Paul Churchland

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Paul Churchland
Born (1942-10-21) October 21, 1942 (age 79)
Vancouver, B.C., Canada
Alma mater University of Pittsburgh
Era 20th, 21st-century philosophy
Region Western Philosophy
School Analytic Philosophy
Institutions University of Pittsburgh
Main interests
Philosophy of science
Philosophy of mind
Artificial intelligence
Notable ideas
Eliminative materialism

Paul Churchland (born October 21, 1942) is a Canadian philosopher noted for his studies in neurophilosophy and the philosophy of mind.[1] He is Professor Emeritus at the University of California, San Diego, where he held the Valtz Chair of Philosophy[2] and a joint appointment with the Cognitive Science Faculty and the Institute for Neural Computation.[3] He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Pittsburgh in 1969 under the direction of Wilfrid Sellars.[4] Churchland is the husband of philosopher Patricia Churchland, and it has been noted that, "Their work is so similar that they are sometimes discussed, in journals and books, as one person."[5] He is also the father of two children, Mark and Anne Churchland, both of whom are neuroscientists.[6][7][8]

Professional career

Churchland began his professional career as an instructor at the University of Pittsburgh in 1969;[9] he also lectured at the University of Toronto from 1967-69.[10] In 1969, Churchland took a position at the University of Manitoba, where he would teach for fifteen years: as an assistant professor (1969–74) and associate professor (1974–79), and then as a full professor from 1979-1984.[11] Professor Churchland joined the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton in 1982, staying as a member until 1983.[12] He joined the faculty at the University of California, San Diego in 1983, serving as Department Chair from 1986-1990.[13] He is a member of the Board of Trustees Moscow Center for Consciousness Studies of Philosophy Department, Moscow State University.[14]

Philosophical views

Along with his wife, Churchland is a major proponent of eliminative materialism, the belief that everyday mental concepts such as beliefs, feelings, and desires are part of a "folk psychology" of theoretical constructs without coherent definition, destined to simply be obviated by a thoroughly scientific understanding of human nature.

Just as modern science has discarded such notions as legends or witchcraft, Churchland maintains that a future, fully matured neuroscience is likely to have no need for "beliefs" (see propositional attitudes). In other words, he holds that beliefs are not ontologically real. Such concepts will not merely be reduced to more finely grained explanation and retained as useful proximate levels of description, but will be strictly eliminated as wholly lacking in correspondence to precise objective phenomena, such as activation patterns across neural networks. He points out that the history of science has seen many posits once considered real entities, such as phlogiston, caloric, the luminiferous ether, and vital forces, thus eliminated. In The Engine of Reason, The Seat of the Soul Churchland hypothesizes that consciousness might be explained in terms of a recurrent neural network with its hub in the intralaminar nucleus of the thalamus and feedback connections to all parts of the cortex. He says his proposal is probably mistaken in the neurological details, but on the right track in its use of recurrent neural networks to account for consciousness. This is notably a reductionist rather than eliminativist account of consciousness.



Professor Churchland has authored eight books in philosophy, which have been translated into ten different languages.

  • Scientific Realism and the Plasticity of Mind, Cambridge University Press, 1979.
  • Matter and Consciousness, MIT Press, 1984.
  • Images of Science: Scientific Realism versus Constructive Empiricism, University of Chicago Press, 1985.
  • A Neurocomputational Perspective: The Nature of Mind and the Structure of Science, MIT Press, 1989, ISBN 0262531062
  • The Engine of Reason, The Seat of the Soul: A Philosophical Journey into the Brain, MIT Press, 1995, ISBN 0262531429
  • The Churchlands and their Critics (Philosophers and their Critics) by Robert McCauley, Oxford, 1996, ISBN 0631189696
  • On the Contrary: Critical Essays, 1987-1997, MIT Press, 1998 (with Patricia Smith Churchland), ISBN 0262531658
  • Neurophilosophy at Work, Cambridge University Press, 2007, ISBN 0521864720
  • Plato's Camera: How the Physical Brain Captures a Landscape of Abstract Universals, MIT Press, 2012, ISBN 0262016869

Of his books, Matter and Consciousness has been the most frequently and extensively reprinted.[15] Both Scientific Realism and the Plasticity of Mind and A Neurocomputational Perspective have also been reprinted.[16]


Professor Churchland has written a number of published articles that have had a substantial impact in philosophy. His essays have been translated into six different languages.

  • Eliminative Materialism and the Propositional Attitudes, Journal of Philosophy, Volume 78, February 1981.
  • Functionalism, Qualia, and Intentionality, Philosophical Topics, Volume 12, 1981.
  • Reduction, Qualia and Direct Introspection of Brain States, Journal of Philosophy, Volume 82, 1985.
  • Some Reductive Strategies in Cognitive Neurobiology, Mind, Volume 95, 1986.
  • Folk Psychology and the Explanation of Human Behavior, Proceedings of the Aristotelean Society, Supplementary Volume LXII, 1988.
  • Could a Machine Think?, Scientific American, January, 1990.
  • On the Nature of Theories: A Neurocomputational Perspective, Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science, Volume XIV, 1990.
  • Intertheoretic Reduction: A Neuroscientist's Field Guide, Seminars in Neuroscience, Volume 2, 1991.
  • The Neural Representation of Social Reality, Mind and Morals, 1995.

Each of these selected articles has been reprinted at least four times. Churchland's most famous essay is his 1981 Eliminative Materialism and the Propositional Attitudes. Published in a leading journal, this essay has been reprinted over twenty times and translated into five languages.

See also


  1. "In more recent history, eliminative materialism has received attention from a broader range of writers, including many concerned not only with the metaphysics of the mind, but also the process of theory change, the status of semantic properties, the nature of psychological explanation and recent developments in cognitive science. Much of this attention has been fostered by the husband-wife team of Paul and Patricia Churchland, whose writings have forced many philosophers and cognitive scientists to take eliminativism more seriously." - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Eliminative Materialism:
  2. See:
  3. See the UCSD Cognitive Science Inter-Disciplinary Faculty:
  4. See:
  6. See:
  7. Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory | Anne Churchland. Retrieved on 2013-09-27.
  8. Neural-Prosthetic Systems Laboratory Home Page (Shenoy Group / Shenoy Lab). (2013-09-06). Retrieved on 2013-09-27.
  9. For contact information that verifies this chronology, see:
  10. To verify this chronology, see:
  11. "He spent the first 15 years of his career at the University of Manitoba, taking advantage of its relative isolation to further develop his own approach to the ideas to which he was exposed during his graduate education." See:
  12. The Institute for Advanced Study can be reached online to verify this appointment; see:
  13. Besides the faculty website referenced above, Professor Churchland's career chronology is available through the Philosophy of Science Section of the University of California at San Diego Department of Philosophy Web-Page. See:
  14. "People". Moscow Center for Consciousness Studies of Philosophy Department. Retrieved 15 September 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. See (1) Eliminative Materialism in Introducing Philosophy (R.C. Solomon, Pages 449 - 453); (2) Behaviorism, Materialism, and Functionalism in Reason and Responsibility: Readings in Some Basic Problems of Philosophy, Seventh Edition (Edited by J. Feinberg, Wadsworth Press); (3) Eliminative Materialism in Introductory Readings in Philosophy (Edited by J. Pojman, Wadsworth Press)
  16. See (1) The Mind-Body Problem in Philosophy of Mind (Polish), by the Alethia Foundation (1995); (2) Knowing Qualia: A Reply to Jackson in The Nature of Consciousness: The Philosophical Debates edited by N. Block, O. Flanagan and G. Guzeldere (MIT Press - 1997)

External links