Fiona Cowie

Professor of Philosophy

Fiona Cowie
Mail Code: MC 101-40
Office: 207 Dabney Hall
Phone: 626-395-3606
Email: cowie@​
Administrative Assistant:
B.A., University of Sydney, 1987; M.A., Princeton University, 1991; Ph.D., 1993. Instructor, Caltech, 1992-93; Assistant Professor, 1993-98; Associate Professor, 1998-2010; Professor, 2010-.

Research Interests

Philosophy of Biology; Evolution of Cognition; Philosophy of Psychology and Linguistics; Cognitive Science


Scientific Philosophy


Fiona Cowie's research lies at the intersection of philosophy and the natural sciences of the mind, in particular biology and psychology. She's interested in how human minds develop, over both organismic and evolutionary time. Her studies of language acquisition stress the many ways that the environment constrains and contributes to language learning. Here, she confronts the enduring debate about "nature vs. nurture" and argues that the role of "nurture" has been under-emphasized. In her work on language evolution, she argues that language is a tool, like mathematics, writing, and science, and was invented by early humans to solve problems posed by their unique and demanding social environment. She argues that selection for language could occur only after language had become quite sophisticated, thus challenging much of the modern orthodoxy on language origins, which accord Darwinian evolution a much greater role in its development.

Cowie is the author of What's Within? Nativism Reconsidered, which won the Gustave O. Arlt Award in the Humanities in 1999. She is a member of the American Philosophical Association and the Philosophy of Science Association. She was also a visiting fellow at the Research School of the Social Sciences at Australian National University in 2004 and 2005.

Selected Awards

June, 2004 - September, 2005: Andrew W. Mellon Foundation “New Directions Fellowship” for Study of Neuroscience and Genetics