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Social and Behavioral Sciences Interest Group

Meeting time: Selected Wednesday afternoons, 3:00 - 4:30 (by announcement, usually first Wednesday of the month)
Meeting place: Philosophy Department Library Lounge, 837 Heller Hall.

The Social and Behavioral Sciences Interest Group (SoBIG) reads and discusses works of mutual interest in the philosophy of the social sciences, and in moral and prudential psychology in philosophy or the social sciences.  We select readings for a variety of reasons: to keep up on the most exciting developments in the field, to help participants examine literature relevant to their research projects, to provide feedback on works in progress being written by SoBIG participants, to revisit classic articles in the literature, and sometimes just to have fun discussing a topic related to the social sciences.

Our meetings are informal and some participants need to arrive late or leave early because of scheduling conflicts. All faculty from the University of Minnesota and area colleges and universities and graduate students are welcome to attend whenever they would like (without invitation) and without giving advanced notice. Undergraduates are included by invitation. (If you know of an undergraduate who is well-suited and possibly interested, please contact Valerie Tiberius so an invitation can be extended.)

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Fall 2018

September 5: Chandra Sripada: “At the Center of Agency, the Deep Self”. We will also discuss future readings at this meeting. (pdf)

October 3: Nina Strohminger, Joshua Knobe and George Newman 2017. The True Self: A psychological concept distinct from the self. Perspectives on Psychological Science 12(4):551–560. (pdf)

November 14: Peter Railton, "Moral Learning: Conceptual foundations and normative relevance" Cognition 167 (2017) 172–190. (pdf)
Abstract: What is distinctive about a bringing a learning perspective to moral psychology? Part of the answer lies in the remarkable transformations that have taken place in learning theory over the past two decades, which have revealed how powerful experience-based learning can be in the acquisition of abstract causal and evaluative representations, including generative models capable of attuning perception, cognition, affect, and action to the physical and social environment. When conjoined with developments in neuroscience, these advances in learning theory permit a rethinking of fundamental questions about the acquisition of moral understanding and its role in the guidance of behavior. For example, recent research indicates that spatial learning and navigation involve the formation of non-perspectival as well as egocentric models of the physical environment, and that spatial representations are combined with learned information about risk and reward to guide choice and potentiate further learning. Research on infants provides evidence that they form non-perspectival expected-value representations of agents and actions as well, which help them to navigate the human environment. Such representations can be formed by highly-general mental processes such as causal and empathic simulation, and thus afford a foundation for spontaneous moral learning and action that requires no innate moral faculty and can exhibit substantial autonomy with respect to community norms. If moral learning is indeed integral with the acquisition and updating of casual and evaluative models, this affords a new way of understanding well-known but seemingly puzzling patterns in intuitive moral judgment—including the notorious ‘‘trolley problems.”
2016 The Author. Published by Elsevier B.V. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (

December 5: Boyle,“Essentially Rational Animals”. in Abel, G., & Conant, J. (Eds.). (2012). Rethinking epistemology (Vol. 2). Berlin: Walter de Gruyter. (pdf)
Boyle articulates a classical, neo-Aristotelian conception of agency and rationality, which should provide an interesting contrast to the views of those (like Peter Railton) who work at the intersection of philosophy and psychology.

Previous SoBIG discussion topics

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