Spotlight on Research: Institut Jean-Nicod

Institut Jean-Nicod

by Paul Egré

Paul Egré is as a researcher affiliated to Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) based at the Institut Jean-Nicod and an Associate Professor in the Department of Philosophy at Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris.

Presentation and history

The Institut Jean-Nicod is a French multidisciplinary CNRS research unit created in Paris in 2002, with two university-level affiliations: the École Normale Supérieure (ENS) and the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS). It is a cognitive science laboratory with about 80 members, of whom half are doctoral students, the other half including about 15 researchers attached to the CNRS (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique), along with university professors and post-doctoral associates.

While its core discipline is analytical philosophy, the Institute also hosts research in linguistics and the social sciences, with, as unifying theme, the human mind and the nature of its representations (linguistic, mental, and social). At the ENS, the Institut Jean Nicod is attached to both the Department of Philosophy and the Département d’Etudes Cognitives (DEC-ENS). The IJN is located in the center of Paris at 29 rue d’Ulm, in the Département d’Etudes Cognitives (DEC-ENS) of the École Normale Supérieure. The first director of IJN was Pierre Jacob (2002-2009) and its current director is Francois Recanati (2009-present).

Institut Jean-Nicod benefits from a strong interdisciplinary environment within the Institut d’Etude de la Cognition, due to the direct integration with other labs within IEC, such as the Laboratoire de Sciences Cognitives et de Psycholinguistiques (LSCP), the Laboratoire des Systèmes Perceptifs (LSP), and the Laboratoire de Neurosciences Cognitives (LNC).

Research activities

The research activities of the Institut Jean-Nicod are broadly centered on five main areas: philosophy of mind, language, social cognition, epistemology, and ontology, with attached teams working on different projects. Regular research seminars are organized by each team, and PhD students are getting supervision within each team.

The philosophy of mind area is covered by three teams focusing on the respective topics of Perception (M. Auvray, R. Casati, J. Dokic), Agency (E. Pacherie, S. Bourgeois-Gironde, T. Zalla), and Consciousness and the Self (U. Kriegel, J. Dokic, P. Jacob, E. Pacherie, F. de Vignemont, J. Pelletier). The main topics of interest to the Perception team are the nature of perception, perceptual feelings and notions of assisted perception (sensory substitution, images, diagrams). Members of the team Agency focus on the cognitive underpinnings of individual and collective action and the relationships between individual and collective decision-making. The main topics of interest to the Consciousness team are the nature and interconnections among phenomenal consciousness, self-awareness, and self-reference.

The area of language is likewise covered by three teams, the team Philosophy of Language (F. Récanati, P. Egré, D. Nicolas, D. Sperber, I. Stojanovic), the team Semantics: Data and Models (C. Beyssade, F. Corblin, A. Mari, D. Nicolas), and the team Linguae (P. Schlenker, C. Geraci, B. Spector, E. Chemla, P. Egré, V. Homer). Of particular interest to the Philosophy of Language group are the topics of context-sensitivity, the semantics-pragmatics interface, speech acts and vagueness. The Semantics team covers a variety of subfields of the discipline, including lexical semantics, discourse semantics, as well as dialogue and prosody. Members of the group Linguae aim to offer a detailed typology of various types of inferences in natural language (entailments, implicatures, presuppositions, anti-presuppositions, supplements, iconic inferences), with the broader goal of studying form and meaning across a variety of languages beside spoken languages (signed languages, primate languages, music).

Members of the team social cognition (P. Jacob, T. Zalla, N. Baumard, R. Casati, E. Pasquinelli, D. Sperber, F. de Vignemont) focus on a variery of topics including shared intentionality (mirror neurons, empathy), cognitive control, and the perception of emotions in autism spectrum disorders. Further topics of research include epistemic vigilance, the argumentative theory of reasoning, learning theories and imitative learning. Moral psychology is of special interest too, with emphasis on mutualist approaches to the emergence of human moral sense, and the role of intention ascription in moral judgment.

The area of epistemology is covered by the team Epistemic Norms (J. Proust, A. Bouvier, G. Origgi, P. Egré). Members study knowledge and epistemic norms from the threefold perspective of cognitive science (Proust), social epistemology (Bouvier, Origgi) and formal epistemology (Egré). Among the topics under study are: the nature of knowledge and its properties; metacognition and epistemic introspection; the role or argumentation and rhetorics in the shaping of collective beliefs; epistemic authority, reputation, and the control of legitimacy on information sources.

The area of ontology is covered by the team Metaphysics and Ontology (F. Nef, J. Pelletier, U. Kriegel, C. Tiercelin). Topics of particular focus include the ontology of fiction, the ontology of social entities, formal relations of dependence, connection and grounding, and the metaphysics of time.

