What is Folk Psychology?

Churchland explains eliminative materialism and how it supports the idea that Folk Psychology is just a theory that will be eradicated with proper scientific data. In doing so, he says, “Knowledge of other minds thus has no essential dependence on knowledge of one’s own mind” (Churchland 594). I completely agree with this statement and think it is an excellent point in proving the implausibility of Folk Psychology. Conclusions reached by the beliefs of Folk Psychology can hardly be accepted as veritable. Since Folk Psychology, itself is simply a theory, and the integrity of any inferences made based solely on it, will, by extension, also be questioned.

I am in complete agreement with the idea of Folk Psychology being a theory. It seems to be completely empirical. Is there any way to test its soundness? Without measurable data, there is nothing to support the ideas behind Folk Psychology, which is cause enough to denote that it is just a theory and possibly one that is, ultimately false.

Eliminative materialism supports the fact that the existence of Folk Psychology is not real. My question is why anyone believes anything else. What is it about Folk Psychology that allows it to be so vague and lacking but still be widely accepted as though it were scientific fact? There are people who are really in the fact that Folk Psychology gives us legitimate fundamental explanations of behavior. It seems that underlying opinion about Folk Psychology is that while it may not be perfect or 100% true, it’s good enough.

I believe that the scientific method can be applied to all types of problems and situations, so while I don’t think Folk Psychology is adequate enough to be considered science I think it should be approached and analyzed as such. There basically already exists a hypothesis or some belief about it, so why hasn’t anything been tested to try to make this theory a law? It seems as though the commonly attitude about it is that it is, for some reason, useful and should stay around. The view of Realism is that most of it is true. I don’t think it should be allowed to thrive as a philosophical idea if it’s not accurate. What are we gaining from it, if it’s not all the way true?

If you understand better by listening, this video summarizes Churchland’s argument in about 5 minutes. >>> Eliminating Folk Psychology

Paul Churchland’s Eliminative Materialism and the Propositional Attitudes


I would like to raise the concept from class regarding the development of intentions and the supposed necessity for children to understand complex philosophies to eliminate the discussion of mental states. Firstly I would like to pose the question to the class: who is responsible for the detonation of the atomic bomb? Was it the man who built the bomb? The man who theorized the concept and developed the theory, or the man who “pulled the trigger”. If we subscribe to the biblical notion of justice the man who created the  theory or the first bomb would be therefore responsible for all the consequences of his initial action. Similarly a man who killed the butterfly which caused the resulting chain of events leading to JFK’s assassination would be therefore responsible for the ultimate murder of our late president.  However, it is the recognition of intention that manages to not only separate cultures, but different thought processes and alternate views of ourselves and our actions.

By recognizing the idea of intentions, we are granted a different view and concept of how our mind and body works, and our personalties and actions would be different as a result of this differing view.

Conversely, the elimination of folk psychology would require a complete understanding of neurological biology. However, it is important to recognize the fact that a common eight year old is not only more intelligent than an adult man of the 18th century, but can explain concepts that would be completely alien and incomprehensible to even the greatest geniuses of that time. By increasing the inherent knowledge of civilizations, the even most common members of said civilizations will inch towards increased mental capabilities. In short, it is the continuing evolution of technology and science that drives the new language of neuroscience and the resulting knowledge of even children.

Chimps and Folk Psychology

Like many philosophical texts that I have read in this class Churchland’s article changed my views multiple times in the minutes I was reading. The way many of these texts are written sometimes has you convinced of one thing and then quickly makes you realize how foolish you were for ever believing that idea in the first place. When first reading Churchland’s description of folk psychology I thought that this theory of mind seemed very sensible and seemed to work with my current beliefs of the way the world works. However, after reading his section “Why Folk Psychology might (really) be false” I was completely convinced of the opposite. All of his arguments against folk psychology made sense but one critique that Churchland just barely touched on really caught my attention.

