Bad science! Not science! Hence the star of this edition of Course Notes, Paul Churchland, who has made it his mission to get us to believe that there are no beliefs. I believed this bus was going there.

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Bad science! Not science! Hence the star of this edition of Course Notes, Paul Churchland, who has made it his mission to get us to believe that there are no beliefs. I believed this bus was going there. We often account for our actions by citing various beliefs or desires that we have.

But what sort of account one is giving, when one offers a folk psychological explanation for something someone has done? Specifically, should we think of these as causal explanations and of folk psychology, consequently, as a scientific theory? Fodor, for one, thinks we should. Think of intentional explanations as causal and of folk psychology as a scientific theory , that is. Ceteris paribus, it goes without saying. Anyhow, to a first approximation the commonsense view is that there is mental causation, and that mental causes are subsumed by counterfactual supporting generalizations of which the practical syllogism is perhaps the paradigm.

Of course, there are any number of reasons why Fodor and to be fair, most philosophers of mind moved in this direction — science envy, stubborn, semi-conscious unity of the sciences intuitions, etc.

The question then becomes how good of a scientific theory it is, and it is here that Churchland pounces. He maintains that there are several criteria by which one judges the merits of a scientific theory: A. The ratio of its explanatory successes to its explanatory failures. How well it coheres with what other sciences are saying about the same subject matter. While it might do a good job at explaining our mundane, daily goings-on, it tells us nothing about a huge range of mental phenomena: As examples of central and important mental phenomena that remain largely or wholly mysterious within the framework of FP, consider the nature and dynamics of mental illness, the faculty of creative imagination, or the ground of intelligence differences between individuals.

Reflect on the common ability to catch an outfield fly ball on the run, or hit a moving car with a snowball. Consider the internal construction of a 3-D visual image from subtle differences in the 2-D array of stimulations in our respective retinas.

Consider the rich variety of perceptual illusions, visual and otherwise. Or consider the miracle of memory, with its lightning capacity for relevant retrieval. On these and many other mental phenomena, FP sheds negligible light. Human beings used to offer intentional explanations for everything in nature here, Churchland is referencing primitive, animistic accounts of weather, the movement of water, etc.

That story, though still radically incomplete, is already extremely powerful, outperforming FP at many points even in its own domain.

And it is deliberately and self-consciously coherent with the rest of our developing world picture. In short, the greatest theoretical synthesis in the history of the human race is currently in our hands, and parts of it already provide searching descriptions and explanations of human sensory input, neural activity, and motor control.

But FP is no part of this growing synthesis. Its intentional categories stand magnificently alone, without visible prospect of reduction to that larger corpus. No beliefs. No desires. The situation with folk psychology, he thinks, is much like it was with the caloric theory of heat, according to which it was the presence of a fluid inside bodies caloric fluid that determined their temperature.

Of course, we now explain temperature in terms of mean molecular energy, and not only was the caloric theory discarded upon this realization, but the caloric fluid as well. We think there is no such thing. This inference from the falsity of a theory to the non-existence of its ontology presumes a Quinean account of ontological commitment, according to which what exists is a matter of what our best scientific theories quantify over.

When we abandon tentative hypotheses about the causal-explanatory role of such phenomena, we never for a moment consider their ontological elimination, as we are supposed to do in the case of folk psychology. This is just as well for biology. One of the earliest documented forms of folk psychology is biological in nature. This has long been demonstrated to be false, yet few have rushed to conclude that there are no such things as hearts or livers.

The bigger problem with ontological elimination in the case of folk psychology is that one cannot even describe the subject-matter of much of psychology, without there being intentionality; representation.

As Greenwood observes: Many practicing psychologists are not particularly concerned with the explanation of human behaviors or physical movements per se. They are instead concerned to provide empirically supported explanations of socially meaningful human actions such as aggression, dishonesty, helping, child abuse, and suicide. They are concerned with the explanation of those behaviors that are constituted as human actions by their intentional direction and social location.

See note 3 Moving my arm in a certain way does not, in itself, constitute an assault. The latter is an action, not merely a set of motor movements, and depends on my representing my victim as in some way deserving of my attack i. Moving my arm in other ways does not, in itself, constitute giving charity. The latter, again, is an action, not merely a set of motor movements, and depends on my representing the receiver of my largesse as in some way deserving of help.

In both cases, the relevant action is only characterizable in intentional terms, and it is actions like these that psychologists are interested in explaining, not mere motor movements, for which entirely neurophysiological causes suffice.


Eliminative materialism and the propositional attitudes

A Brief History In principle, anyone denying the existence of some type of thing is an eliminativist with regard to that type of thing. Thus, there have been a number of eliminativists about different aspects of human nature in the history of philosophy. For example, hard determinists like Holbach are eliminativists with regard to free will because they claim there is no dimension of human psychology that corresponds to our commonsense notion of freedom. Similarly, by denying that there is an ego or persisting subject of experience, Hume was arguably an eliminativist about the self.


Course Notes – Paul Churchland, “Eliminative Materialism and the Propositional Attitudes”

Overview[ edit ] Various arguments have been put forth both for and against eliminative materialism over the last forty years. It is to be compared and contrasted with other scientific theories in its explanatory success, accuracy, and ability to allow people to make correct predictions about the future. Eliminativists argue that, based on these and other criteria, commonsense "folk" psychology has failed and will eventually need to be replaced with explanations derived from the neurosciences. These philosophers therefore tend to emphasize the importance of neuroscientific research as well as developments in artificial intelligence to sustain their thesis.

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