Harvard Law and Philosophy Society Lecture Series: William Ramsey (UNLV)


Thursday, March 9, 2023, 4:00pm to 6:00pm



Harvard Law and Philosophy Society Lecture Series


William Ramsey 

University of Nevada, Las Vegas

The Methodological Relevance of Cognitive Science


Scholars in the disciplines of both philosophy and the law have traditionally drawn upon empirical research from cognitive science (psychology, neuroscience, artificial intelligence, etc.) for deeper insights into psychological states and processes. Philosophers interested in the mind have always paid attention to scientific theories about the nature of mental states, consciousness, introspection, and so on. Epistemologists, of course, have been interested in cognitive theories of perception and reasoning. Similarly, legal theorists want to know about scientific work on such matters as eyewitness perception, the reliability of memory, implicit bias and impulsive decision-making. For philosophy and law, cognitive science has been relevant to the topics of their investigation. We can call this the “topical” relevance of cognitive research.

In recent years, however, there has been growing interest in a different sort of relevance of psychology to philosophy – what can be regarded as “methodological” relevance. Here the empirical work is used to interrogate the way analytic philosophy typically gets done. For example, a growing body of work suggests that intuitions often used by philosophers to support their theories are not nearly as uniform, stable or reliable as generally assumed. After explaining some of this background, I’d like to consider the possibility of a similar sort of cognitive relevance for the legal profession. Are there methodological assumptions behind legal theorizing and practice that merit rethinking in light of what science tells us about cognition? More specifically, are there ways in which the findings of cognitive science have significant import for how lawyers and judges practice law? My talk can be viewed as an invitation for exploring possible answers to these questions.

Zoom registration forthcoming