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Patricia Churchland

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Patricia Churchland
Patricia Smith

(1943-07-16) July 16, 1943 (age 80)
Alma materUniversity of British Columbia
University of Pittsburgh
Somerville College, Oxford
SpousePaul Churchland
Era20th-/21st-century philosophy
RegionWestern philosophy
SchoolAnalytic philosophy[1][2]
Main interests
Philosophy of mind
Philosophy of science
Medical and environmental ethics
Notable ideas
Neurophilosophy, Eliminative Materialism

Patricia Smith Churchland (born 16 July 1943)[3] is a Canadian-American analytic philosopher[1][2] noted for her contributions to neurophilosophy and the philosophy of mind. She is UC President's Professor of Philosophy Emerita at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), where she has taught since 1984. She has also held an adjunct professorship at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies since 1989.[4] She is a member of the Board of Trustees Moscow Center for Consciousness Studies of Philosophy Department, Moscow State University.[5] In 2015, she was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences.[6] Educated at the University of British Columbia, the University of Pittsburgh, and Somerville College, Oxford, she taught philosophy at the University of Manitoba from 1969 to 1984 and is married to the philosopher Paul Churchland.[7] Larissa MacFarquhar, writing for The New Yorker, observed of the philosophical couple that: "Their work is so similar that they are sometimes discussed, in journals and books, as one person."[8]


Early life and education[edit]

Churchland was born Patricia Smith in Oliver, British Columbia,[3] and raised on a farm in the South Okanagan valley.[9][10] Both of her parents lacked a high-school education; her father and mother left school after grades 6 and 8 respectively. Her mother was a nurse and her father worked in newspaper publishing in addition to running the family farm. In spite of their limited education, Churchland has described her parents as interested in the sciences, and the worldview they instilled in her as a secular one. She has also described her parents as eager for her to attend college, and though many farmers in their community thought this "hilarious and a grotesque waste of money", they saw to it that she did so.[10] She took her undergraduate degree at the University of British Columbia, graduating with honors in 1965.[7] She received a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship to study at the University of Pittsburgh, where she took an M.A. in 1966.[7][11] Thereafter she studied at Somerville College, Oxford as a British Council and Canada Council Fellow, obtaining a B. Phil in 1969.[7]

Academic career[edit]

Churchland's first academic appointment was at the University of Manitoba, where she was an assistant professor from 1969 to 1977, an associate professor from 1977 to 1982, and promoted to a full professorship in 1983.[7] It was here that she began to make a formal study of neuroscience with the help and encouragement of Larry Jordan, a professor with a lab in the Department of Physiology there.[9][10][12] From 1982 to 1983 she was a Visiting Member in Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton.[13] In 1984, she was invited to take up a professorship in the department of philosophy at UCSD, and relocated there with her husband Paul, where both have remained since.[14] Since 1989, she has also held an adjunct professorship at the Salk Institute adjacent to UCSD's campus, where she became acquainted with Jonas Salk[4][9] whose name the Institute bears. Describing Salk, Churchland has said that he "liked the idea of neurophilosophy, and he gave me a tremendous amount of encouragement at a time when many other people thought that we were, frankly, out to lunch."[10] Another important supporter Churchland found at the Salk Institute was Francis Crick.[9][10] At the Salk Institute, Churchland has worked with Terrence Sejnowski's lab as a research collaborator.[15] Her collaboration with Sejnowski culminated in a book, The Computational Brain (MIT Press, 1993), co-authored with Sejnowski. Churchland was named the UC President's Professor of Philosophy in 1999, and served as Chair of the Philosophy Department at UCSD from 2000-2007.[7]

She attended and was a speaker at the secularist Beyond Belief symposia in 2006, 2007, and 2008.[16][17][18]

Personal life[edit]

Churchland first met her husband, the philosopher Paul Churchland, while they were both enrolled in a class on Plato at the University of Pittsburgh,[10] and they were married after she completed her B.Phil at Somerville College, Oxford.[9] Their children are Mark M. Churchland (born 1972) and Anne K. Churchland (born 1974), both of whom are neuroscientists.[19][20] Churchland is considered an atheist,[21] but she identified herself as pantheist in a 2012 interview.[22][23]

