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Members' Weekend, 20-21 September 2014

The Nature of Thought

Links in the below time-table activate (or will soon activate) MP3 audio recordings of the corresponding talks. Talk recordings and supporting material are (or will soon be) also linked from talk summaries further below.

Saturday 20 September

13.30 Registration
13.45 Christian Michel: Introduction
14.00 Mike Arnautov: Can Computers (Really) Think?
14.45 James Innes: Thought in a Deterministic Universe
15.30 Tea/Coffee
16.00 Christian Michel: Thinking Nonsense
16.45 Eileen Walker Thought and Language
17.30 Panel Discussion
18.30 Bar
19.00 Annual Dinner and presentation of Chadwick & Boethius prizes
20.30 General discussion to be continued in the bar
Bar open till 22:30

Sunday 21 September

08.00 Breakfast (RH residents only)
09.30 Bob Stone: The Myth of Rationality
10.15 Ann Long: The 'Objective-Reflective-Normative' Thinking of Only Humans
11.00 Tea/Coffee
11.30 Panel Discussion
12.30 Lunch
13.30 Course disperses

The Talks in chronological order.

Mike Arnautov: Can Computers (Really) Think?
Mike will draw on his experience of Artificial Intelligence (AI) research to argue that computer analogies are relevant to philosophers grappling with the nature of thoughts and minds, whether or not one buys into the computational paradigm of AI. His answer to the question posed by the talk's title is a profoundly philosophical one: definitely maybe.
Audio recording (MP3 format)
Talk text (PDF format)
Handout (PDF format)
Slides (PDF format)

James Innes: Thought in a Deterministic World
It has been claimed that thinking is a purely physical and deterministic process. If that is the case, how do we account for subjective awareness, or indeed, free will? James suggests an answer.
Audio recording (MP3 format)
Talk text (PDF format)

Christian Michel: Thinking Nonsense
Sentences like "Colourless blue dreams sleep furiously" are grammatically correct but strike us as nonsensical because there is a sort of mismatch of the involved concepts. It's not so obvious to pin down what exactly a category mistake is: "Juliet is the sun" also looks like a category mistake, but it is not meaningless. Christian will discuss accounts of category mistakes and what those imply for a more general understanding of the nature of concepts and thinking.
Audio recording (MP3 format)
Talk text (PDF format)
Slides (PDF format)

Eileen Walker: Thought and Language
Concepts have traditionally been considered components of thought. Until the late 20C there was a tacit assumption that conceptual thought was embedded in language. Since animals and infants had no language, they had no concepts, hence could not think. Language was sometimes seen as a precondition of conceptual thought, but more generally as co-extensive with it. Eileen argues that rudimentary conceptual thought must precede language acquisition, and that there are good philosophical arguments as well as empirical evidence in favour of the view.
Audio recording (MP3 format)
Talk text (PDF format)
Handout (PDF format)

Bob Stone: The Myth of Rationality
We humans – especially philosophers – pride ourselves on our unique ability to practise rational thought. But what does 'rational thought' consist of, do we really do a significant amount of it, and, when we do, is it the sophisticated activity we imagine? Be prepared to have your self-image – as members of a rational community – shattered.
Audio recording (MP3 format)
Talk text (PDF format)
Handout (PDF format)
Slides (PDF format)

Ann Long: The 'Objective-Reflective-Normative' Thinking of Only Humans
In A Natural History of Human Thinking (2014), Michael Tomasello argues against an essentialist approach to the study of thought. The task is not to delineate the 'essence' of thinking, and then ask which entities – animals? humans? computers? – exhibit it. Instead it is to recognise the particularity of differing representational capacities in different entities, and study each in its own right. Ann's talk will briefly present, illustrate and critique Tomasello's 'shared intentionality' hypothesis as to the nature of specifically human thinking.
Audio recording (MP3 format)
Talk text (PDF format)
Glossary (PDF format)

The Speakers

Mike Arnautov comes from Prague where he studied mathematics and physics, followed by MSc in statistics. He came to England in 1970 and four years later was awarded PhD by Bristol University for research in Artificial Intelligence. He then spent 30 years worked as a systems programmer/architect in a research environment, supporting biologists, geneticists and bioinformaticians. In his spare time he has also read a lot of science fiction, which is how he got interested in AI in the first place. Mike considers all of these diverse strands to be important in shaping his views on the subject of minds.

James Innes remembers the sixties all too clearly, when he studied Physical Sciences at Edinburgh University. He spent most of his working life in the computer industry before gaining an MA in Political Philosophy at the Open University in 2005. Thus suitably qualified he now sits and thinks....

Christian Michel is German and holds degrees in Engineering and Business Administration. He also earned a BA in Philosophy from University of London. He was drawn to philosophy by the OUDCE philosophy online courses and is especially interested in issues in philosophy of language, logic, mind and meta-ethics. Though heavily limited in time due to his professional and family duties, he tries to write at least one philosophy paper per year.

Eileen Walker's first degree was in French and Spanish and in another life she taught languages. She has been a philosophy junkie for over 30 years, her habit fuelled by OUDCE. A recent PhD from Reading has failed to cure her of the obsession.

Bob Stone earned a degree in Classics many years ago, specialising in Greek philosophy. Took up philosophy with a vengeance after retiring in 2009. Now hooked.

Ann Long has two London University honours degrees: one in economics (1959); one in psychology (1972). After a brief spell in journalism, she spent the bulk of her working life teaching psychology in both further and higher education. Now retired, she is the author of Making God: A New Materialist Theory of the Person (Imprint Academic, 2007). And she is working on another book, with the working title Non-Reductive Materialism: a Developmental Approach to the Human Sciences.


For Mike's talk
Daniel C Dennett, 2005, Sweet Dreams: Philosophical Obstacles to a Science of Consciousness, MIT Press
Turner, Raymond, "The Philosophy of Computer Science", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy Spring 2014 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2014/entries/computer-science/

For James' talk
James Gleick, 1988, Chaos: Making a New Science, Cardinal
John Searle, 1999, Mind, Language and Society: Philosophy in the Real World, Phoenix

For Christian's talk
Ofra Magidor, 2013, Category Mistakes, Oxford University Press
Eric Margolis, 1999, Concepts: Core Readings, Bradford Books
Margolis, Eric and Laurence, Stephen, "Concepts", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2014 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2014/entries/concepts/

For Eileen's talk
Bermúdez J-L., 2003/2007, Thinking without Words, Oxford University Press
Scholl B.J., 2007, 'Object Persistence in Philosophy and Psychology'Mind & Language, Vol. 22/5: 563-591
Dummett M., 2006, Thought and Reality, OUP

For Bob's talk
Daniel Kahneman, 2011, Thinking, Fast and Slow, Macmillan
P.M.S. Hacker, 2013, The Intellectual Powers, Blackwell

For Ann's talk
Tomasello, Michael, 2014, A Natural History of Human Thinking, Harvard University Press
Long, Ann, 2009, 'Humans live; computer don't': http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/belief/2009/sep/04/computers-ai-technology-philosophy

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