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 = <>.

2 thoughts on “Folk Psychology is Valuable

  1. I agree with you largely about folk psychology. In terms of studying psychology, mental illnesses, sleep, and behavior are key to understanding our minds. Because of this, I feel that the eliminativists are taking it too far when believing that these aspects do not exist. Scientific advancements show how the above effect the brain and mind, as well as our personalities and behaviors.

  2. When you state that folk psychology should be used as an accompaniment to neuroscientific-based theories, do you find the two theories to be compatible? I feel that folk psychology and neuroscience could not co-exist due to some logical inconsistencies. What do you think?

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