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Course, academic year 2022/2023
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The Evolution of the Mind - AFSV00308
Title: The Evolution of the Mind
Guaranteed by: Institute of Philosophy and Religious Studies (21-UFAR)
Faculty: Faculty of Arts
Actual: from 2022
Semester: winter
Points: 0
E-Credits: 5
Examination process: winter s.:
Hours per week, examination: winter s.:2/0, Ex [HT]
Capacity: unlimited / unknown (50)
Min. number of students: unlimited
Virtual mobility / capacity: no
State of the course: taught
Language: English
Teaching methods: full-time
Note: course can be enrolled in outside the study plan
enabled for web enrollment
Guarantor: prof. James Hill, Ph.D.
Teacher(s): prof. James Hill, Ph.D.
Class: Exchange - 08.1 Philosophy
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download Dennett I.pdf Dennett, From Bacteria to Bach and Back, Part I prof. James Hill, Ph.D.
Last update: prof. James Hill, Ph.D. (15.09.2022)
In this course we will investigate the evolutionary approach to the origin and development of the mind and the 'higher' faculties. We will begin by considering Charles Darwin's own account of the evolution of the mind and the opposition to it from his contemporary and fellow evolutionist, Alfred Russel Wallace. Against this background we will then consider neo-Darwinist approaches to the emergence and evolution of mind. Of central importance for us will be Daniel Dennett’s recent book From Bacteria to Bach and Back (2017). Special attention will be given to Dennett’s extension of Darwinism into the field of cultural evolution and to the concept of “memes” which this move relies upon. We will also consider views that diverge from Dennett’s Darwinist approach, in particular the critique of the theory of memes in Steven Pinker, doubts about an evolutionary explanation of language in the work of Noam Chomsky and the claim, by Thomas Nagel, that consciousness itself cannot be explained in the framework of Darwinian theory. We will also study another approach to the evolution of language and thought in the work of primatologist and philosopher, Michael Tomasello.

The course, which will be conducted in English, is intended for students on Bachelor’s or Master’s programmes in Philosophy. It may also be taken by non-specialists, with the agreement of the instructor.

NB There will be no class in the first week of the semester on Wednesday October 5th.

Last update: prof. James Hill, Ph.D. (15.09.2022)

Short Bibliography

Darwin, Charles. On the Origin of Species. 1859*

Darwin, Charles. The Descent of Man. 1871*

Dawkins, Richard. The Selfish Gene. OUP. 1976/2006

Dennett, Daniel. From Bacteria to Bach and Back: The Evolution of Minds. Penguin. 2017

Chomsky, Noam. Language and Mind. Third Edition, 2005

Cosmides, Leda and Tooby, John. Evolutionary Psychology: A Primer. Online at:

Huxley, T.H. “On the Hypothesis that Animals Are Automata, and Its History”. 1874

James, William. The Principles of Psychology. 1890/1918

Nagel, Thomas. Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature

  Is Almost Certainly False. 2012

Pinker, Steven. The Language Instinct. Harpers.1994/2007

Pinker, Steven. How the Mind Works, Norton, 1997

Tomasello, Michael. A Natural history of Thinking, 2014

(*For Darwin’s texts see:

Requirements to the exam
Last update: prof. James Hill, Ph.D. (09.11.2022)

Course Requirements:

Each week there will be a reading available which will be the subject of our discussion in the seminar. The reading is an essential part of the course, and students will lose their way if they fail to do it. Our course will be graded according to two criteria: attendance and written work. There is no formal exam to this course, but the written work will be equivalent to the exam.

(i) To be eligible for the grade, students should not be absent from the seminar more than three times over the semester.

(ii) The written work will be a short essay, written in English, of between 1,000-1,500 words. The essay should show knowledge of one specific problem in the evolution of mind, and it should deal with the work of one philosopher, included in our course, on that problem. The essay should make reference to the reading for the course. The student should choose the topic and essay title themselves, and the essay should include their own argued standpoint. The essay must be handed in on paper by December 21st 2022. Essays cannot be accepted after this date, nor can they be accepted in electronic form. All essays will undergo a routine check for plagiarism.

Last update: prof. James Hill, Ph.D. (09.11.2022)

Course Plan:

NB There will be no class on Wednesday, October 5th

1. Introduction

2. Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace on the Evolution of Man’s Intellectual Powers

3. T.H. Huxley and William James on Consciousness and Epiphenomenalism

4. Daniel Dennett’s Darwinism: Two “Strange Inversions of Reason”

5. Noam Chomsky: The Challenge of Language for Darwinism

6. Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins: Memes and Cultural Evolution

7. Steven Pinker’s Critique of Mimetics

8. Michael Tomasello and the 'Shared Intentionality Hypothesis'

9. Thomas Nagel: The Challenge of Consciousness for Darwinism

10. Daniel Dennett: Consciousness as Evolved User-Illusion

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