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

This information is for the 2018/19 session.

Teacher responsible

Adrian Boutel


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:

Folk psychology and its discontents: We tend think of ourselves, and of others, as more-or-less rational instrumental deliberators, choosing actions that further our goals in light of our beliefs. But is this common-sense understanding a good psychological theory?  Or is it, at best, a useful heuristic for dealing with something much more complex?

Cognition as computation: Is the brain (like) a computer?  Is computation sufficient for thought? Could computers potentially do all the things our minds do?

Dual-process theories: Do our cognitive processes come in ‘fast’ and ‘slow’ varieties? Is the mind partitioned into two systems?

Implicit bias: Could we be unaware of our own racial, gender and other biases? If so, are we responsible for the decisions they influence? What can we do about them?

Thought outside the body: Are thoughts wholly ‘in the head’? How might they extend beyond it? Will augmented reality paint our minds onto the world?

Happy societies: Should policymakers aim at increasing the happiness of society? What would this mean, and how would we go about it?

Nonhuman thought: Do we share cognitive capacities with animals? What kind of value judgements are involved in answering that question? And if AI is possible, what happens to us when machines can think better than we can?


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 (which can serve as a draft of the summative essay).

Indicative reading

Suggested introductory reading:

Crane, T. (2003), The Mechanical Mind (2nd ed).  Routledge.

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

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 January exam period.
Essay (33%, 2000 words).

Student performance results

(2014/15 - 2016/17 combined)

Classification % of students
Distinction 25.6
Merit 59
Pass 15.4
Fail 0

Key facts

Department: Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method

Total students 2017/18: 20

Average class size 2017/18: 16

Controlled access 2017/18: No

Lecture capture used 2017/18: Yes (MT)

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Course survey results

(2014/15 - 2016/17 combined)

1 = "best" score, 5 = "worst" score

The scores below are average responses.

Response rate: 78%



Reading list (Q2.1)


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Integration (Q2.6)


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