Philosophical work[edit]

Churchland is broadly allied to a view of philosophy as a kind of 'proto-science' - asking challenging but largely empirical questions. She advocates the scientific endeavour, and has dismissed significant swathes of professional philosophy as obsessed with what she regards as unnecessary.[24]

Churchland's own work has focused on the interface between neuroscience and philosophy. According to her, philosophers are increasingly realizing that to understand the mind one must understand the brain. She applies findings from neuroscience to address traditional philosophical questions about knowledge, free will, consciousness and ethics. She is associated with a school of thought called eliminative materialism, which argues that common sense, immediately intuitive, or "folk psychological" concepts such as thought, free will, and consciousness will likely need to be revised in a physically reductionistic way as neuroscientists discover more about the nature of brain function.[25] 2014 saw a brief exchange of views on these topics with Colin McGinn in the pages of the New York Review Of Books.[26]

Awards and honors[edit]


As sole author[edit]

  • Neurophilosophy: Toward a Unified Science of the Mind-Brain. (1986) Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press.
  • "The Hornswoggle Problem". (1996) San Diego, La Jolla, CA. Journal of Consciousness Studies.
  • Brain-Wise: Studies in Neurophilosophy. (2002) Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press.
  • Braintrust: What Neuroscience Tells Us about Morality. (2011) Princeton University Press. eBook ISBN 9781400838080[31]
  • Touching A Nerve: The Self As Brain. (2013) W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 978-0393058321
  • Conscience: The Origins of Moral Intuition. (2019) W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 978-1324000891

As co-author or editor[edit]