The Jean-Nicod Lectures

Every year, the Institut Jean-Nicod awards the Jean-Nicod prize to a leading philosopher or cognitive scientist for his or her contributions in cognitive science and its foundations. The lectures are organized by the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique as part of its effort to further development of the interdisciplinary field of cognitive science in France, and are sponsored by the École Normale Supérieure and the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales. The recipient of the Prize is invited as Research Director for one month by the EHESS.

The Jean-Nicod lecturer is expected to deliver at least four lectures on a topic of his or her choice, and subsequently to publish the set of lectures, or a monograph based on them, in the Jean-Nicod Lectures series (MIT Press/Bradford Books; F. Recanati editor). Since 1996 the annual lecturer has been awarded the Jean-Nicod Prize during a ceremony which follows delivery of the first lecture. The last few recipients of the Jean-Nicod prize have been Ned Block (Spring 2014), and Chris and Utah Frith (Fall 2014).

The Review of Philosophy and Psychology

Since 2010, the Institut Jean-Nicod hosts the Review of Philosophy and Psychology, a quarterly journal of philosophy published by Springer, representative of the topics of interest at IJN and in the area of cognitive philosophy more generally. Its current Editor-in-Chief is Paul Egré, and the associate editors are Roberto Casati, Florian Cova, Christophe Heintz, Dario Taraborelli and Frédérique de Vignemont. The ROPP provides a forum for debate on research trends at the junction between philosophy, psychology and cognitive science, including neural, behavioural and social sciences. It publishes theoretical works grounded in empirical research as well as empirical articles on issues of philosophical relevance. It also publishes themed issues featuring invited contributions from leading authors, together with submitted articles.

The latest themed issues published by ROPP include special issues on the topics of Pain and Pleasure (M. Brady and D. Bain, March 2014), Artifact Categorization (M. Carrara and D. Mingardo eds., September 2013), Distributed Cognition and Memory Research (K. Michaelian and J. Sutton eds, March 2013), and Consciousness and Moral Cognition (M. Phelan and A. Waytz eds., September 2012). For further information and submission to the Review of Philosophy and Psychology, see

Studying at IJN

The Members of the Institute teach and supervise Master's theses in two Master's programs to the funding of which they initially contributed. Those include the Master in Cognitive Science, also known as CogMaster (ENS/EHESS/Paris V) and the Master in Contemporary Philosophy, a.k.a PhilMaster (EHESS/ENS).

Institut Jean-Nicod does not have any PhD program of its own and does not offer PhD funding. On the other hand, Institut Jean-Nicod hosts some of the PhD students supervised by its members for EHESS (philosophy and cognitive sciences programs), ENS, or other universities (depending on specific agreements). The members of IJN also take part in the doctoral program Frontiers in Cognition of the Institut d’Etude de la Cognition (IEC). Both the philosophy program at EHESS and the Frontiers in Cognition PhD program can provide funding for students working with a member of IJN. Candidates are invited to contact potential supervisors and to visit the websites of IEC (Doctoral Program Frontiers in Cognition) and of EHESS (Doctoral Studies) for more information. See also the IJN Doctoral Programme for all relevant links, and the international Master’s Fellowships currently offered by IEC).

Visiting schemes

Every year, Institut Jean-Nicod welcomes postdoctoral researchers and visiting scholars in its walls. Call for applications for postdocs are occasionally issued by members or teams of IJN in relation to specific research projects coming with grants and proper funding (see the IJN website for calls).

Visitors coming with their own funding for one term or even a full year are welcome, provided their project is endorsed by a researcher or specific team within IJN with whom they come to collaborate. Inquiries should be addressed directly to the directors of the team of interest, or to the researcher concerned. Among funding schemes of relevance to general applicants are:

  • The Chateaubriand Fellowship, offered by the Embassy of France in the United States, which supports young scientists who wish to conduct part of their doctoral research in a French laboratory for a 4 to 9 month period (next deadline on January 31, 2014).
  • The Fondation Fyssen Programme, which is specifically oriented toward research in cognitive studies, including ethology, paleontology, brain sciences, anthropology and logic.
  • Marie Curie Action Research fellowships, offering postdoctoral fellowships across the European Union.
  • The Institut d’Études Avancées de Paris, offering grants for visiting scholars coming to Paris with a project in Social Science or the Humanities.
  • The program Research in Paris by Mairie de Paris, intended for foreign researchers who want to spend some research time in a Paris lab. Applications should be sent to IJN first, toward a pre-selection phase (only one candidate can now be presented by each lab per year).

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