Middle East Technical University
Term Paper – Philosophy of Mind
Gülsüm Özge ?engil, 2070639
Explanation and Elimination of Folk Psychology
In his article ‘Eliminative Materialism and Propositional Attitudes’ Paul Churchland (1981) defines eliminative materialism as the thesis that folk psychology (FP) is radically false as a theory and it will be completely displaced by completed neuroscience; folk psychological terms would be replaced by neuroscientific terms which are the true estimates of what is going on in ourselves, and this new terminology would give us a more accurate understanding of the nature of ourselves and the external world. Formulating his claim, he uses the criteria that, since folk psychology is probable to be proven false as it is an empirical theory, and considering its explanatory failures (i.e. mental illness, construction of a 3D image, nature of learning process), its not being changed since Greeks – not being very promising in terms of any future development, and finally its not being actively coherent with other theories and domains (evolutionary theory, biology, neuroscience, and so on) that might have something true to say about us; it should be eliminated (Churchland, 1981). He also claims, a completed physical science would correspond all these criteria and be radically true, so it is a worthy candidate for the elimination of folk psychology (Churchland, 1981).
Churchland himself mentions some objections against the eliminative attitude and he especially puts emphasis on the functionalism’s objections and tries to prove them false (1981). Functionalist objections mainly say that FP has an abstractness of the functional inner states of ours; it can not be replaced by the way Churchland mentions (displacement by a theory explaining our physical structure) (Churchland, 1981). These objections can be related to the position of Daniel Dennett and the article ‘True Believers: The Intentional Strategy and Why It Works’ will be used to integrate his ideas to the issue (1997). Dennett states that (1997) FP equipped us with a strategy that help us in terms of explaining (reason giving) and predicting the behaviours of others and themselves by making intentionality attributions. The beings in the world can be understood by their successfully responding to strategies that assume their roles and aims; a rock can be understood by approaching it with a physical strategy (physical stance, requires knowing the microstructure of it), a clock would be more efficiently understood by a design strategy caring its goal and the way it works (design stance, requires knowing functional causal network that the being functions in and with); and finally a human can be best understood and predicted by using intentional strategy (intentional stance, assuming the rational and reasonable agent and attributing her some intentional states, then predicting or understanding the behaviours observed) (Dennett, 1997). As opposed to the ideas of Dennett, Churchland seems to claim that a completed physical science that is not adopted the functional position (a physical stance trying to use a physical strategy over human beings) would be able to explain all behaviours of a human, it would predict them precisely, that is why it would have the right to eliminate the FP and ultimate utility of human lives would be reached or the obstacle (FP) to reach it would be eliminated by this way. I do not agree with Churchland in that claim of his, I feel my position is close to Dennett’s in this issue because I think approaching FP as just an empirical theory that has logical rules to operate on propositional attitudes would be missing the real underlying tenet of it, especially for one putting a special emphasis on the completed science and evolutionary theory. Churchland underestimated the fact that folk psychology is the tool of the interpersonal relationships, he wanted to abstract from that fact and focused on just theoretical virtue of it (1981). However, this should not be the way of or result of a completed science, especially for one (Churchland) thinking that we are the creatures of evolution.
Donald Davidson has another position that is claimed to be free from the problems faced with functionalists’ (reductionist) and (type) identity theorists’ (eliminativist) explanations of the nature of the mind : ‘Anomalous Monism’ (1970). According to Davidson three things are true about the nature of mind (1970):
Some mental events causally interacts with physical events.
Causality requires strict, deterministic laws.
There are no such laws for explaining and predicting mental events as mental events by using other events.
He states that there are no mental events that are not physical events (Davidson, 1970). Mental events are just another kind of physical events; but they can not be fully explained and accounted for as mental events by using physical terms (Davidson, 1970). On the contrary of Churchland, he claims that, assuming we have completed physics or science, we would account for everything physical, which means we would account for the mental events but not as mental, only as physical (Davidson, 1970). The relation between mental events and physical events in the claim of Davidson is explained by the supervenience relationship between them (Davidson, 1970). Higher (mental) and lower (physical) level events are claimed to be in a supervenience relationship and lower level events has direct causal relations with each other that have strict, deterministic laws (Davidson, 1970). So, knowing the supervenience relationship between the lower level events (L1, L2…) and higher level events (H1, H2…) that supervene on them, one can add the higher level events, mental events, to the causal interaction chain that is deterministic (Davidson, 1970). Even with a fully completed science, while explaining L1 causing L2, that is why H1 causing L2 and H2, we would be explaining the causation between H1 and H2 as a physical thing, but they exist as mental things – particular kind of physical property- while we would be using other physical properties to explain H1’s causation (Davidson, 1970). So, even a completed science can not give an account for the mental events, says Davidson (1970). Davidson also argues that mental events can not be reduced to the physical events because of the supervenience relationship that they hold, and they can not be eliminated because they are real and causal states (1970). And, not surprisingly, the objections to the position of Davidson are stemming from the nature or kind of the supervenience that he claims and the claim of his that mental events are causally capable.
