European Journal for Philosophy of Science

, Volume 2, Issue 3, pp 453–480

The relationship between psychological capacities and neurobiological activities

Original Paper in Philosophy of Science

DOI: 10.1007/s13194-012-0053-y

Cite this article as:
Johnson, G. Euro Jnl Phil Sci (2012) 2: 453. doi:10.1007/s13194-012-0053-y


This paper addresses the relationship between psychological capacities, as they are understood within cognitive psychology, and neurobiological activities. First, Lycan’s (1987) account of this relationship is examined and certain problems with his account are explained. According to Lycan, psychological capacities occupy a higher level than neurobiological activities in a hierarchy of levels of nature, and psychological entities can be decomposed into neurobiological entities. After discussing some problems with Lycan’s account, a similar, more recent account built around levels of mechanisms is examined (Craver 2007). In the second half of this paper, an alternative is laid out. This new account uses levels of organization and levels of explanation to create a two-dimensional model. Psychological capacities occupy a high level of explanation relative to the cellular and molecular levels of organization. As a result, according to this model, psychological capacities are a particular way of describing the activities that occur at the cellular and molecular levels of organization.


Psychological capacityLevels of organizationLevels of explanation

Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of English and PhilosophyDrexel UniversityPhiladelphiaUSA