Churhland states “One particularly outstanding mystery is the nature of the learning process itself, especially where it involves large-scale conceptual change, and especially as it appears in its pre-linguistic or entirely nonlinguistic form (as in infants and ani- mals), which is by far the most common form in nature. “ (596) I had not thought of this idea when originally agreeing with the ideas of folk psychology and was especially intrigued by Churchland mention of animals who have no capacity for language. I did a quick Google search for “folk psychology animals” and immediately came up with results. The most prominent results were about a book called Do Apes Read Minds?: Toward a New Folk Psychology by Kristin Andrews. Although I couldn’t get a hold of actual pages from the book I found a  great summary, which I have cited below, that shed light on Kristin Andrews’ argument.

Andrews discusses that modern science and study has made many realize how similar apes and other primates are to us as humans, even in terms of “doing” folk psychology. It seems that chimps track goals as well as perceptual awareness in other chimps. These animals use past experience and memory as well as their current states to understand other chimps they come in contact with. However, the traditional view of folk psychology as we have seen from Churchland has a lot to do with someone being able to understand beliefs. Many people are extremely hesitant to say animals like chimps can understand the beliefs of other chimps or even have beliefs themselves. Even experiments that have been done seem to suggest that chimps cannot understand false beliefs and possibly beliefs in general. So there seems to be a bit of a problem here because chimps are extremely social and complex animals who understand each other and can predict and even foresee the actions of others, yet they seem to not have the capability to understand beliefs, a key part of folk psychology. Andrews goes on to suggest that because of this information and much more that she talks about in her book a new definition of folk psychology or it must be abandoned as a theory entirely.




Dualism vs. Materialism

Churchland evaluates dualism in Matter and Consciousness. In evaluating dualism, he finds several key problems. Dualism is the theory that two things exist in the world: the mind and the physical world. This means that humans are made of two things, the mind and the body. Firstly, there are a lot of blanks and unknown answers when contemplating dualism. Mainly, it cannot be known how the mind and body are linked together to form a being. The dualist cannot tell us anything about the mind, other than that it exists and works in conjunction with the body in some way. The dualist argues the mind encompasses reason, emotion, and consciousness. However, machines, which certainly do not have minds, have already demonstrated reasoning, such as a calculator. Emotions have been linked with brain chemicals, which would be physical entities. And consciousness can be affected by physical things like “anesthetics… caffeine, and… something as simple as a sharp blow to the head” (20). Reason, emotion, and consciousness make perfect sense when linked with the physical brain, but not much sense when attributed to the unknown workings of the non-physical mind.

In Eliminative Materialism and the Propositional Attitudes, Churchland argues for eliminative materialism. This claims that folk psychology has been incorrect all along, and that we need to start thinking with a new paradigm of what we believe to be common sense in order to figure out the world really works. In addition, it asserts that the only thing that exists in the world is the physical realm, and that the mind is not separate from the body. There is a video that summarizes this writing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SAybGdBg-T4

Folk psychology cannot even explain some of the simplest phenomena. For example, memory, catching balls, and hitting moving targets with snowballs are all things that still are widely not understood. And “the nature and psychological functions of sleep, that curious state in which a third of one’s life is spent” (596) have many puzzles that have yet to be solved. This suggests that perhaps a new way of thinking is needed for people to understand the world around them.

I agree with Churchland’s view of materialism as opposed to dualism. In dualism, it can even sometimes be hard to distinguish between body and mind. In materialism, it is very straightforward, as everything is physical. In addition, it is indisputable that the brain affects one’s decisions, emotions, and conscious thought. This makes it so that everything can be attributed to the brain and neurotransmitters and other chemicals, rather than assigning them to a separate unknown state (the mind). In addition, evolution is based on physical processes, and it makes a lot more sense evolutionary for physicality to be the only entity. The video points out that “all life on earth evolved from purely physical materials by means of purely physical processes”, so it wouldn’t add up if there were also the non-physical mind. In addition, if the mind did exist, it would be very connected with the brain and its processes, and the two would be almost indistinguishable without regards. But if this is the case, there wouldn’t be much point to having a mind at all.

Folk Psychology


When it comes to discussing the philosophy of the mind, it seems to be very difficult to come up with a definite answer about what happens inside the mind. Although this has been talked about for a long time within the philosophy community, approaching this question from many different perspectives, Paul Churchland defended a new view known as eliminative materialism. It is a theory that states that common-sense folk psychology is false and must be substituted with neuroscience.

