Patricia Churchland

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Churchland, 2005

Patricia Churchland (born 16 July 1943) is a Canadian-American analytic philosopher noted for her contributions to neurophilosophy and the philosophy of mind. She is UC President's Professor of Philosophy Emerita at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), where she has taught since 1984. She has also held an adjunct professorship at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies since 1989.


  • Although many philosophers used to dismiss the relevance of neuroscience on grounds that what mattered was “the software, not the hardware”, increasingly philosophers have come to recognize that understanding how the brain works is essential to understanding the mind.

Quotes about Churchland[edit]

  • These days, many philosophers give Pat credit for admonishing them that a person who wants to think seriously about the mind-body problem has to pay attention to the brain. But this acknowledgment is not always extended to Pat herself, or to the work she does now. “Although some of Churchland’s views have taken root in mainstream philosophy, she is not part of it,” Ned Block, a philosopher at New York University, wrote in a review of one of her books. “Unfortunately, Churchland . . . approaches many conceptual issues in the sciences of the mind like the more antiphilosophical of scientists.” Although she tried to ignore it, Pat was wounded by this review. But it was true; in some ways she had simply left the field. Although she often talks to scientists, she says she hasn’t got around to giving a paper to a philosophy department in five years. These days, she often feels that the philosophical debate over consciousness is more or less a waste of time.
    • Larissa MacFarquhar, "Two heads: A marriage devoted to the mind-body problem", The New Yorker (2007)
  • Neither Pat nor Paul feels much nostalgia for the old words, or the words that will soon be old. They appreciate language as an extraordinary tool, probably the most extraordinary tool ever developed. But in the grand evolutionary scheme of things, in which humans are just one animal among many, and not always the most successful one, language looks like quite a minor phenomenon, they feel. Animals don’t have language, but they are conscious of their surroundings and, sometimes, of themselves. Pat and Paul emphatically reject the idea that language and thought are, deeply, one: that the language we now use reflects thought’s innate structure; that thought can take only the form in which we humans now know it; that there could be no thought without language. Moreover, the new is the new! It is so exciting to think about revolutions in science leading to revolutions in thought, and even in what seems, to the uninitiated, to be “raw feeling,” that, by comparison, old words and old sentiments seem dull indeed.
    • Larissa MacFarquhar, "Two heads: A marriage devoted to the mind-body problem", The New Yorker (2007)

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