Many philosophers and cognitive scientists believe that human thought and sensation cannot be identified with brain processes because mental processes can occur in things that do not have brains or neurons— in silicon robots, exotic aliens, or immaterial souls. The multiple realization of the mental is central to most philosophical theorizing about minds. And many have thought or hoped that the lesson can be generalized to sciences like biology and economics that also study distinctive phenomena. The idea is that because the things that biology and economics study can be built in multiple ways, just like artifacts such as mousetraps or computers, those sciences cannot be "reduced" to or explained by physics. As Jerry Fodor says:
The conventional wisdom in philosophy of mind is that “the conventional wisdom in philosophy of mind [is] that psychological states are ‘multiply realized’...[and that this] fact refutes psychophysical reductionism once and for all…” Despite the consensus, however, I am strongly inclined to think that psychological states are multiply realized and that this fact refutes psychophysical reductionism once and for all.
Larry Shapiro and I have argued that Fodor and the conventional wisdom are wrong. Our most recent explanation appears in The Multiple Realization Book.
What is the relationship between minds and brains? Is it like that of a puppeteer and puppet, or computer software and hardware? Contrary to the view of advocates of multiple realization, I believe that there are good reasons to think that some types of mental processes are one and the same as some types of brain processes. In particular, I believe that the identification of some mental processes with brain processes is central to the methodology of the cognitive sciences, and that these identifications play an important role in the explanatory models of the cognitive and brain sciences. This is how I understand the mind-brain identity theory.
The argument for the identity theory is empirical in that that it appeals to the best available evidence, including both the study of minds and brains and the study of the sciences of psychology and neuroscience. The argument pattern is an example of inference to the best explanation, broadly speaking. The reasoning follows that of other widely studied scientfic identifications, such as that of lightning and electrical discharge or water and H2O. The conclusion is falliable in the usual ways, but it does not depend in any special way on logical or conceptual considerations. This view is defended by Larry Shapiro and me in The Multiple Realization Book.
Naturalism is notoriously difficult to characterize. The version of naturalism to which I subcribe involves some closely intertwined views about knowledge and about the world. Like the "natural born naturalism" advocated by Penelope Maddy, my naturalism is committed to the methodological or epistemic view that there is only one way to know about the world, and that is shared by all forms of inquiry including philosophy and, as a matter of fact, by the natural sciences as we know them. I also hold that the world that we inhabit is entirely natural in the sense that everything we encounter is of the same sort, ultimately the sort that the science of physics aims to explain. This is physicalism, the view that everything is broadly physical, ultimately dependent on the stuff of physics. On this way of thinking, naturalism and physicalism are tightly interconnected views. I believe that they give us powerful tools for tackling philosophical puzzles. But I also understand the worry that naturalism and physicalism are deflationary views, undermining the wonder of the world and the possibility of philosophy. Could the everyday world we are familiar with just be, as Eddington says, "mostly emptiness"? What kind of inquiry can philosophy be, given naturalism and physicalism? Naturalists and physicalists should be able to answer these questions, or at least explain how they seem to arise.
My department teaches philosophy to elementary school children in Cincinnati Public Schools. The pilot program involves offering philosophy as an elective course to 3rd-6th graders at the Hyde Park School and Cincinnati Gifted Academy, who are taught by me and by philosophy Ph.D. students. In the coming years we hope to expand our offerings and accelerate outreach to K-12 teachers.
As head of the Department of Philosophy at the University of Cincinnati, I am also working on offering courses and workshops for K-12 teachers who want to integrate philosophy into their curricula. One initiative follows directly on our volunteer work, looking at offering instruction in "Integrating Philosophy into the Reading Curriculum" for K-12 literature and language arts teachers.
The second initiative is to connect with future and current K-12 science teachers, with "Philosophy of Science for Science Educators." We have found that most educators and K-12 adminstrators are enthusiastic about expanding their knowledge of the subjects, and bringing new and interesting ideas and questions into their classrooms.