It has been found that the objections to this view have come from its intentions, because beliefs and desires cannot be replaced with something material.  “More importantly, the recognition that folk psychology is a theory provides a simple and decisive solution to an old skeptical problem, the problem of other minds. The problematic conviction that another individual is subject of certain mental states is not inferred deductively from his behavior, nor is it inferred by inductive analogy from the perilously isolated instance of one’s own case” (Churchland 594).

The problem of other minds is that we cannot infer that others have minds from their behavior and it’s risky to generalize from our own case rather, the belief that others have minds is an explanatory hypothesis that belongs to folk psychology. For many philosophers mental states are very different from what is a physical state. He then goes into why folk psychology might really be false.  Other than the fact that there is a least a possibility that is false, and that its beliefs and desires can be an illusion, it is important to consider Folk Psychology’s failures and successes, its long term development as a theory, and how it fits into science. Churchland only had an issue trying to fit this psychology with the rest of science because the modern sciences are growing.

I found this article to really mess with my intuition about the mind. When he says that Folk Psychology doesn’t necessarily fit with science as a phenomenon to explain it anthropologically let alone scientifically, I was confused because we could say that it is based on an evolutionary adaptation. I think this because we are discussing our ability to communicate and vocalize our wants and beliefs, in order to share ideas with others.  And when we think about other species, communication is limited unlike the human species. But then in his final argument against Eliminativism, Churchland talks about how it is just a belief because it goes off the fact that we, as a species, desire to communicate with one another.

So I guess coming out of this article I have a few questions to pose to the class. I’m still not totally sure how I feel about this but: Why should we think that our original thought processes of what we would now describe as Folk Psychology to amount a theory at all?

Also I found this video that really made me think, so if you have time, its only 1:35:



Believing in Beliefs?

In Eliminative Materialism and the Propositional Attitudes, Paul M. Churchland focuses his essay on the concept of eliminative materialism, which is “the thesis that our common-sense conception of psychological phenomena constitutes a radically false theory, a theory so fundamentally defective that both the principles and the ontology of that theory will eventually be displaced, rather than smoothly reduced, by completed neuroscience” (Churchland, 593). In this piece, Churchland attacks the idea of mental states and folk psychology. Folk psychology is used to discuss to “cognitive capacities,” such as prediction and “explain[ing] behavior” (Folk Psychology as a Theory, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). Folk psychology is also referencing behavior in the brain.

Churchland claims that the idea of folk psychology is insufficient. He states how it is remarkable that we can explain and predict the behavior of others, in terms of desires, beliefs, fears, perceptions, and intentions, also known as propositional attitudes. These propositional attitudes, according to Churchland, lead to issues with folk psychology because, “its conception of learning as the manipulation and storage of propositional attitudes founders on the fact that how to formulate, manipulate, and store a rich fabric of propositional attitudes is itself something that is learned, and is only one among many acquired cognitive skills” (Churchland, 596). He also mentions how mental illnesses, catching a fly ball, sleep, and more all are not shed any light by folk psychology. Due to this, Churchland sees folk psychology as “a highly superficial theory, a partial and unpenetrating gloss on a deeper and more complex reality” (Churchland 597). In my opinion, I feel that Churchland is very tough with his critique. Just because folk psychology may not, in Churchland’s eyes, explain the above (mental illnesses, sleep, etc.) that does not mean that nothing in the world can explain these. Psychologists analyze sleep and its affects on the human mind, and they  focus on mental illnesses, since psychology is the study of the mind/behavior.

