Attention is Cognitive Unison

The cognitive unison theory of attention was first presented in my dissertation, which was written at Princeton University, under the supervision of Sean Kelly.  The dissertation was defended in 2005.

A more complete elaboration of the cognitive unison theory can be found in Attention is Cognitive Unison: An Essay in Philosophical Psychology, which was published by Oxford University Press at the end of 2010.  The book was issued in paperback in 2013 (with several corrections to typos). 

The book was reviewed by Sebastian Watzl (in Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews), by Tony Cheng (at Metapsychology), by Aaron Henry and Tim Bayne (in the Australasian Journal of Philosophy), and by Felipe de Brigard (in the Journal of Consciousness Studies).

In April 2012 I discussed the book with Carla Nappi, in a podcast for the ‘New Books Network’.

You can order the book from the publishers here (if you are in Canada), here (if you are in the UK), and here (if you are in the US).

Here is a link to the page for the book.

This is the page for the book.

And the page is here.

Subscribers to Oxford Scholarship Online can read Attention is Cognitive Unison here.


1. Highlights of a Difficult History

1.1 The Preliminary Identification of Our Topic

1.2 Three Approaches

1.3 Bradley's Protest

1.4 James's Disjunctive Theory

1.5 The Source of Bradley's Dissatisfaction

1.6 Behaviourism and After

1.7 Heirs of Bradley in the Twentieth Century

2. The Underlying Metaphysical Issue

2.1 Explanatory Tactics

2.2 The Basic Distinction

2.3 Metaphysical Categories and Taxonomies

2.4 Adverbialism, Multiple Realizability, and Natural Kinds

2.5 Adverbialism and Levels of Explanation

2.6 Taxonomies and Supervenience Relations

3. Rejecting the Process First View

3.1 Supervenience-Failure

3.2 The Modal Commitments of The Process-First View

3.3 The Interference Argument - A Putative Problem for Adverbialist Accounts

3.4 Conclusion

4. Cognitive Unison

4.1 Introduction

4.2 The Problem with Attitude Based Adverbialism

4.3 Gilbert Ryle and Alan White

4.4 White's Argument Against Disposition-Based Adverbialism

4.5 The Cognitive Unison Theory

4.6 Tasks

4.7 Cognitive Processes

4.8 Potential Service of a Task

4.9 Superordinate Tasks

4.10 Some Features of the Theory

4.11 Divided Attention

4.12 Degrees of Attention and Merely Partial Attention

4.13 Summary

5. The Causal Life of Attention

5.1 Mental Causation

5.2 How to Respond to Mental Causation Objections

5.3 The Causal Role of Attention

5.4 Attention as an enabling condition

5.5 Counterfactuals

5.6 The Causal Relevance of Attention per se

5.7 Counterfactuals and Causally Relevant Properties

5.8 Objections to Counterfactual Analysis of Causation and of Causal Relevance

5.9 The Extrinsicness of Unison

5.10 The Privative Character of Unison and The Problem of Absence Causation

5.11 Causal Exclusion

5.12 Summary

6. Consequences for Cognitive Psychology

6.1 Psychology and Metaphysics

6.2 The Metaphysical Commitments of the Process-Identifying Project

6.3 The Diverse Explanatory Construals of Current Psychological Results

6.4 Reasons for Deflation

6.5 Inductively Unreliable Properties

6.6 Questions Without Answers

6.7 The Positive Payoff

7. Philosophical Work for The Theory of Attention

7.1 Putting Attention to Philosophical Work

7.2 Attention and Reference

7.3 Attention and Consciousness

7.4 Prospects for Optimism