Carol W. Slater (1994) Why we Should not Rely on Cognitive Science. Psycoloquy: 5(45) Scientific Cognition (8)

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PSYCOLOQUY (ISSN 1055-0143) is sponsored by the American Psychological Association (APA).
Psycoloquy 5(45): Why we Should not Rely on Cognitive Science

Book review of Giere on Scientific Cognition

Carol W. Slater
Department of Psychology
Alma College
Alma, MI 48801



Contrary to Ronald Giere's hope, enlisting the cognitive sciences to play a role filled by logic and history will not bring about programmatic unity in the philosophy of science (Giere, 1992, 1993). I consider two such possible roles and conclude by questioning the assumption that programmatic unity is in and of itself a desirable goal.


Cognitive science, philosophy of science, cognitive models, artificial intelligence, computer science, cognitve neuroscience.
1. Ronald Giere tells us that the time has come for the cognitive sciences "to play the sort of role that formal logic played for logical empiricism or that history of science played for the historical school permit[ting] the philosophy of science to move beyond the division that has characterized the field since the 1960s" (xv). (All page references are to Giere's 1992 book.) Ungrateful though it may seem to reject this flattering invitation, I propose to do so. The papers collected in this volume may give cognitive scientists and philosophers of science reasons to take each other's work seriously, but they do not provide the slightest basis for believing that disciplinary bi-dialectality can put Humpty Dumpty together again or that doing so is a goal toward which we should bend our collective efforts.

2. To see why this is so, we need to take a careful look at the invitation. What, precisely, is the role for which Giere wishes to recruit the cognitive sciences? Although he does not give us details, one possibility is obvious: the cognitive sciences should replace logic and history as a basis for characterizing science as an object of inquiry. On one persuasive account (Von Eckardt, 1993), members of disciplinary communities work within research frameworks that specify (among other things) the nature of the system with which their inquiry is concerned. Such conceptual or theoretical specification constrains what count as appropriate questions and answers to these questions. Logic and, more recently, history have both provided this kind of conceptual resource for philosophers of science. Logical empiricists took the object of their inquiry to be a completed theory, viewed as a set of linguistic (or language-like) structures; formal logic provided a detailed specification of relations among the constituents of such systems as entailment, logical equivalence, and so on. Advocates of the historical school, by contrast, construed the object of their inquiry as one or another sort of temporally extended, usually social, structure: a research programme or a research tradition whose description involved referring to such properties as a past track record of success, promise of future performance, progressiveness, degeneration and the like (Brown, 1977). Allegiance to these disparate characterizations of science has, indeed, differentiated programs in the philosophy of science and it goes without saying that were philosophers of science to agree on a conceptualization of their domain, or on any conceptualization whatsoever, these divisions would disappear. The interesting questions, however, concern (1) whether the cognitive sciences, as currently constituted, are in a position to provide a unifying conceptualization of science and (2) whether programmatic unity in philosophy of science is, at this point, particularly desirable in and of itself? Giere's optimism notwithstanding, I think the answer in both cases is no.

3. Should we expect the cognitive sciences to deliver a single way of construing science? Looking at the three clusters of cognitive sciences around which this volume is organized: cognitive psychology, artificial intelligence, and neuroscience, Giere acknowledges that each provides its own set of "models" for science (xvi). He is, however, unfazed by the existence of such apparent diversity. Each of the disciplinary clusters, he tells us, may be thought of as "providing a different level of analysis, with the functional units becoming more abstract as one moves 'up' from neuroscience to artificial intelligence" (xvi). At first glance, this remark is not especially reassuring. Logical relations among linguistic entities can also be described as "more abstract" than temporally extended social structures. My hunch is that the hierarchical relation Giere has in mind is, rather, one of supervenience or something similar. On one familiar view of the special sciences (Fodor, 1974), psychology is "above" neuroscience and neuroscience "above" basic physics in the sense that their properties supervene on those of the science "below" them. To see the various cognitive sciences arrayed in a hierarchy of this sort is, therefore, to see them as unified au fond. If Giere does not think that philosophers' reliance on various of the cognitive sciences poses the same threat to programmatic unity as does varied reliance on logic and history, it is, I think, because he is taking for granted a version of the doctrine of the unity of science.

4. We may now ask whether it is reasonable to believe that deplorable divisions among philosophers of science would be overcome were they to be persuaded to shop for conceptual resources among the cognitive sciences. I think not. For one thing, it has been questioned whether any version of the unity of science story is in fact correct (Hacking, 1983, 1989). Establishing hierarchical relations between psychological and neurological events has, in particular, proved far from easy (Baker, 1993; Haugeland, 1982; Horgan and Tye, 1985; Hornsby, 1985; Kim, 1989). Second, even were some version of Giere's hierarchy to prove acceptable, it is uncertain whether the sort of unity among the family of cognitive sciences thus underwritten would, as a matter of empirical fact, support productive collaboration. The claim that cognitive science is itself a coherent research program has, for example, been seen to stand in need of extensive defense (Von Eckardt, 1993). Closer to home, Paul Churchland's and Clark Glymour's papers, taken together, demonstrate that theorists drawing conceptual resources from within the family of cognitive sciences can disagree with each other every bit as drastically as have advocates of logical and historical approaches. (Indeed, this edgy interchange cries out for diagnosis as talk across paradigms.)

