, thereby providing the necessary tools for approaching problems within epistemology with previously unavailable rigor. This project aims at bringing this contribution one step further, and further the application of formal tools to phenomena that are at the same time interesting and conceptually complex.

In bringing doxastic agency into the modal logic of agency and modal epistemic logic, the overall aim of this research is a new, conceptually sustained and detailed formal account of epistemic responsibility, which essentially refers to the appropriate exercise of doxastic control.

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GeTFun Generalzing Truth-Functionality

Marie Curie project PIRSES-GA-2012-318986 funded by EU-FP7

Prof. Dr. Heinrich Wansing

Cooperation of Wansing: 01.07.2015 – 31.12.2016

The Fregean-inspired Principle of Compositionality of Meaning (PoC), for formal languages, may be construed as asserting that the meaning of a compound expression is deterministically (and often recursively) analysable in terms of the meaning of its constituents, taking into account the mode in which these constituents are combined so as to form the compound expression. From a logical point of view, this amounts to prescribing a constraint - that may or may not be respected - on the internal mechanisms that build and give meaning to a given formal system. Within the domain of formal semantics and of the structure of logical derivations, PoC is often directly reflected by metaproperties such as truth-functionality and analyticity, characteristic of computationally well-behaved logical systems.

The project GeTFun is dedicated to the study of various well-motivated ways in which the attractive properties and metaproperties of truth-functional logics may be stretched so as to cover more extensive logical grounds. The ubiquity of non-classical logics in the formalization of practical reasoning demands the formulation of more flexible theories of meaning and compositionality that allow for the establishment of coherent and inclusive bases for their understanding. Such investigations presuppose not only the development of adequate frameworks from the perspectives of Model Theory, Proof Theory and Universal Logic, but also the construction of solid bridges between the related approaches based on various generalizations of truth-functionality. Applications of broadly truth-functional logics, in their various guises, are envisaged in several areas of computer science, mathematics, philosophy and linguistics, where the ever increasing complexity of systems continuously raise new and difficult challenges to compositionality.

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Michael von Ephesos über Betrachtung, Lust und Glück:

Ein byzantinischer Kommentar zum Buch X der Nikomachischen Ethik des Aristoteles', - Prof. Dr. James Wilberding

Period of Validity: 30 months

The goal of this project is, firstly, to provide the first-ever translation into a modern language of the earliest surviving commentary on Book 10 of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics. This commentary was composed by Michael of Ephesus in the 12th century A.D., and it is a commentary that has much to offer but that until very recently has been unjustly neglected. This project aims to correct this by making it accessible to a wider readership. The translation (into English) will be based on text edited by G. Heylbut in the Commentaria in Aristotelem Graeca series (volume 20, Berlin: 1892) and is set to be published in the renowned Ancient Commentators on Aristotle series. Our second aim is to produce the definitive account of Michael's ethics of happiness, with a particular focus placed on the roles pleasure and contemplation play in the happy life, as well as on the extent to which Neoplatonism has influenced his ethical thought. This account will be published in a peer-reviewed journal and will inform the introduction and scholarly annotations of the published translation.

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Theorie des Gedächtnisses - Prof. Dr. Werning

Weitere Informationen zu diesem Forschungsprojekt im Rahmen der Mercator-Forschergruppe finden Sie unter: Link



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Other Minds / Den Anderen verstehen – Prof. Dr. Newen

Manchmal scheint es, als könnten wir Gedanken lesen: Wir wissen genau, was unser Gegenüber meint, sogar noch bevor er es geäußert hat. Wie funktioniert das? Müssen wir uns selbst verstehen, um Andere verstehen zu können? Kann man diese Prozesse an der Gehirnaktivität ablesen – und darf man das? Warum funktioniert das Verstehen Anderer bei manchen Krankheiten nicht? Das vom Bundesforschungsministerium (BMBF) mit rund einer Million Euro geförderte Verbundprojekt „Other Minds/Den Anderen verstehen: Neurophilosophie und Neuroethik der Intersubjektivität“ soll diese Fragen beantworten.

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Soziale Informationsverarbeitung und Kultur - Prof. Dr. Albert Newen


Wie verstehen wir andere Personen? Welche Rolle spielen dabei kulturelle Unterschiede? Zu den komplexesten kognitiven Leistungen des Menschen gehört die Verarbeitung sozialer Information, die uns Menschen ein Leben in Gemeinschaften ermöglicht. Dies wird uns durch unsere Fähigkeit ermöglicht, uns in andere Personen „hineinzuversetzen“ und ihre innere Verfassung einzuschätzen und ihr Verhalten vorherzusagen. Eine zentrale Frage des Projekts lautet: Wie sieht eine adäquate Interpretation von Handlungen, Verständigungssignalen und sozialen Rollen in interaktiven Situationen aus, also dann, wenn wir tatsächlich und konkret mit anderen in Beziehung treten? Ein zweiter wichtiger Aspekt wird die kulturelle Dimension sein. Menschliche Kommunikation ist wesentlich in kulturelle Kontexte eingebettet und wird von ihnen geprägt; zugleich aber formt sie den kulturellen Hintergrund, dem die einzelnen Kommunikationspartner angehören. Ein Hauptziel dieses Forschungsverbundes ist es vor diesem Hintergrund, nicht nur die Rolle von kognitiven, sondern auch von kulturellen Faktoren für Selbstverstehen, Fremdverstehen und Kommunikation herauszuarbeiten.