Jaegwon Kim (1972) argues that there is only 3 position that one can adopt when it comes to the nature of the mind: dualism, eliminativism, and reductionism; but Davidson claims to have a fourth: Anomalous monism; his claim is that the supervenience relationship that is hold in this position is strong enough to prevent higher level events from being eliminated and it is not strong enough to reduce higher level properties to the lower level properties of them, he also defines only one ontology (physical). To challenge this fourth position’s accuracy, Kim states that Davidson gives no clear explanation on what kind of a supervenience he talks about; and mental events being weakly (WS) or globally (GS) or strongly supervening (SS) on physical events would bring different results considering the accuracy of the claim (Kim, 1972). Kim’s objection logically follows these steps (1972):
If Davidson is claiming a GS, it is useful when examining two different worlds’ laws, but it is not precise enough to use it for specific groups in a world. So we pushed in to WS or SS.
With a WS (same is for GS), the claim is not capturing the dependence that Davidson claims (higher level’s dependence on lower level). If there is no dependence, we can either say there are no higher level properties and be an eliminativist or, say they exist as an independent substance and be a dualist.
If one wants to adopt a supervenience that is strong enough to capture the dependence that Davidson claims in his own thesis, this SS would be strong enough to capture the reduction of mental events to physical events, too.
If we do not accept the reduction for these reasons, ‘overdetermination’ comes into the play violating tenets of logic and determination. This overdetermination is a result of the independent causal capability of non-reductive mental events, following the claim of Davidson, L2 is caused by both H1 and L1, we have an effect with two cause, then.
Therefore, Anomalous Monism is a reductionist position just like functionalism.
Or to put in another way; it can be said that the second premise for the Anomalous Monism of Davidson is widely accepted. In addition to that, one can either accept 1 and be eliminativist or reductionist, or one can accept 3 and be a dualist (Kim, 1972).
Concluding anomalous monism is also a reductionist account of the nature of the mind and Dennett’s reductionist/functionalist approach to the issue makes sense to me, let’s go back to whether eliminativism can give this account by eliminating the folk psychology. I would like to express my personal opinions by challenging the criteria that are proposed by Churchland. It is said that FP did not show any sign of improvement for centuries, but I do not think so and I also do not think that this is a usable criterion in this issue since human evolution takes a huge time for generations to observe and detect any possible changes (especially in a issue like that) so comparing it with rapid change in the status of science would be inappropriate, time goes by with different speeds for them. Although the only usable criteria for an account like FP is the behaviours of other people and feelings of own, and this was so for a long time (Churchland foresees this would change in a way that in future people would communicate through brain signals, without using a language in its traditional meaning and that would be the elimination of propositional attitudes); some vocabulary proposed by psychology or psychoanalytic theory is widely accepted to the daily propositional attitudes or FP of ordinary people. It shows that FP is not a theory chasing the ultimate empirical knowledge, rather it tries to give an commonly understandable explanation of human behaviour, and when it sees fit, it accepts new terms. So, changing the status of knowledge about the mind would not change the mechanism that uses it, if sees fit, it would only change the vocabulary used. Churchland also states that FP is not coherent with evolutionary theory, biology or neuroscientific findings. It is true that FP may not give the truth about the nature of things, even ourselves; but assigning the goal of giving coherent and rational empirical explanations to FP is something that we are making; it does not have to be the real goal of it or its underlying mechanism; maybe when we know many more things about ourselves and nature one day, we will realise FP is one of the perfect theories that is referred by Churchland, too (1981); it always reached its aim by using available sources and informations; limitations of it were the limitations of the organisms adopting it. FP itself, as a mechanism or as a system, is coherent with evolution, biology and neuroscience because it is evolved by the true principles of evolution, it is the part of the ultimate organism that is tried to be explained by biology or neuroscience. Therefore, saying that FP is a false theory seems like a confusion in those terms.
This brings me to the issue that Churchland’s understanding of completed science is different than mine. I imagine a science that makes more than digging into the micro levels and trying to find answers in the relations between those micro levels. Science, when it is completed, would give an accurate and true account for the mechanism of FP or FP as a theory; and it would approach to the issue by considering ethics, politics of science or existential issues regarding human lives (so the example given by Churchland (1981) in terms of changing the way we are communicating would not be the result of a completed science, it would be the result of a some level of technology, and these technological changes also changes the mechanism creating FP, no need to put an emphasis on elimination of it; in addition, these decisions of change in the ways humans are living, are not depend solely on the improvement of science and science can not make those decisions by itself). When the science is completed along with our understanding in ethics, politics, aesthetics or other philosophical issues, I do not think that it would want to eliminate the FP.
Churchland, P. M. (1981). Eliminative Materialism and the Propositional Attitudes. The Journal of
Philosophy, 78(2), 67. doi:10.2307/2025900
Dennett D. C. (1997), “Chapter 3. True Believers: The Intentional Strategy and Why it Works”,
in John Haugeland, Mind Design II: Philosophy, Psychology, Artificial Intelligence.
Massachusetts: Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Davidson, D. (1970). Mental Events. Retrieved from: http://fitelson.org/proseminar/davidson.pdf
Kim, J. (1972). Phenomenal Properties, Psychophysical Laws, and the Identity Theory. Monist,
56(2), 177-192. doi:10.5840/monist19725623