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Folk Psychology In Churchland’s Eliminative Materialism

2140 words - 9 pages

Folk Psychology in Churchland’s Eliminative Materialism

The mind-body problem has kept philosophers busy ever since Descartes proposed it in the sixteenth century. The central question posed by the mind-body problem is the relationship between what we call the body and what we call the mind—one private, abstract, and the origin of all thoughts; the other public, concrete, and the executor of the mind’s commands. Paul Churchland, a proponent of the eliminative materialist view, believes that the solution to the mind-body problem lies in eliminating the single concept that allows this problem to perpetuate—the folk psychological concept of mental states. Churchland argues that the best theory of mind is a materialistic one, not a folk psychological one. Unlike other materialist views such as identity theory, Churchland wants to remove the idea of mental states from our ontology because mental states cannot be matched 1:1 with corresponding physical states. This is why Churchland’s view is called eliminative materialism—it is a materialistic account of the mind that eliminates the necessity for us to concern ourselves with mental events. At first this eliminative materialism appears to be a good solution to the mind-body problem because we need not concern ourselves with that problem if we adopt Churchland’s view. However, there is a basic flaw in his argument that raises the question of whether we should actually give up folk psychology. In this paper, we will first walk through the premises of Churchland’s argument, and then we will explore whether Churchland does a suitable job of justifying our adoption of eliminative materialism.

The central point of eliminative materialism is that we should discard our idea of mental states. Instead of adhering to Armstrong’s materialist identity theory, which posits that there is a 1:1 correspondence between mental and physical states, Churchland denies the idea that any consistent mind-body identity can be achieved. The materialist identity theory was called into doubt because, as Churchland describes, “…it seemed unlikely that the arrival of an adequate materialist theory would being with it the nice one-to-one matchups, between the concepts of folk psychology and the concepts of theoretical neuroscience, that intertheoretic reduction requires” (Churchland 349). The reason for this was that different physical systems can instantiate the same mental state, such as when I notice that both my roommate and her dog are happy. Even though the neurology of a dog’s brain is greatly different from my roommate’s brain, they both still appear to be happy. Hence, identity theory became doubtful because it could not explain how the same mental state can be caused by two completely different physical systems. Because we cannot match mental states with physical states, Churchland advocates that we should eliminate our idea of mental states. We are simply mistaken that they are a part of our ontology; it is not...

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