July 16, 1943
Oliver, British Columbia, Canada
|Alma mater||University of British Columbia|
University of Pittsburgh
Somerville College, Oxford
Philosophy of mind
Philosophy of science
Medical and environmental ethics
|Neurophilosophy, Eliminative Materialism|
Patricia Smith Churchland (born 16 July 1943) is a Canadian-American analytic philosopher 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. She is a member of the Board of Trustees Moscow Center for Consciousness Studies of Philosophy Department, Moscow State University. In 2015, she was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. 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. 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."
Churchland was born Patricia Smith in Oliver, British Columbia, and raised on a farm in the South Okanagan valley. 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. She took her undergraduate degree at the University of British Columbia, graduating with honors in 1965. She received a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship to study at the University of Pittsburgh, where she took an M.A. in 1966. Thereafter she studied at Somerville College, Oxford as a British Council and Canada Council Fellow, obtaining a B. Phil in 1969.
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. 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. From 1982 to 1983 she was a Visiting Member in Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. 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. 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 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." Another important supporter Churchland found at the Salk Institute was Francis Crick. At the Salk Institute, Churchland has worked with Terrence Sejnowski's lab as a research collaborator. 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.
She attended and was a speaker at the secularist Beyond Belief symposia in 2006, 2007, and 2008.
Churchland first met her husband, the philosopher Paul Churchland, while they were both enrolled in a class on Plato at the University of Pittsburgh, and they were married after she completed her B.Phil at Somerville College, Oxford. Their children are Mark M. Churchland (born 1972) and Anne K. Churchland (born 1974), both of whom are neuroscientists. Churchland is an atheist.
Churchland is broadly allied to a view of philosophy as a kind of 'proto-science' - asking challenging but largely empirical questions. She advocates an approach that is practical, applied and integrated with the scientific endeavour, and has dismissed significant swathes of professional philosophy as obsessed with what she regards as unnecessary, fine-grained distinctions, producing "isms up the ying yang".
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. 2014 saw a brief exchange of views on these topics with Colin McGinn in the pages of the New York Review Of Books.
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.
[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."
Churchland, Patricia Smith [V] SocSci 1982-83