Selbstbewußtsein und Begriffsbildung – Prof. Dr. Newen

The main question of the research project is: "What is human self-consciousness?"

Until now, the empirical sciences have made relatively little progress in explaining one major subject of human self-conception, which is consciousness in general and especially self-consciousness. Both phenomena continue to pose an unsolved riddle. Generally, self-consciousness is claimed to be a condition for responsible action: Only if a person has consciousness of both her/his own desires and beliefs on the one hand, and the so motivated actions on the other, will she/he be able to consciously influence her/his actions. Hence, self-consciousness is a necessary condition for responsible action. Self-consciousness — as the notion is used here — is to be sharply distinguished from the notion of self-esteem: It signifies consciousness of the subject's own desires and beliefs. The aim of the project is to develop a new theory of self-consciousness so understood. The philosophical theorizing will be developed in accordance with the latest research-results in infant development of self-consiousness as well as pathological cases of adult self-consciousness. The project will be conducted in collaboration of philosophers (Philosophisches Seminar, Universität Tübingen) and neuroscientists (Priv.-Doz. Dr. Kai Vogeley, Universitätsklinik Bonn). The philosophical theory will accordingly be built on empirical insights from psychiatric research. Cases of disorders of self-consciousness such as autism and schizophrenia are especially important here. A new philosophical theory of human self-consciousness will then on the other hand provide a framework for further systematic empirical research in autism and schizophrenia. In this sense, the general aim of the project is to provide new perspectives on the investigation of the human mind through a philosophical theory of human self-consciousness.

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Dilthey-Fellowship - Leiter: Raphael van Riel

A Study in Explanatory Power

Erklärungen werfen begriffliche und semantische Fragen auf wie solche der Pragmatik, der Logik und der Metaphysik. Erklärungen haben darüber hinaus eine epistemische Funktion: Sie können Zustände des Verstehens nach sich ziehen. Der Grad oder die Tiefe des Verstehens eines Phänomens, das eine Erklärung nach sich zu ziehen in der Lage ist, hängt ab von der Kraft einer Erklärung. Das Ziel des Projektes besteht darin, diesen Begriff der Erklärungskraft zu explizieren und eine Theorie zu entwickeln, die den Zusammenhang zwischen Erklären und Verstehen erhellt, indem sie (i) Arten von Verstehen unterscheidet, (ii) diejenigen Eigenschaften von Erklärungen identifiziert, von denen der Grad des Verstehens abhängt, den eine Erklärung nach sich zu ziehen in der Lage ist, (iii) mögliche für ein Verstehen relevante Unterschiede zwischen verschiedenen Arten von Erklärungen transparent macht und (iv) die Rolle analysiert, die Verstehen als demjenigen Phänomen zukommt, das Erklärungen in vielen Fällen an die Möglichkeit zu Handeln koppelt. Eine zentrale Annahme besteht darin, dass Erklärungen in Alltag und verschiedenen Wissenschaften sich vor allem auch hinsichtlich des Grades oder der Art ihrer epistemischen Kraft unterscheiden, sodass eine Theorie der Erklärungskraft dazu beitragen wird, das komplexe Verhältnis zu beleuchten, in dem wissenschaftliche Erklärungen zu solchen des Alltags und zueinander stehen.
Das Projekt wird an Universitäten der UAMR durchgeführt, zunächst am Standort Bochum, dann am Standort Duisburg-Essen.

Weitere Informationen


NRW Nachwuchsgruppe - Prof. Dr. Tobias Schlicht

Intentionalität, Selbstbewusstsein und soziale Interaktion.
Philosophisch-kognitionswissenschaftliche Untersuchungen

Eine der zentralen Fähigkeiten des Menschen besteht darin, sich auf unterschiedliche Weise auf Gegenstände und Sachverhalte zu richten. So kann ich davon überzeugt sein, dass es schneit; ich kann mir ein Eis wünschen, eine öde Landschaft wahrnehmen oder nach einem Glas Rotwein greifen. In all diesen Fällen hat mein geistiger oder körperlicher Akt ein Objekt, auf das er sich richtet oder von dem er handelt. Dazu muss das Objekt nicht einmal existieren, denn ich kann Sherlock Holmes bewundern und mich vor dem Yeti fürchten, ohne dass es sie gibt, und ich kann auf Weltfrieden hoffen, ohne dass dieser sich einstellt. In sozialer Interaktion können wir uns auch Gedanken über die Wünsche und Absichten anderer machen und sind dabei auf deren geistige Zustände gerichtet, die ihrerseits ebenfalls von etwas handeln. Wenn wir Verabredungen treffen oder uns das Verhalten anderer verständlich machen wollen, rekurrieren wir ganz selbstverständlich auf diese Fähigkeit.