PHIL 340 - Minds and Machines
Section: 001
Term: FA 2018
Subject: Philosophy (PHIL)
Department: LSA Philosophy
Requirements & Distribution:
May not be repeated for credit.
Primary Instructor:

We begin by asking whether machines can think, and discover that this question has many dimensions. The idea that thought is in some ways mechanical will provide surprising insights into human psychology, but at the same time raises many philosophical questions.

We will begin with a classical paper written in 1950 by Alan Turing, which argues forcefully that there are no fundamental differences between human and computer mentality. This paper raises two questions, which we will pursue in some detail.

  1. Turing avoids the question of whether computers can think, asking instead if the performance of an intelligent human could be simulated by a computer. But we can turn this question around: can we use the idea that thought is computation to understand human cognition? This question leads us to look at the field known as cognitive psychology. By looking in detail at the idea of a cognitive architecture, we will see that computational models can explain a great deal about human thought. If that is so, the similarity between human and computer thinking runs very deep.
  2. Why, then, is it so hard to produce a computer program that successfully simulates an intelligent human being? We will look at several case studies from the field of Artificial Intelligence to see why this has turned out to be much harder than many people expected.

All along, and especially in the second half of the course, we will be asking how these things relate to issues that are debated in philosophy. The main question, which has been framed in many different ways, is whether the mechanical approach to mind leaves out something that is importantly and distinctively human.

Course Requirements:

Requirements for the course are: short weekly exercises, two short papers, and either a final examination or a research paper. A previous syllabus can be viewed at

Intended Audience:

The content of this course will be about one-third computer science, one-third psychology, and one-third philosophy. Students who sign up for the course should be prepared for that. Philosophy majors are welcome in this course. It is especially suited for students with interests in cognitive science or philosophy of mind.

This course may count toward the BBCS cognate requirement, though students would need to request this exception with an advisor for their major.

Class Format:

Two lectures and one discussion section per week.

PHIL 340 - Minds and Machines
Schedule Listing
001 (LEC)
TuTh 2:30PM - 4:00PM
Note: Interested students are encouraged to join the waitlist. Any decision about adding sections will be made based upon the number of students on the waitlist.
002 (DIS)
Th 5:00PM - 6:00PM
003 (DIS)
Th 4:00PM - 5:00PM
004 (DIS)
F 11:00AM - 12:00PM
005 (DIS)
F 10:00AM - 11:00AM
NOTE: Data maintained by department in Wolverine Access. If no textbooks are listed below, check with the department.

ISBN: 9780674920996
Unified theories of cognition, Author: Allen Newell., Publisher: Harvard University Press 1. Harvard 1990
Syllabi are available to current LSA students. IMPORTANT: These syllabi are provided to give students a general idea about the courses, as offered by LSA departments and programs in prior academic terms. The syllabi do not necessarily reflect the assignments, sequence of course materials, and/or course expectations that the faculty and departments/programs have for these same courses in the current and/or future terms.

Click the button below to view historical syllabi for PHIL 340 (UM login required)

View Historical Syllabi
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