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Cognition in Science

EU Marie Curie Fellowship

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Photo of Dr Adam Toon

Dr Adam Toon

Senior Lecturer (Philosophy)

Byrne House FF14

Director of Postgraduate Taught Programmes
Programme Director for MA Philosophy
Programme Director for MA Philosophy and Sociology of Science

I work in philosophy of science and philosophy of mind, especially on topics that relate these two fields. I am also interested in the sociology of scientific knowledge.

Much of my work focuses on the nature of representation—both how our minds represent the world and how we use other forms of representation, such as scientific models.

I am especially interested in the idea that many of our representations of the world involve "fictions"—claims that we adopt for certain purposes, even though we know that they are false.

My research draws on work in philosophy, cognitive science, history and sociology of science. I also conduct my own empirical studies.


Office hours: 2-3pm on Wednesdays and Thursdays

Research group links

Research interests

My research focuses on three related topics:

(1) Scientific models

Much of my research has focused on developing a new approach to scientific models.

The key idea in this approach is that scientific models should be understood as objects used in games of make-believe, like children’s dolls or toy trucks.

To develop this idea, I draw on work in philosophy of art, especially debates over the nature of fiction, pictorial representation and imagination in art.


(2) Mental fictionalism

My current research focuses on developing a new approach to understanding the mind.

The key idea in this approach is that the notion of the mind as a world of inner representations is a useful fiction that we use to make sense of people and their behaviour.

I am currently writing a book defending this view of mental states.


(3) Mind and environment

A thread that runs throughout my research is an interest in the role of the material and social environment in our thought.

In my work on scientific modelling, I have explored the role of three-dimensional material models in science, such as ball-and-stick models in chemistry.

In recent work, I have argued that current trends in cognitive science, especially so-called extended and distributed cognition, have important implications for philosophy of science.


You can download copies of my publications from PhilPeople


Research supervision

I am interested in supervising PhD projects relating to any of my research interests, including topics in philosophy of science (e.g. scientific modelling, representation in science, material and social dimensions of scientific practice) and philosophy of mind (e.g. distributed cognition, the extended mind thesis, mental fictionalism).

Please send me an email if you'd like to talk about PhD supervision or discuss potential topics. My email address is

Research students

PhD students:

Ric Sims - Thesis title: "Models, Maps and Distributed cognition" (1st supervisor)

Kane Baker - Thesis title: "Scientific Perspectivism and Embodied Cognition" (1st supervisor)

Johnathan Doran - Thesis title: "Expertise in Neoliberal Societies" (1st supervisor)

Necmiye Akcali - Thesis title: "A Qualitative Study on the Reliability of Epistemic Intuitions" (2nd supervisor)

Antonis Antoniou - Thesis title: "Scientific models and reality" (2nd supervisor)


I joined Exeter in October 2013.

From 2013-2015, I held a Marie Curie Intra-European Fellowship for the project Science as extended cognition: The role of material culture in scientific reasoning

Since 2015, I have been a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Sociology, Philosophy and Anthropology. I am also a member of Egenis, the Centre for the Study of Life Sciences.

Before coming to Exeter, I was a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Bielefeld in Germany.

I did my PhD in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge (supervised by Prof. Martin Kusch).

Before that, I studied for a BA in Natural Sciences at King’s College, Cambridge and an MSc in Philosophy and History of Science at the London School of Economics.

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