PH428      Half Unit
Emotion, Cognition and Behaviour: Science and Policy

This information is for the 2016/17 session.

Teacher responsible

Andrew Buskell


This course is available on the MSc in Economics and Philosophy, MSc in Philosophy and Public Policy, MSc in Philosophy of Science and MSc in Philosophy of the Social Sciences. This course is available as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

Course content

This course provides an introduction to the (i) philosophical and (ii) scientific foundations of contemporary cognitive science with a particular focus on its (iii) ethical, social and political implications. No background in either philosophy or cognitive science is required.

Topics covered include:

Animals and associations: Do we share cognitive capacities with animals? What kind of value judgements are involved in determining whether animals have such capacities?

Thought as computation: What does it mean to say that thought is ‘computational’? What is getting computed, and how? Are there limits to the ‘computer’ analogy?

'Dual-process’ theories of cognition: Do cognitive processes come in ‘fast’ and ‘slow’ varieties? Is the mind partitioned into two systems? Or is the true picture more complicated than this?

The boundaries of thought: Are thoughts wholly 'in the head’? How might they extend beyond it? Where does cognition begin and end?

Implicit bias: Could we be unaware of our own racial and gender biases? Are we responsible for the decisions they influence? And is there anything we can do about them?

Happy societies: Should policymakers attempt to increase or improve the happiness of society? What would this mean, and how would we go about enacting such a policy?


10 hours of lectures and 15 hours of seminars in the MT.

Lectures: Weeks 1 - 10

Seminars: Weeks 2 - 11

Formative coursework

One 2,000 word formative essay and comments on a draft of the assessed essay.

Indicative reading

Suggested introductory reading:

Kahneman, D. (2011), Thinking Fast and Slow. Allen Lane/Penguin.

Shapiro, L. (2011), Embodied Cognition. Routledge.

Steele, C.M. (2011), Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do. W.W. Norton & Co.

Thaler, R. H. and C. R. Sunstein (2008), Nudge. Yale/Penguin.


Exam (67%, duration: 2 hours) in the LT week 0.
Essay (33%, 2000 words).

Key facts

Department: Philosophy

Total students 2015/16: 12

Average class size 2015/16: 7

Controlled access 2015/16: No

Lecture capture used 2015/16: Yes (MT)

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information