Folk Psychology and Scientific Knowledge

Paul Churchland, an American philosopher, defends eliminative materialism, or that common-sense folk psychology is a theory, and must be substituted with neuroscience. In order to argue this, Churchland demonstrates how folk psychology is only a theory and why it might be false.

Churchland begins by stating that seeing folk psychology as a theory unifies problems such as “the explanation and prediction of behavior, the semantics of mental predicates, action theory, the other-minds problem, the intentionality of mental states, the nature of introspection, and the mind-body problem.” (594) In order to argue how the intentionality of mental states is a “structural feature” of folk psychology, Churchland relates to a theory in the physical sciences. He begins by giving us an example of “numerical attitudes,” or expressions such as “…has a mass of n, a velocity of n, a temperature of n.” Substituting a number for n forms a predicate in the same way that substituting a proposition for p forms a predicate. Churchland states, “The structural features of folk psychology parallel perfectly those of mathematical physcics.” (595) Although this was only a small part of his larger argument, I believe that Churchland was effective. I am personally more inclined to accept an argument that is proven valid through science and mathematics. Churchland’s thorough explanation of the parallels of folk psychology and mathematical physics make his argument obvious and clear.

Again, Churchland takes the perspective of the physical sciences when he argues why folk psychology might (really) be false. Folk psychology may only be a theory if it “fits well with other theories about adjacent subject matters.” (597) Churchland claims that folk psychology doesn’t fit in with the sciences like the theory of the homo sapiens does. Since the physical sciences are undeniable when it comes to explaining human behavior, Churchland is strong in his claim that this theory is false. Again, this seems to make sense to me. It is difficult to deny the physical sciences as it is logical in explaining many different aspects about the universe.

Churchland claims that science can explain human beings’ constitution, development and behavioral capacities through physics, chemistry, evolutionary theory, biology, physiology and neuroscience, and that using these explanations, science can beat folk psychology.

Sterelny makes a logical response to Churchland’s arguments. He says that folk psychology is an important component of cognitive psychology. Cognitive psychology includes the study of mental processes. Cognitive psychology takes part in research programs to understand processes like learning and memory. In contrast to Churchland’s scientific explanations to deny folk psychology, Sterelny says that folk psychology indirectly follows modern scientific advances. (

Thus, both Sterelny and Churchland use science to prove their argument. However, I am leaning towards Churchland’s view that folk psychology should be eliminated. Churchland makes a rational argument that neuroscience is a better way to understand the brain.

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