Thagard, Paul R.
Paul R. Thagard, philosopher (b at Yorkton, Sask 28 Sept 1950). Paul Thagard received a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Saskatchewan (1971), and completed graduate degrees in philosophy at Cambridge University (1977) and the University of Toronto (1977). In 1985 he studied computer science at the University of Michigan (receiving an MSc), where he spent 8 years teaching philosophy before accepting a prestigious position as a research psychologist at the University of Princeton (1986). Thagard later joined the University of Waterloo as a professor of philosophy, with a cross appointment to psychology and computer science, and director of the Cognitive Science Program. His considerable body of work (including many books and some 200 articles) has been profoundly influential to the study of human cognition in a wide range of practical and theoretical contexts. Thagard has earned an elite position at the forefront of philosophy in Canada.
Paul Thagard takes an integrative approach to the study of mind and intelligence, which draws on a variety of disciplines including philosophy, psychology, artificial intelligence, theoretical neuroscience, linguistics and anthropology. This approach is called cognitive science. The central idea of cognitive science is that the mind functions like a computer, and, therefore, the application of computer science to the study of human cognition can reveal much about how the mind works. For example, in his book Mind: Introduction to Cognitive Science (1996; 2nd ed, 2005), Thagard argues that the human mind possesses representational structures and computational procedures that are analogous to the data structures and computational algorithms used by computers. While there is much disagreement about the precise nature of these representations and computations that comprise thinking, Thagard's computational approach has been enormously influential in the philosophical and scientific circles of North America.
In the last 20 years, the mind-computer analogy has given rise to a number of fertile research programs in cognitive science. Paul Thagard and his colleagues contend that one of the best ways to study the mind experimentally is by developing and testing models on computers that simulate aspects of human mental performances. These models can be used to examine common errors made during deductive reasoning, concept formation and analogical problem solving, under a variety of experimental conditions. Thagard contends that experimentation is philosophically relevant because it suggests new directions in philosophical research. As Thagard sees it, research in philosophy ought to be continuous with experimental work in the special sciences. The psychological and computational aspects of cognitive science have important applications to traditional problems in EPISTEMOLOGY, METAPHYSICS and ETHICS. In Hot Thought: Mechanisms and Applications of Emotional Cognition (2006), Thagard discusses myriad ways in which emotional states are intertwined with human reasoning. By employing computational models at various levels of thinking, Thagard demonstrates the influence of emotions on the legal, scientific, religious and philosophical domains of human thought. Thagard also argues that philosophy is integral to cognitive science because it deals with issues that underpin the computational approach to mind. These include questions about the very nature of representations and computations, which seldom arise in computer science and experimental psychology. The result is a holistic, theoretical framework that places both philosophy and science on an entirely new footing.
Paul Thagard has received numerous awards for his excellence in research, and in 2005 was named University Research Chair at the University of Waterloo. In 2006 he became associate editor of the acclaimed journal Cognitive Science; concurrently, he was selected to be a fellow of the Cognitive Science Society. In 2007 Paul Thagard received a Canada Council for the Arts MOLSON PRIZE for his landmark contributions to cognitive science.