Eugen Fischer, born in Hamburg, Germany, in 1970. Ph.D. from the University of Oxford. Associate Professor in Philosophy and Heisenberg Research Professor at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, München.
Golestan Fellow (1 September 2005 – 30 June 2006)
UNDERSTANDING LAPSES OF REASON: HOW AUTONOMOUS COGNITIVE MODELS AFFECT ABSTRACT REFLECTION
I developed an explanatory model to account for systematic cognitive distortions which occur in abstract reflection, and established that the model applies to a crucial example from early modern philosophy. The distortions at issue can be conceptualised as autonomous and a-rational leaps of thought. To account for them, I developed the notion of ‘philosophical pictures’ first mooted by Ludwig Wittgenstein: the idea that ‘false analogies’ which have been ‘taken up into language’ are ‘at work in the unconscious’ the moment we engage in abstract reflection. I developed this idea with the help of concepts adapted from different branches of cognitive science: from research on metaphor and analogical reasoning done in cognitive linguistics and cognitive psychology, respectively, from research on cognitive bias effects in the psychology of reasoning, and from cognitive conceptualisations of psychotic conditions in clinical psychology. I thus obtained the concept of autonomous cognitive models. This was shown to apply to the development, in the work of Galileo Galilei, Robert Boyle, and John Locke, of two related intellectual myths that have shaped philosophical reflection for centuries: the doctrines of secondary qualities and immediate perception. The result is a model of how autonomous cognitive models can drive philosophers to espouse unwarranted or even absurd doctrines, raising ill-motivated problems, which in turn spark pointless and unwarranted theorising. The model helps to expose systematic lack of warrant in philosophical reflection and to understand why even the most competent thinkers systematically lapse from reason. It may therefore prove a useful tool for philosophical criticism and hermeneutics.