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Conversation with Elisabeth Pacherie

di Chiara-Camilla Derchi

Elisabeth Pacherie è una filosofa della mente e dell'azione presso l'Istituto Jean Nicod affiliato all'Istituto per lo studio della cognizione presso l'Ecole Normale Superieure di Parigi. Crede che l'interdisciplinarità tra filosofia e scienze empiriche sia il punto di partenza per il progresso e la ricchezza di entrambe. I suoi interessi principali sono legati al concetto di intenzionalità, senso di agenzia /agentività e azione collettiva. È autrice di numerosi articoli e pubblicazioni internazionali.

1. How did you get interested in philosophy, and in philosophy of mind and action and philosophy of cognitive science in particular?

EP: After classical studies in philosophy in France with a strong emphasis in the history of philosophy, I had the luck to be a visiting student at the Phi-losophy Department in Princeton, with Gilbert Harman as my supervisor. The philosophy department together with the psychology department and the department of computer science had just launched an interdisciplinary program in cognitive science. Thanks to Gilbert Harman, I was introduced to both philosophy of mind and cognitive science at the same time. Follow-ing this year at Princeton, I spent another year at the Center for the Study of Language and information at Stanford University, where I took classes in linguistics and artificial intelligence. I was introduced to cognitive science at a time where artificial intelligence held center stage and neuroscience was not really on the picture. These two years abroad taught me that it was pos-sible to tackle philosophical issues directly rather than necessarily from a historical perspective and that philosophical research could be fruitfully confronted with ongoing scientific research. I found that really exciting and when I returned to France decided to work in the philosophy of mind. I joined a group of philosophers interested in the philosophy of mind and lan-guage and in cognitive science (at the time based at the Center of Research in Applied Epistemology in Paris and who later founded Institut Jean Nicod) and did my Ph.D. on philosophy of mind –specifically, on naturalizing in-tentionality– with Joëlle Proust. When I was working on my Ph.D. my im-pression was that people tackling the issue of naturalizing intentionality by looking at propositional attitudes states such as beliefs were probably not taking the best angle; my thought was that probably it would be better to look at more basic forms of intentionality, perceptual intentionality or motor intentionality. Philosophers were already working with psychologists on perception and there were a lot of interactions on this topic but on the action side there was very little at the time. Then in the early 90s, shortly after fin-ishing my Ph.D. and thanks to Joëlle Proust, I met Marc Jeannerod, a found-er of the cognitive neuroscience of action, and discovered his work. That was a decisive encounter – Marc Jeannerod's work helped me see how it was possible to bridge the gap between intentions on the one hand and the physiology of muscle contraction on the other hand. I moved from philoso-phy of mind to philosophy of action, or rather to philosophy of action from a philosophy of mind perspective.

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