Churchland’s theory of eliminating all mental states is too severe, in my opinion. Eliminativism’s argument focuses on how beliefs and desires are a part of folk psychology, but since folk psychology is false, so are belief and desires. I have an issue with this conclusion. How can beliefs and desires not exist? I can form a belief in almost anything, and I can desire many things. In this moment, I am hungry and desire a slice of New York pizza. Is this desire false? I believe that beliefs and desires exist. If I believe that beliefs and desires exist, how is it possible that these two do not exist? Eliminativists believe that beliefs don’t exist… Eliminativists also state “there is nothing more to the mind than what occurs in the brain” (Eliminative Materialism, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). When I approached some peers of mine and asked them what is the first thing that you think of when I say the word “mind,” all of them responded immediately with “my brain.” This belief relates to the eliminativist, but does not necessarily coincide or contradict this viewpoint. Some individuals may believe that there is more to the mind than the brain, but others choose not to.



Paul Churchland’s Eliminative Materialism and the Propositional Attitudes

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s Eliminative Materialism

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s Folk Psychology as a Theory

Dualism Problems

When one reads Churchland, it becomes very easy to see why Dualism has been the dominant theory of mind for most of western history. Humans like to think that the mind as a very complex object, especially in comparison to the physical body. After reading, Churchland’s main points about Dualism, I completely disagree with the view.  I believe that the mind is not a nonspatial thinking substance, but is an integral part of the human body that is connected to it physically and chemically. Churchland picks a similar stance when comparing two of the most popular types of Dualism, Cartesian Dualism and Popular Dualism. Cartesian Dualism, although an interesting theory, is very flawed. I agree with him when he states if the mind is truly nonphysical, it could not really control the physical aspect of your body. I found the animal spirit theory to be a creative solution to that problem, but the theory of animal spirits is much too weak to allow Cartesian Dualism to be the most relevant and popular form of Dualism. Popular Dualism makes much more sense to a person who is ambiguous about their belief in Dualism. The most interesting part of this branch of Dualism was the energy section. I found the link between modern scientific concepts such as E=mc2 to be very interesting as it is always nice to see philosophical concepts have some relation with modern day science. Popular Dualism is a much more credible theory since it states that the mind is actually part of the physical body as it is inside the head. The beginning of the reading states how Dualism is a theory that is very popular with many of the world’s most popular religions, and Popular Dualism gives a reason why this is true.  The reason why it is so highly esteemed is due to the fact that Popular Dualism supports the possibility that the mind might survive the death of the body. This concept is very comforting to many people, and it further adds to any popularity that Dualism may garner. The subject of Property Dualism is also mentioned, and it basically states that the brain has a special set of properties that no other kind of physical object possesses.  This theory leads to concept to epiphenomenalism. This theory states that not only one’s actions are determined by physical events in the brain, but physical events in the brain also cause desires, decisions, and volitions. This is a very radical theory as it is basically stating that most of human behavior is just controlled by the brain and not mental states. This is why Churchland further describes interactionist property dualism stating that mental properties do have effects on the brain and behavior. This difference with the previous type of popular dualism makes much more sense, as it seems very illogical to myself for mental properties to not have any type of effect on behavior.

The Mind-Body Problem

Although there are several theories of dualism, they all encompass the central idea that nature of conscious intelligence dwells in something nonphysical. This nonphysical location of the nature of conscious intelligence will forever be beyond the reach of most sciences. Complex and arguably problematic, dualism has come to be one of the most dominant theories of mind amongst the public and most of the world for much of Western History. The question is, which theory of mind is correct? Do they explain how the mental state is related to the physical world and our behavior?

What distinguishes dualism apart from other theories of mind and the nature of conscious intelligence is that it defines each mind as a, “distinct nonphysical thing, an individual ‘packages’ of nonphysical substance, a thing whose identity is independent of any body to which it may be temporarily ‘attached’” (Churchland). On this account, one can argue that the substance dualists’ definition of mind theory is predominantly negative. However there are positive accounts that do prevail, the most highly acclaimed being that of the philosopher Rene Descartes. Descartes theorized that reality is made up of two kinds of substance, one that is extended in space and another that cannot be accounted for in terms of the mechanics of matter. This second substance and way of thinking known as Cartesian dualism proposed by Descartes has no special extension or position. Contrarily, it is centered on the activity of thinking. In other words, this non-spatial thinking substance separate from your material body has a systematic casual interaction with the body. These casual connections to your body are what make the body distinct to the individual. However, if the non spatial thinking substance has no connection to matter, how can it have any casual affect on the body which is grounded in matter substance? Such difficulties with Cartesian dualism caused the consideration of a less radical form of dualism, popular dualism. “This is the theory that a person is literally a ‘ghost in a machine’, where the machine is the human body, and the ghost is a spiritual substance” (Churchland). This theory does not run into the same problems as Cartesian dualism because the mind is in contact with the brain, this exchange of energy that defines this casual contact however has yet to be understood by scientists. This view of dualism is particularly favorable because it agrees with the laws of conservation of momentum, which are widely established, as well as leads to the question of whether or not the mind could survive the death of the body. Unfortunately, we do not have much evidence to support this idea.

