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Neuropragmatism: Bridging the Sciences and the Humanities Towards Ameliorative Ends

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Tibor Solymosi
Allegheny College
United States

Teed Rockwell
Sonoma State University
United States

Bill Bywater
Allegheny College
United States

The ever-growing interest in what neuroscience can tell us about the human condition not only deserves but also demands attention from pragmatists. Most of the attention paid to neuroscientific research comes from neuroscientists themselves. Their assessment is often provocatively portrayed to the extent that many people believe that neuroscience will radically transform the human condition. Some of these believers welcome such change, while others lament it. Pragmatists, however, must take a more nuanced and moderate perspective to neuroscience. That is, pragmatists welcome, on the one hand, the bounty of data that neuroscientific research provides. On the other hand, however, pragmatists recognize that such data are not only provisional but are to be utilized as the means toward our greater ideals in life. Neuroscience does not, as some say or worry, simply eliminate our self-conception; nor does it leave it unquestioned. The navigation of the new terrain developed by both the neuroscience and its popularization is a task pragmatists are well-equipped to handle.
To illustrate how this navigation may proceed, our panel aims to provide 1) a historical and metaphilosophical framework for understanding neuropragmatism in contrast to standard neurophilosophy; 2) an epistemology rooted in bodily practices and radical empiricism; and 3) a pedagogy for dealing with the results of neuroscientific inquiries as well as how to proceed further in future inquiries. The papers of this panel overlap to various degrees on these three themes, while each paper takes up one specific theme as its own individual focus.
The first paper, “Reconstruction Or Reconciliation: Can We Embrace Neuroscience Without Losing Our Soul? A View From Neuropragmatism” examines the first theme. Much contemporary neurophilosophy, as well as much popular neuroscience, suggests that elements of our self-conception, if not the whole of it, is illusory. As a means of introducing a neuropragmatic framework for reconstruction, examples from popular neuroscience are critically addressed from neurophilosophical, neopragmatic, and neuropragmatic standpoints.
The second paper, “Music and Radical Empiricism,” provides a radical empiricist epistemology to take up a neuroscientifically-informed perspective of musical experience. The two dominant conceptions of knowledge and experience in Western music are based in either sensationalistic empiricism or in an a priori Kantianism. Neither approach is adequate for the task of accounting for the richness of musical experience and the neuroscience of it. A Jamesian view can, however, provided we question our reliance on classical Western notions of music.
The final paper is the result of the first course taught on neuropragmatism. “Neuropragmatism’s Pedagogy – Apprenticeship” takes up Dewey’s experientially-based educational philosophy in a contemporary and neuroscientifically-informed context. The pedagogy that emerges from both the teaching experience and reflection upon it is one that strongly opposes the all-too-common belief that education is simply the delivery of information by an active authority to a passive student. Education is thus reconstructed as the means of habit management and habit creation toward the end-in-view of deliberative growth of both the individual and the community. Emphasis is given to the student as much as to the environmental context in which the educational practice of student-teacher interaction is enacted. From this, a reconstructed conception of apprenticeship – engagement-apprenticeship – is put forth.
Our aim with this panel is to provide a provisional framework for thinking about the consequences of neuroscience for ourselves and our culture at large. This framework is put to a first round of tests with the cases of music and pedagogy. Our hope is that discussion and feedback from the audience will provide further insight and avenues toward a philosophically-responsible approach to the advance of neuroscience.


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