  • The Computational Brain. (1992) Patricia S. Churchland and T. J. Sejnowski. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press.
  • Neurophilosophy and Alzheimer's Disease. (1992) Edited by Y. Christen and Patricia S. Churchland. Berlin: Springer-Verlag.
  • The Mind-Brain Continuum (1996). Edited by R.R. Llinás and Patricia S. Churchland: The MIT Press.
  • On the Contrary: Critical Essays 1987-1997. (1998). Paul M. Churchland and Patricia S. Churchland. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Dummett, Michael (2010). The Nature and Future of Philosophy. Columbia University Press. p. 33. A small number of analytic philosophers–notoriously the two Churchlands–treat the absence of any detailed correspondence [between specific mental occurrences and particular events in the brain] as an objection not to the thesis of mind/brain identity, but to reliance on our familiar mental constructs.
  2. ^ a b Smith, Quentin (1997). Ethical and Religious Thought in Analytic Philosophy of Language. Yale University Press. pp. 93–94. [The postpositivist physicalism of philosophers such as the Churchlands and linguistic essentialism were the] "...two main movements of analytic philosophy of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s; no other analytic movement even compares with them in influence and acceptance."
  3. ^ a b Cavanna, Andrea E. (2014-09-30). Consciousness: Theories in Neuroscience and Philosophy of Mind. Nani, Andrea. Heidelberg. p. 9. ISBN 9783662440889. OCLC 892914346.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  4. ^ a b "Salk Institute: Adjunct Faculty". Salk Institute. Retrieved 14 August 2011.
  5. ^ "People". Moscow Center for Consciousness Studies of Philosophy Department. Retrieved 15 September 2014.[permanent dead link]
  6. ^ "2015 Fellows and Their Affiliations at the Time of the Election" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 3 March 2024.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h Churchland, Patricia. "Curriculum Vitae". Archived from the original on 14 August 2011. Retrieved 14 August 2011.
  8. ^ Larissa MacFarquhar (February 12, 2007). "TWO HEADS A marriage devoted to the mind-body problem". NewYorker.com. Retrieved May 14, 2017.
  9. ^ a b c d e f "University of Alberta - Fall Convocation 2007". University of Alberta. 22 November 2007. Archived from the original (web page) on 28 November 2011. Retrieved 14 August 2011.
  10. ^ a b c d e f "From the Engine of Reason to the Seat of the Soul: A Brain-Wise Conversation" (video). The Science Studio. The Science Network. 26 June 2006. Retrieved 30 August 2011.
  11. ^ "Fellows Of Note - Major Awards". Princeton, NJ: The Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation. Archived from the original on 28 September 2011. Retrieved 30 August 2011.
  12. ^ "Faculty of Medicine - Physiology" (web page). University of Manitoba - Department of Physiology. Retrieved 30 August 2011.
  13. ^ "Social Science Only". A Community of Scholars. Princeton, NJ: Institute for Advanced Study. Archived from the original on 19 March 2012. Retrieved 30 August 2011. Churchland, Patricia Smith [V] SocSci 1982-83
  14. ^ Churchland, Paul M. (19 January 2007). "Curriculum Vitae" (PDF). UCSD Philosophy Department. Retrieved 30 August 2011.
  15. ^ "CNL - People" (web page). Computational Neurobiology Laboratory. The Salk Institute. Retrieved 30 August 2011.
  16. ^ "Beyond Belief: Science, Religion, Reason and Survival" (web page and video). The Science Network. 5–7 November 2006. Retrieved 14 August 2011.
  17. ^ "Beyond Belief: Enlightenment 2.0" (web page and video). The Science Network. 31 October – 2 November 2007.
  18. ^ "Beyond Belief: Candles in the Dark" (web page and video). The Science Network. 3–6 October 2008. Retrieved 14 August 2011.
  19. ^ "Anne Churchland - Assistant Professor". Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. Archived from the original (web page) on 19 July 2011. Retrieved 15 August 2011.
  20. ^ "Movement Generation Laboratory - Mark Churchland". Columbia University. 2 April 2013. Archived from the original (web page) on 16 March 2013. Retrieved 2 April 2013.
  21. ^ Bannister, Andy (2015-07-17). The Atheist Who Didn't Exist: Or: the dreadful consequences of bad arguments. Monarch Books. p. 25. ISBN 978-0-85721-611-3. ...another atheist writer, the philosopher Patricia Churchland...
  22. ^ Todd, Douglas (February 4, 2012). "Pat Churchland fights for supremacy of the brain". Vancouver Sun. Retrieved 2021-05-04. When I asked her how she would define herself on the spiritual-philosophical spectrum, however, she surprisingly answered: "Pantheist," adding "I love nature." Pantheists are defined as people who view the natural world as the absolute, as the equivalent of God."
  23. ^ Todd, Douglas (February 11, 2012). "B.C. academic star fights for beliefs". Times Colonist (Victoria, British Columbia). p. 44.
  24. ^ "NOUS: Patricia Churchland on How We Evolved A Conscience". nousthepodcast.libsyn.com. Retrieved 2019-10-21.
  25. ^ Warburton, Nigel; Edmonds, David (2010). "Pat Churchland on Eliminative Materialism" (audio). Philosophy Bites. Retrieved 14 August 2011.
  26. ^ McGinn, Colin; Churchland, Patricia. "Of Brains & Minds: An Exchange | Patricia Churchland". {{cite magazine}}: Cite magazine requires |magazine= (help)
  27. ^ "MacArthur Fellows List, "C"". The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Archived from the original (web page) on 26 September 2008. Retrieved 14 August 2011.
  28. ^ "International Academy of Humanism - Humanist Laureates". Council For Secular Humanism. Archived from the original (web page) on 2 October 2018. Retrieved 14 August 2011.
  29. ^ "Distinguished Cognitive Scientist Award". University of California, Merced. 4 May 2011. Archived from the original (web page) on 13 August 2011. Retrieved 14 August 2011.
  30. ^ Leiter, Brian (7 October 2011). "Two Philosophers Elected Fellows of the Cognitive Science Society". Leiter Reports: A Philosophy Blog. Retrieved 30 June 2017.
  31. ^ "Braintrust: What Neuroscience Tells us about Morality | Patricia S. Churchland". The Montreal Review. September 2011. Retrieved 2022-06-23.

Further reading[edit]

  • The Churchlands and Their Critics. (1996) Robert N. McCauley. Hoboken, New Jersey: Wiley-Blackwell
  • On the Churchlands. (2004) William Hirstein. Florence, Kentucky: Thomson Wadsworth

External links[edit]