An altogether different theory of the mind is property dualism which states that, “there is no substance to be dealt with here beyond the physical brain, the brain has a special set of properties possessed by no other kind of physical object” (Churhcland). In other words, it is the special set of properties that are non-physical that are distinguishable of conscious intelligence. Property dualism consists of epiphenomenalism, which states that mental phenomena are not a part of the physical phenomena of the brain. Furthermore, mental phenomenon is caused by physical activities in the bran but in return do not have any casual effects on the brain itself. Does this prove that there is a concurrence between volitions and actions? Due to the epiphenomenalist radical position on mental properties, a more widely accepted view of dualism known as integrationist property dualism was theorized which differs from property dualism in that mental properties do have casual effects on the brain and behavior. Contrary to property dualism, one’s behavior and choices can be attributed to one’s desires and volitions. Dualists argue that mental states and properties are irreducible and novel properties, meaning they are, “beyond prediction or explanation by physical science”(Churchland). One problematic issue with dualism is its basic stance on the irreducibility of mental properties. If we assume that mental properties are emergent, then shouldn’t a physical account of them be possible? Many dualists ten to favor one claim or the other, however some support a further view know as elemental-property dualism that compares mental properties to that of electromagnetic properties. If irreducibility is one of dualism’s most basic claims yet it presents us with numerous questions and issues, why should we accept it? Why would someone be a dualist?

Although complex and filled with questions of credibility, there are many arguments that support as well as refute the belief in dualism. First, most world religions in a way support dualism in that they believe in an immortal soul and contemplate the purpose of Man in the universe. Further supportive cases are the argument from introspection and the argument from irreducibility. A prominent refutation of Dualism however is known as the Problem of Other Minds. In order to believe that there are other minds than our own, we observe the behaviors of the other organisms. This is problematic however because we only know that mental states cause our own behaviors. “Hence, if dualism is true, we cannot know that other people have minds at all. But common sense tells us that others do have minds. Since common sense can be trust, dualism is false” (Calef). The problem of other minds can be used to support alternative mental state theories such as behaviorism or functionalism. This complicates our understanding of dualism even further because we are presented with many supporting as well as counter arguments to dualism and its theories on the nature of conscious intelligence. Due to its complexity and highly problematic nature, should we accept dualism as truth, or disregard it altogether and search for an alternative solution to the mind-body problem?

Outside Source: http://www.iep.utm.edu/dualism/#H8

You don’t actually have a body

Descartes didn’t believe in the “body” but believed in the “mind.” So everything but the mind is all due to your brain. The whole thought process came about when he realized that the mind, “a thinking thing,” could exist apart from its extended body. With that knowledge, came the theory that the body is a substance whose essence is thought. Hence my title, “You don’t actually have a body” because Descartes believed that the two were separate entities.

Property dualism is the basic idea of the theories under this heading is that while there is no substance to be dealt with here beyond the physical brain, the brain has a special set of properties possessed by no other kind of physical object. These are the properties that are characteristic of conscious intelligence (Churchland, 10). Epiphenomenalism is the view that mental events are caused by physical events in the brain, but have no effects upon any physical events(Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). For example, behavior is caused by the contraction of muscles and impulses from neurons. Therefore, the mind has nothing to do with it and it’s purely physical. Interactionism is the idea that matter and the mind “have casual effects on the brain, and thereby, on behavior(Churchland, 12).” This theory raised some issues because if the mind is an immaterialist thing then there is no way that it can have an influence on matter. The last dualist category is the elemental-property dualist. “The elemental-property dualist subscribes to the notion that mental properties interact with the brain(http://consciousnessandthebrain.com).” So, on this point they agree with the interactive property dualist. But unlike the interactive-property dualist, the elemental-property dualist rejects the idea that mental properties emerge from the brain. Instead, they believe that mental properties are fundamental properties, something akin to mass or energy.


