Patricia Churchland

Patricia Smith Churchland
Born (1943-07-16) July 16, 1943
Oliver, British Columbia, Canada
Alma mater University of British Columbia
University of Pittsburgh
University of Oxford
Era 21st-century philosophy
Region Western Philosophy
School Analytic Philosophy[1][2]
Main interests
Philosophy of mind
Philosophy of science
Medical and environmental ethics
Notable ideas
Neurophilosophy, Eliminative Materialism

Patricia Smith Churchland (born July 16, 1943) is a Canadian-American analytical philosopher[1][2] 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.[3] She is a member of the Board of Trustees Moscow Center for Consciousness Studies of Philosophy Department, Moscow State University.[4] In 2015, she was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences.[5] Educated at the University of British Columbia, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Oxford, she taught philosophy at the University of Manitoba from 1969 to 1984 and is married to the philosopher Paul Churchland.[6] The New Yorker magazine observed regarding the philosophical couple that, "Their work is so similar that they are sometimes discussed, in journals and books, as one person.".[7]


Early life and education

Churchland was born Patricia Smith in Oliver, British Columbia, and raised on a farm in the South Okanagan valley.[8][9] 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.[9] She took her undergraduate degree at the University of British Columbia, graduating with honors in 1965.[6] She received a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship to study at the University of Pittsburgh, where she took an M.A. in 1966.[6][10] Thereafter she studied at Oxford University as a British Council and Canada Council Fellow, obtaining a B. Phil in 1969.[6]

Academic career

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.[6] 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.[8][9][11] From 1982-1983 she was a Visiting Member in Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton.[12] 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.[13] 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[3][8] 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."[9] Another important supporter Churchland found at the Salk Institute was Francis Crick.[8][9] At the Salk Institute, Churchland has worked with Terrence Sejnowski's lab as a research collaborator.[14] 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.[6]

She attended and was a speaker at the secularist Beyond Belief symposia in 2006, 2007, and 2008.[15][16][17]

Personal life

Churchland first met her husband, the philosopher Paul Churchland, while they were both enrolled in a class on Plato at the University of Pittsburgh,[9] and they were married after she completed her B.phil at Oxford University.[8] Their children are Mark M. Churchland (born 1972) and Anne K. Churchland (born 1974), both of whom are neuroscientists.[18][19]


Churchland 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 is associated with a school of thought called eliminative materialism, which argues that commonsense, 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.[20] 2014 saw a brief exchange of views on these topics with Colin McGinn in the pages of the New York Review Of Books.[21]

Awards and honors


As sole author

As co-author or editor

Works about

In addition to her own work, Patricia Churchland and her husband Paul have been the subjects of several philosophical review works, including:

See also


  1. 1 2 Dummett, Michael (2010). The Nature and Future of Philosophy. Columbia University Press. p. 33. 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.
  2. 1 2 Smith, Quentin (1997). Ethical and Religious Thought in Analytic Philosophy of Language. Yale University Press. pp. 93–94. [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."
  3. 1 2 "Salk Institute: Adjunct Faculty". Salk Institute. Retrieved 14 August 2011.
  4. "People". Moscow Center for Consciousness Studies of Philosophy Department. Retrieved 15 September 2014.
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Churchland, Patricia. "Curriculum Vitae". Retrieved 14 August 2011.
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 6 "University of Alberta - Fall Convocation 2007" (web page). University of Alberta. 22 November 2007. Retrieved 14 August 2011.
  9. 1 2 3 4 5 6 "From the Engine of Reason to the Seat of the Soul: A Brain-Wise Conversation" (video). The Science Studio. The Science Network. 26 June 2006. Retrieved 30 August 2011.
  10. "Fellows Of Note - Major Awards". Princeton, NJ: The Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation. Retrieved 30 August 2011.
  11. "Faculty of Medicine - Physiology" (web page). University of Manitoba - Department of Physiology. Retrieved 30 August 2011.
  12. "Social Science Only". A Community of Scholars. Princeton, NJ: Institute for Advanced Study. Retrieved 30 August 2011. Churchland, Patricia Smith [V] SocSci 1982-83
  13. Churchland, Paul M. (19 January 2007). "Curriculum Vitae" (PDF). UCSD Philosophy Department. Retrieved 30 August 2011.
  14. "CNL - People" (web page). Computational Neurobiology Laboratory. The Salk Institute. Retrieved 30 August 2011.
  15. "Beyond Belief: Science, Religion, Reason and Survival" (web page and video). The Science Network. 5–7 November 2006. Retrieved 14 August 2011.
  16. "Beyond Belief: Enlightenment 2.0" (web page and video). The Science Network. 31 October – 2 November 2007.
  17. "Beyond Belief: Candles in the Dark" (web page and video). The Science Network. 3–6 October 2008. Retrieved 14 August 2011.
  18. "Anne Churchland - Assistant Professor" (web page). Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. Retrieved 15 August 2011.
  19. "Movement Generation Laboratory - Mark Churchland" (web page). Columbia University. 2 April 2013. Retrieved 2 April 2013.
  20. Warburton, Nigel; Edmonds, David (2010). "Pat Churchland on Eliminative Materialism" (audio). Philosophy Bites. Retrieved 14 August 2011.
  22. "MacArthur Fellows List, "C"" (web page). The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Retrieved 14 August 2011.
  23. "International Academy of Humanism - Humanist Laureates" (web page). Council For Secular Humanism. Retrieved 14 August 2011.
  24. "Distinguished Cognitive Scientist Award" (web page). University of California, Merced. 4 May 2011. Retrieved 14 August 2011.
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