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