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IP philosopher wins 2020 Lakatos Award


Professor Nicholas Shea, a philosopher at the Institute of Philosophy (IP), School of Advanced Study, University of London, has won the prestigious Lakatos Award for his book Representation in Cognitive Science, published by Oxford University Press.

Published in 2018, Representation in Cognitive Science looks at the question of how our mental lives get infused with meaning. It uses a series of detailed case studies to successfully argue that well-understood naturalistic resources can be combined to provide an account of the meaning that attaches to information in the brain – so-called ‘subpersonal representational content’. 

Cover of Representation in Cognitive Science

Labelling it a ‘blockbuster of a book’, the award judges commend Professor Shea for his well-written and convincing argument that is ‘original in interesting ways, without losing touch with the existing literature’. 

This is all the more important, they said, given that ‘the problem is a really difficult one, that is arguably the key problem in the philosophy of psychology and cognitive science’ and ‘making a novel contribution in this area, as Shea has done, is no small feat: it requires mastery of a massive and complex philosophical literature, and a deep familiarity with cognitive science, both of which Shea has’. 

Professor Shea is an interdisciplinary philosopher of mind, and of psychology, cognitive neuroscience, and cognitive science. He has previously collaborated with IP on his Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) fellowship project ‘Meaning for the Brain, Meaning for the Person’ which saw him work closely with psychologist and IP research fellow, Professor Chris Frith.

More recently Prof Shea has been awarded a five-year, €1.9 million European Research Council (ERC) consolidator grant for his project ‘Metacognition of Concepts’. This project investigates the thoughts and feelings that accompany the use of concepts. It is hosted at the Institute of Philosophy and includes interdisciplinary collaborative partnerships with the University of Oxford and City, University of London. 

On receiving the award, Professor Shea said:

The book traces back to a visiting fellowship I held at the Institute of Philosophy during my AHRC project. The IP turned out to be an unrivalled place for pursue this kind of interdisciplinary research. 

‘As well as supporting the book, working with director Professor Barry Smith and colleagues at the institute incubated the subsequent ERC project which opened up the next stage of my research. Having always had tremendous admiration for the books selected by the Lakatos committee, I am deeply honoured to find my own book receiving the award.

The Lakatos Award was established in 1986 in memory of Imre Lakatos, a former professor of logic at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). It is administered by an international management committee, which is organised from the LSE but entirely independent of LSE’s Department of Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method. 

Professor Shea will receive his prize and deliver his acceptance lecture at a time and location to be confirmed later. The lecture will be open to the public.

Representation in Cognitive Science, an acclaimed landmark study and ‘welcome contribution to the teleosemantic tradition’, is open access and the PDF can be downloaded for free from Oxford University Press’s website.