Précis of connectionism and the philosophy of psychology

Terence Horgan, John Tienson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Connectionism was explicitly put forward as an alternative to classical cognitive science. The questions arise: how exactly does connectionism differ from classical cognitive science, and how is it potentially better? The classical "rules and representations" conception of cognition is that cognitive transitions are determined by exceptionless rules that apply to the syntactic structure of symbols. Many philosophers have seen connectionism as a basis for denying structured symbols. We, on the other hand, argue that cognition is too rich and flexible to be simulable by the exceptionless representation-level rules that classicism requires. However, this very richness of cognition requires syntactically structured representations - what philosophers call a language of thought. The natural mathematical characterization of neural networks comes from the theory of dynamical systems. We propose that the mathematics of dynamical systems, not the mathematics of algorithms, holds the key to how cognitive structure and cognitive processes can be realized in the physical structure and processes of a network.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)337-356
Number of pages20
JournalPhilosophical Psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1997

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy
  • Applied Psychology


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