Skip to main content Skip to navigation
Throughout the 2021-22 academic year, we will be prioritising face to face teaching as part of a blended learning approach that builds on the lessons learned over the course of the Coronavirus pandemic. Teaching will vary between online and on-campus delivery through the year, and you should read guidance from the academic department for details of how this will work for a particular module. You can find out more about the University’s overall response to Coronavirus at:

PH9GF-30 Origins of Mind: Philosophical Issues in Cognitive Development

Taught Postgraduate Level
Module leader
Stephen Butterfill
Credit value
Module duration
10 weeks
100% coursework
Study location
University of Warwick main campus, Coventry
Introductory description

PH9GF Origins of Mind: Philosophical Issues in Cognitive Development

Module aims

To introduce students to philosophical issues arising from findings about the emergence of minds in development.

Outline syllabus

This is an indicative module outline only to give an indication of the sort of topics that may be covered. Actual sessions held may differ.

How do humans come to know about objects, causes, numbers, actions and minds? We will
attempt to answer this question using a range of conceptual tools from philosophy to examine
puzzles arising from some recent scientific breakthroughs. The question, which goes back to
Plato or earlier, is challenging because it requires us to consider minds where knowledge is
neither clearly present nor obviously absent. This is challenging because, as Donald Davidson
observes, ‘[w]e have many vocabularies for describing nature when we regard it as mindless, and
we have a mentalistic vocabulary for describing thought and intentional action; what we lack is a
way of describing what is in between’ (Davidson, 1999, p. 11). To understand the emergence of
knowledge we need to investigate what is in between mindless nature and the sorts of cognition
captured by commonsense psychological notions. In pursuing this investigation, you will learn
about contemporary developmental findings, explore new philosophical issues raised by these
findings and investigate their relevance to longstanding philosophical questions about the mind.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the module, students should be able to:

  • Critically assess and evaluate (1) the key claims and arguments of the core debates in philosophical developmental psychology and (2) the implications of these claims for current debates in the area of philosophy covered.
  • Work autonomously to articulate their own view of the relative merits of conflicting theories and conjectures, and engage critically with other points of view.
  • Demonstrate sound judgement and initiative in selecting appropriate philosophical and psychological literature for their investigation of a specifically circumscribed problem.
  • Subject knowledge and understanding: students should be able to demonstrate an advanced understanding of the central arguments and substantive issues. This involves being able to understand and accurately report relevant findings from developmental psychology. They should be able to distinguish conflicting hypotheses and critically consider evidence for and against. Students should be able to identify philosophical questions arising from such findings, and to relate them to longstanding issues in philosophy.
Indicative reading list

Baillargeon, R., Scott, R. M., & He, Z. (2010). False-belief understanding in infants. Trends in
Cognitive Sciences, 14(3), 110–118.
Baldwin, D. (1995). Understanding the link between joint attention and language. In C. Moore &
Bermúdez, J. L. (2003). Thinking without Words. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Bratman, M. (1987). Intentions, Plans, and Practical Reasoning. Cambridge MA: Harvard
University Press.
Butterfill, S. A. (2012). Joint action and development. Philosophical Quarterly, 62(246):23– 47.
Butterfill, S. A. and Apperly, I. A. (2013). How to construct a minimal theory of mind. Mind and
Language, 28(5):606–637.
Campbell, J. (2002). Reference and Consciousness. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Carey, S. (2009). The Origin of Concepts. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Carpenter, M. (2009). Just how joint is joint action in infancy? Topics in Cognitive Science,
Carruthers, P., Laurence, S., & Stich, S. (2005). The Innate Mind: Structure and Contents. Oxford:
Oxford University Press.
Carruthers, P., Laurence, S., & Stich, S. (2006). The Innate Mind: Culture and Cognition. Oxford:
Oxford University Press.
Clark, E. V. (1993). The Lexicon in Acquisition. Cambridge: Cambridge Uni- versity Press.
Clements, W. & Perner, J. (1994). Implicit understanding of belief. Cognitive Development, 9,
Csibra, G. (2003). Teleological and referential understanding of action in infancy. Philosophical
Transactions: Biological Sciences, 358(1431), 447–458.
Csibra, G. & Gergely, G. (2009). Natural pedagogy. Trends in Cognitive Sci- ences, 13(4), 148–153.
Davidson, D. (1990). The structure and content of truth. The Journal of Phi- losophy, 87(6), 279–
Davidson, D. (1999). The emergence of thought. Erkenntnis, 51, 7–17.
Davidson, D. (2001). Subjective, Intersubjective, Objective. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Elman, J. L., Bates, E. A., Johnson, M. H., Karmiloff-Smith, A., Parisi, D., & Plunkett, K. (1996). Rethinking Innateness : A Connectionist Perspective On Development. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
Fodor, J. (1981). The present status of the innateness controversy. In Representations. Brighton: Harvester.
Fodor, J. (1983). The Modularity of Mind: An Essay on Faculty Psychology. Bradford book. Cambridge, Mass ; London: MIT Press.
Franklin, A., Catherwood, D., Alvarez, J., & Axelsson, E. (2010). Hemispheric asymmetries in categorical perception of orientation in infants and adults. Neuropsychologia, 48(9), 2648–2657.
Franklin, A., Clifford, A., Williamson, E., & Davies, I. (2005). Color term knowledge does not affect categorical perception of color in toddlers. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 90(2), 114–141.
Gergely, G. and Csibra, G. (2003). Teleological reasoning in infancy: the naive theory of rational action. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 7(7):287–292.
Goldin-Meadow, S. (2003). The resilience of language : what gesture creation in deaf children can tell us about how all children learn language. Essays in developmental psychology. New York, N.Y.: Psychology Press.
Hirschfeld, L. A. & Gelman, S. A. (1994). Mapping the Mind: Domain specificity in cognition and culture. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Hoerl, C., McCormack, T., & Beck, S. R. (Eds.). (2011). Understanding Counterfactuals, Understanding Causation: Issues in philosophy and psychology. Oxford University Press.
Johnson, M. H. (2005). Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, 2nd Edition. Oxford: Blackwell.
Jusczyk, P. (1997). The Discovery of Spoken Language. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT.
Leslie, A. M. and Keeble, S. (1987). Do six-month-old infants perceive causality? Cognition, 25:265–288.
Shinskey, J. and Munakata, Y. (2001). Detecting transparent barriers: clear evidence against the means-end deficit account of search failures. Infancy, 2(3):395–404.
Spelke, E. (1990). Principles of object perception. Cognitive Science, 14:29–56.
Whiten, A. (Ed.), Natural Theories of the Mind: evolution, development and simulation of everyday mindreading. Oxford: Blackwell.

Subject specific skills


Transferable skills


Study time

Type Required
Seminars 9 sessions of 2 hours (6%)
Private study 282 hours (94%)
Total 300 hours
Private study description

No private study requirements defined for this module.


No further costs have been identified for this module.

You must pass all assessment components to pass the module.

Students can register for this module without taking any assessment.

Assessment group A1
Weighting Study time
7500 word essay 100%
Feedback on assessment

Feedback on essays will be provided on the coversheet for the essay, addressing standard areas
of evaluation and individual content.


This module is Option list A for:

  • TPHA-V7PN Postgraduate Taught Philosophy and the Arts
    • Year 1 of V7PN Philosophy and the Arts
    • Year 2 of V7PN Philosophy and the Arts