5. Where does this leave us? The most obvious interpretation of Giere's proposal that enlisting the cognitive sciences to specify relevant properties of science would allow philosophers of science to pull up their socks and close ranks seems unpersuasive. Science seen from the perspective of a sentence-crunching AI or a cognitive psychology committed to the reality of imagistic representations seems every bit as different from science construed in terms of neural activity as science seen from the logical point of view differs from science construed in social or historical terms. Perhaps, however, specifying an object of inquiry is not really the task for which Giere hopes to recruit the cognitive sciences. Here is another possibility: Logic and history have not only done yeoman's duty in identifying relevant properties of science; they have also been invoked in adjudicating its cognitive claims. As everybody knows, one goal of showing that scientific theories could be reconstructed from innocent logic and unproblematic observation statements was to justify (or, what was much the same thing, explain) the special cognitive authority of science. Historical evidence, on the other hand, has often been mobilized to challenge claims about the rationality and/or progressiveness of science. Does Giere think the cognitive sciences should take over this role? The idea is not without initial appeal. If we think of logical empiricists as being sturdily loyal to the epistemic authority of science and members of the historical school as attempting to overthrow it in a revolution of their own (Brown, 1977), then replacing the two contending programs with one based on the cognitive sciences might well appear to be a step toward the restoration of peace and harmony. Moreover, given their subject matter, the cognitive sciences might well appear to be legitimate heirs of this task: who better, after all, to render verdicts about the nature of knowledge (Kornblith, 1985)?

6. Should we, then, call upon the cognitive sciences to quench the flames of a nasty civil war? This, too, seems a misplaced hope. First, connections between reliance on logic or history, on the one hand, and deference to the deliverances of science, on the other, have not been nearly as neat as the above potted account of the history of philosophy of science might suggest. Scientific realists routinely accuse logical empiricists of falling into instrumentalist heresy, which is to say, of failing adequately to acknowledge the claims of scientific ontologies. At the same time, some historians of science have fought to illustrate the rationality of science. Where a theorist comes down with regard to the authority of science does not seem to be determined by conceptual resources; it appears rather more likely that a theorist's initial regard for the cognitive claims of science guides the way in which resources are deployed. Because the resources of the cognitive sciences are equally available to those who accord special epistemic authority to science and to those who withhold it, reliance on the cognitive sciences seems unlikely to eliminate this sort of disagreement.

7. If Giere has a role for the cognitive sciences that will create programmatic unity among philosophers of science, neither his introductory essay nor anything else in this volume makes its nature evident. Even were his claim to be both obvious and persuasive, however, we might still wish to ask whether such programmatic unity is a goal worth pursuing for its own sake. I shall only be able to touch lightly on this question but I think it is an important one. It is easy to see why consensus might be an attractive goal. Post Kuhnian wisdom has it that possession of a paradigm allows "normal science" and, one would assume, normal philosophy as well to make progress. Without denying the practical value of shared commitments, one might, however, still want to take seriously the possibility that the consensus that characterizes the "mature sciences" is as much the result of the eventual competitive success of a particular program of inquiry as it is a prerequisite for such success. In its early stages, a field may, indeed, benefit more from diversity than from consensus (Rosenwein, 1994). If we think of philosophy of science as still being, relatively speaking, in its early days, achieving diversity might be a better reason for looking to the cognitive sciences than the hope of programmatic unity. A more radical position yet might be that not only is there not now any single best viewpoint from which to consider science, but there never will be one (Fuller, 1993). In either case, it should be no disappointment to members of either community that the cognitive sciences cannot be enlisted as fairy godmothers to the philosophy of science. There are lots of other good reasons to stay in touch.


Baker, Lynne Rudder (1993) What Beliefs Are Not. In Steven Wagner and Richard Warner, eds. (1993) Naturalism: A Critical Appraisal (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press).

Brown, Harold I. (1977) Perception, Theory and Commitment: The New Philosophy of Science (Chicago: University of Chicago Press).

Fodor, Jerry A. (1974) The Language of Thought (Cambridge: Harvard University Press).

Fuller, Steve (1993) Philosophy of Science and Its Discontents (New York: Guilford Press).

Giere, R.N. (1993) Precis of Cognitive Models of Science. PSYCOLOQUY 4(56) scientific-cognition.1.giere.

Giere, R.N. (1992) Cognitive Models of Science. Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science, volume 15. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Hacking, Ian (1989) The Disunity of Science, Lecture, Nobel Conference XXV: The End of Science? Gustavus Adolphus College, St. Peter MN.

Hacking, Ian (1983) Representing and Intervening: Introductory Topics in the Philosophy of Natural Science (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).

Haugeland, John (1982) Weak Supervenience. American Philosophical Quarterly 19: 93-103.

Horgan, Terence and Tye, Michael (1985) Against the Token Identity Thesis. In Ernest LePore and Brian P. McLaughlin (1985) Actions and Events: Perspectives on the Philosophy of Donald Davidson (Oxford: Basil Blackwell).

Hornsby, Jennifer (1985) Physicalism, Events and Part-Whole Relationships In Ernest LePore and Brian P. McLaughlin (1985) Actions and Events: Perspectives on the Philosophy of Donald Davidson (Oxford: Basil Blackwell).

Kim, Jaegwon (1989) The Myth of Nonreductive Materialism. American Philosophical Association Proceedings 63: 31-47.

Kornblith, Hilary (1985) What Is A Naturalistic Epistemology? In Hilary Kornblith, ed. (1985) Naturalizing Epistemology (Cambridge MA: MIT Press).

Rosenwein, Robert E. (1994) Social Influence in Science: Agreement and Dissent in Achieving Scientific Consensus In William R. Shadish and Steve Fuller, eds. (1985) The Social Psychology of Science (New York: Guilford Press).

Von Eckardt, Barbara (1993) What Is Cognitive Science? (Cambridge MA: MIT Press).

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