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

This information is for the 2015/16 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:

Part I: Kinds of Minds

Animals and associations: What kind of cognitive capacities do we share with animals? Which of these capacities, if any, are still operational in human thought? Might human cognition be simpler than we suppose?

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?

Part II: Modelling Minds

'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?

Part III: Implications and Applications

Emotion and morality: Is explicit moral reasoning nothing more than the after-the-event rationalization of snap judgements made in the emotional heat of the moment? If so, where does that leave ethics?

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?

Cognitive enhancement: What are the prospects for enhancing human cognitive capacity by technological means? What are the ethical limits? Are there any?


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

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 2014/15: 11

Average class size 2014/15: 5

Controlled access 2014/15: No

Lecture capture used 2014/15: Yes (LT)

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information