For many years philosophers, psychologists, and scientists have all struggled with the concept of mental states and the truth about what happens inside of the human brain. With ongoing breakthroughs in each of the fields, bridges have been created in hopes of gaining insight towards the mysteries of the mind. In 1981, philosopher Paul Churchland proposed the idea of eliminative materialism, which posed an attack on folk psychology and suggested that mental states simply don’t exist. This extreme theory poses a radical argument with many strong points; however, some believe it to be too drastic to be precise.
Churchland begins his argument by suggesting that folk psychology is simply just a theory and not fact. Through examining a number of mental states that psychologists have struggled with explaining for years, he states, “FP (folk psychology) has been a stagnant or degenerating research program, and has been for millennia.” (567) Although I am not arguing that folk psychology is completely accurate in all of it’s claims, I do believe that it is at least sufficient in explaining very basic fundamentals behind human behavior. Surely, it is not the case that folk psychology can explain all of human cognition a microscopic level just yet; however, with the current breakthroughs in neuroscience, folk psychology simply needs to revise its claims instead of completely reject them.
Aside from Churchland’s refutation of folk psychology, his radical theory of the elimination of all mental states seems a bit too hard to believe. How can one possibly be mistaken about his own mental state? Mental states are the basis of human cognition and to say that they simply don’t exist seems quite absurd. If one were in pain, it would not make sense for an eliminative materialist to say that he is not because mental states can be experienced first-hand.
Furthermore, take for example the famous case of Phineas Gage. In a tragic railroad accident, the man’s brain was impaled with a metal rod. The after effects clearly showed a change in behavior and mental states when the biology of the brain was altered. Of course, exactly what happened may or may not be able to be completely explained with folk psychology; however, the causal relationship between the mental states before and after the accident could not have been a coincidence
In a sense, Churchland was correct in believing that folk psychology was not the only answer; however, I believe that folk psychology is definitely a part of the answer in determining the truth behind our cognition. Just as philosophy advanced to generate eliminative materialism, folk psychology will also change with the ongoing discoveries in modern day neuroscience.