All posts by Alex Marshall

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

Am I Who I Am?

You imagine that you know yourself better than anyone else in the world, but do you really know who you are?

Questions like this are what Descartes discusses in his two meditations, where readers are led to question everything. In his first meditation, Descartes focuses on doubt. To do so, he states how he must forget everything he has ever known “and start again from the foundations” (Descartes, 1). The overall focus of the first meditation is that Descartes talks about a “malicious, powerful, cunning demon” that deceives him (Descartes, 3). This demon inputs dreams that trap Descartes’ judgments and make us wonder: if  when we are dreaming, are we just dreaming while we’re asleep, or is all of life a dream?  I suppose that it is possible that a demon can be controlling our lives, but I don’t see why some demon would be doing this.

It is fair to say that one is doubtful of these claims. If one believes this theory, in order to have a justified true belief, S must contain strong evidence that supports such P. I suppose that this situation could be possible in another world, but there isn’t much to any evidence that supports this idea in this world.

Descartes goes onto his second meditation and discusses the human mind. He starts off stating that “everything [he sees] is fictitious. [He] will believe that [his] memory tells [him] nothing but lies. [He] has no senses. Body, shape, extension, movement and place are illusions. So what remains true? Perhaps just the one fact that nothing is certain” (Descartes, 4). He, next, chooses to discuss the senses and how valid they are by focusing on a piece of wax. The senses led to the mind drawing conclusions that the solid and liquid wax forms were the same, but this is not the case. In addition, if you were holding a piece of ice, you would conclude that the ice is cold because that is the answer you get from your sense of touch/feel. According to Descartes, we don’t really know that the ice is cold (Pynn, 1-2); our senses cannot be trusted at all times because there are instances when they can fool us. How do I know that I am actually feeling the back of my desk chair right now, or my fingertips pressing against the keyboard? This could all be a lie.

Bostrom’s essay about post-human simulations contradicts Descartes views on the mind. Where Descartes argues that the mind is the only thing that truly exists, Bostrom discusses the possibility of our minds possibly being run as an ancestor-simulation “rather than among the original biological ones” (Bostrom, 1). How do we know whether or not this is the case? One can wonder for all of his or her life, but will there ever be evidence to prove this is the case? Would those in control of our minds ever allow us to notice such evidence? Therefore, we cannot know that this is the case. Also, our “thoughts” would not truly be our own if we are being controlled by others, so is our mind even uniquely ours? The justified true belief account requires evidence and it is unclear if we will ever have that. I have to see Bostrom’s theory as a possibility because who knows? In another possible world, this could be the case, or even in our own world. We wouldn’t know any different unless those controlling us made us aware.

For all we know, we could all just be brains in vats being controlled and none of these experiences of life are reality. Like the Doubtful viewpoint in the first meditation, “this discovery makes me dizzy…” (Descartes, 2)

Other Sources:

Handout 2: The First Meditation (Professor Geoff Pynn):