Out of the Armchair: Anthropologists and Philosophers Explore the Neurosciences

Term: Fall 2011

Subject Code: GANT

Course Number: 6235

In the late 19th century, anthropologists got out of their armchairs to study supposedly premodern people in their native environments. A century later such fieldwork was extended to key institutions of modernity such as scientific laboratories. At about the time when the ethnographers Bruno Latour and Steve Woolgar immersed themselves in the laboratory life of a brain research facility, philosophers of mind such as Patricia Churchland also began to work in neuroscience labs. This course aims at a comparison of the epistemic practices and disciplinary projects of anthropologists of science and neurophilosophers. How can the anthropological approach be used fruitfully to study the work of neurophilosophers? What are anthropologists and philosophers looking for in laboratories? If one understands anthropology as a form of empirical philosophy, how does it differ from an empirically oriented philosophy of mind? Could these two forms of empirical philosophy (if this is what they are) transform each other?

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