I personally agree with the ideas of interactionism because I also refute the idea that the mind is immaterial. Although it has no physical traits, I think that if something has an influence on another thing, it should be considered as a materialistic thing. Scientifically, physical objects are those that can be affected by physical forces. To me, the mind definitely has an influence on things like behavior. There is no way that we aren’t using our minds to act the way we are. How could we all react differently to the same stimuluses’ if “we only are responding to behavior with matter?” If we didn’t use our minds, then we should all have the same behavioral responses in the same situations. Our mind is what changes it up because the mind does have an influence on matter.


Paul Churchland, believed that neuroscience needed to be intertwined with psychology when it came to philosophy. Henceforth, the American philosopher explains how folk psychology may be false.


Folk Psychology is Valuable

Eliminative Materialism, as Churchill discusses, is the theory that our common sense explanation of our behavior and mental states, folk psychology, simply doesn’t work and isn’t efficient enough to explain if mental states occur. Therefore, since folk psychology is false, and beliefs and desires are “posits” of that theory, beliefs and desires do not exist (Ravenscroft 2010).  Ravenscroft, author from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy argues that since there are really two senses of the term folk psychology and eliminative materialism tries to disprove folk psychology on both terms, but that might be taking it too far. In the article, “Folk Psychology as a Theory,” folk psychology is described with two underlying approaches: mindreading and platitudes. Mindreading is the internal sense of folk psychology that looks at describing and predicting people’s behaviors from their mental states, basically getting inside that person’s head and into their perspective to see that they are thinking. While the platitudes approach, tokened by David Lewis, is more like functionalism where theoretical terms, like mental states, are defined functionally by reference to their causal roles.

Ravenscroft thinks that Eliminative Materialism should only reject the mindreading approach to folk psychology since it seems falsifiable because it’s not based on a solid theory and does not account for our own mental states. However, As a psychology major myself, looking at the explanation of folk psychology, it makes sense. In order to describe, explain, predict, and optimize behavior, the basic goals of psychology, you must use some of the same attributes that come with folk psychology. The basic assumption that one must have in psychology, especially with psychotherapy and with counseling, is that mental states, beliefs and desires, exist. In saying this, I believe that the theories that are used in psychology that help the mindreading approach and make folk psychology a valid theory to use in explaining one’s behavior. One key issue with Churchland, which I do see as a valid precaution for Folk Psychology, is that he believes that it discusses other minds, but cannot account for one’s own mind—something extremely problematic in my opinion. However, I do not feel that this does not account for the entirety of the theory to be eliminated and false, because it does have valid points and is useful in many disciplines to facilitate other theories about the mind. However, I think that this is the key point that even Ravenscroft tries to reach.

Folk psychology cannot be used as a theory to describe the entirety of the mind because it has several aspects of the mind left out; therefore, it is best used in accompany with another theory, and even if this is a real problem with what many philosophers like Churchland to consider it a plausible theory, then I think they are missing the complexity of the human mind. The mind cannot be comprised within one theory that we have seen thus far. We had no idea about how the mind really works and the reason why psychology is so multifaceted in understanding why someone behaves the way they do and why the think certain things, because our behavior and our mind cannot be comprised within one specific idea of what the mind is and how it is controlled. All that being said, completely disregarding folk psychology when it is so useful in explaining behavior and mental states eliminates some key possible explanations of the mind. So is it safe to say that folk psychology shouldn’t be taken seriously, or is that really taking it too far and neglecting a whole aspect of a huge mental health field and eliminating it’s value?


Ravenscroft, Ian, “Folk Psychology as a Theory”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2010 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2010/entries/folkpsych-theory/>.