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Cognition in Science

EU Marie Curie Fellowship

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Photo of Professor Adam Toon

Professor Adam Toon

Associate Professor (Philosophy)

Byrne House FF14

Egenis, The Centre for the Study of Life Sciences

Programme Coordinator for MA Philosophy
Programme Coordinator 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.

My latest book is Mind as Metaphor (Oxford University Press, 2023). You can listen to an interview about the book here: and read a review in The Philosophical Quarterly here.

In 2023, I gave the Gottlob Frege Lectures at the University of Tartu. My title was "The Story of the Mind: Cartesianism, Behaviourism, and Fictionalism". You can watch recordings here.

I am a member of the Organising Committee for the Society for Philosophy of Science in Practice.

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.

I wrote a book on this approach to models, called Models as Make-Believe (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012).


(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 have recently completed a book on this approach to the mind, called Mind as Metaphor (Oxford University Press, 2023).

I also recently co-edited a collection of papers on this topic, entitled Mental Fictionalism (Routledge, 2022), together with Tamás Demeter and Ted Parent.


(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

Current PhD students:

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

Ian Burton - Thesis title: "Insights of machine learning on the impact of innovation and decarbonisation policy packages on the global economy-energy-environment system" (3rd supervisor)

Former PhD students:

Awarded 2022 - Kane Baker - Thesis title: "Examining Scientific Perspectivism: Instruments, Models, and Kinds" (1st supervisor)

Awarded 2022 - Ric Sims - Thesis title: "Getting their Acts Together: A Coordinated Systems Approach to Extended Cognition" (1st supervisor)

Awarded 2022 - Antonis Antoniou - Thesis title: "Scientific Models and Reality" (2nd supervisor)

Awarded 2021 - Necmiye Akcali - Thesis title: "Do Epistemic Intuitions Vary Across Actors? A Mixed-Methods Study of Philosophers' and Non-Philosophers' Knowledge Attributions" (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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