CFP: Philosophical Approaches to Social Neuroscience

Special Issue of Cognitive Systems Research

Edited by Leslie Marsh (Medical School, University of British Columbia) and Philip Robbins (Department of Philosophy, University of Missouri)

A Confluence of Interest

It’s been twenty-five years or so since Gazzaniga’s (1985) empirically motivated work that understood the brain as a kind of hermeneutic device or “interpreter” that evolved in response to social forces. This work could be considered a landmark in the nascent field of social neuroscience (SN). From a philosophical perspective it’s also been some twenty-five years since Churchland (1986) broke ranks with the a priorism characteristic of the prevailing philosophy of mind by taking heed of developments within neuroscience.

Social neuroscience, by definition, is an acknowledgement that the nervous system cannot be considered in isolation from the social environments in which humans have evolved. By the same token, the non-Cartesian wing of cognitive science is also a de facto acknowledgement that ubiquitous sociality must be factored into philosophy of mind. This said, there is still a very limited literature dealing with this clear confluence of interest. Of course, social neuroscience is not totally unknown to philosophy – possibly the most famous instance being the work of Gallese et al (1996), given philosophical currency via Gallese and Goldman (1998). But given the diversity of research projects that drive social neuroscience and “situated” philosophy of mind, the possible topics of philosophical investigation go well beyond mirror neurons.

The motivation behind this special issue is to harvest some of the results from SN with a view to:

(a) empirically enriching philosophy of mind, and

(b) philosophically informing social neuroscience.

To this end, we seek philosophical assessments of work being done in and around SN – including (but not limited to) work on mindreading, moral cognition, judgment and decision making, law and testimony, and social epistemology. The list of topics includes empathy, altruism, social pain, attribution, the self, stereotyping (race, gender, etc.), and collective intentionality.

Some overlapping questions for consideration:

1) Methodologically speaking, how social is (or can) neuroscience really be if all that is measured is brain activity in non-social contexts, i.e. fMRI scanners? (Keysers & McKay, 2011). Put another way, does social cognition draw upon a distinct set of processes dissociable from non-social processes? (Jenkins & Mitchell, 2011)

2) What count as foundational results in SN? (Ochsner, 2004)

3) What sort of metaphysical and epistemological commitments does research in SN presuppose? To what extent is SN opposed to reductionism in the philosophy of science? (Decety & Cacioppo, 2010)

4) What drives the “techno-ebullience” surrounding neuroimaging in general, and neuroimaging in SN particular, and how might it be problematic for the field? (Vul et al, 2009; Decety & Cacioppo, 2010).


Official start: December 1, 2012
Final drafts due: February 1, 2014
Refereeing: February/March 2014
Final versions due: August 1, 2014

In the first instance we are looking for proposals of not more than 500 words. The aim is to have a broad spread of interest comprising the issue. Final papers should be between 7,500 and 9,000 words. Contributors are encouraged to scan the contents of two major journals that have social neuroscience as a dedicated interest: Neuroimaging (Elsevier) and Social Neuroscience (Taylor and Francis) as well as journals that have SN as a major interest, namely Neuropsychologica ( Elseveier), Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience (MIT), Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (APA) and Brain Research (Elsevier).

Please send your proposals to both Philip and Leslie:

Philip Robbins
Leslie Marsh


Churchland, P. (1986). Neurophilosophy: Toward a Unified Science of the Mind-Brain. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Decety, J. & Cacioppo, J. T. (2010). Problems and Prospects in Social Neuroscience. Japanese Journal of Physiological Psychology and Psychophysiology 28(1): 5-16.
Decety, J. & Keenan, J. P. (2006). Social Neuroscience: A new journal. Social Neuroscience, 1.1, 1-4.
Gallese, V., Fadiga, L., Fogassi, L. and Rizzolatti, G. (1996). Action recognition in the premotor cortex. Brain 119: 593-609.
Gallese, V. & Goldman, A. (1998) Mirror neurons and the simulation theory of mind-reading. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 12:493-501.
Gazzaniga, M. S. (1985). The Social Brain: Discovering the Network of the Mind. New York: Basic Books.
Jenkins, A.C. & Mitchell, J.P. (2001) How has Cognitive Neuroscience Contributed to Social Psychological Theory? In: Todorov et al.
Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, Fast and Slow. New York: Doubleday
Keysers, C. & McKay (2011). How to Make Social Neuroscience Social. Psychological Inquiry: An International Journal for the Advancement of Psychological Theory 22:3, 210-216.
McEwen, B. S. & Akil, H. (2011). Introduction to Social Neuroscience: Gene, Environment, Brain, Body. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 1231, vii-ix.
Ochsner, K. N. (2004). Current directions in social cognitive neuroscience. Current Opinion in Neurobiology 14: 254-258.
Ogawa, S, Lee, T. M, Nayak, A. S. & Glynn, P. (1990). Oxygenation-sensitive contrast in magnetic resonance image of rodent brain at high magnetic fields. Magnetic Resonance Medicine 14: 68-78.
Todorov, A., Fiske, S.T., & Prentice, D.A. (2011). Social Neuroscience: Toward Understanding the Underpinnings of the Social Mind. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Vul, E., et al. (2009). Voodoo correlations in social neuroscience. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 4(3): 299-307.