The Simulation Theory and Explanations that ‘Make Sense of Behavior’
ABSTRACT: Underlying the current debate between simulation theory and theory theory is the assumption that folk psychological explanations of behavior are causal. Simulationists Martin Davies, Tony Stone, and Jane Heal claim that folk psychological explanations are explanations that make sense of another person by citing the thoughts important to the determination of his behavior on a given occasion. I argue that it is unlikely these explanations will be causal. Davis et al. base their claim on the assumption that a certain isomorphism obtains between the cognitive mechanisms of human beings. Investigation into the nature of the isomorphism required reveals that it is of a sort that is unlikely to obtain. I suggest that in order to maintain their challenge to theory theory, simulationists must either motivate and describe a non-causal simulation-based account of folk psychological explanation or else delineate a causal account that attributes a nonessential, heuristic role to simulation.
Much interest has been raised recently in cognitive science and in the philosophy of mind by a debate that focuses on the nature of the cognitive mechanism that underlies our folk psychological practices. One side in this debate is represented by proponents of the reigning paradigm, the theory theory. Theory theorists say that our ability to give explanations, predictions and interpretations of intentional behavior is subserved by tacit knowledge of an internally-represented theory of commonsense psychology (Fodor 1987). The simulation theory challenges this view on the grounds that there is no evidence to support the suggestion that we have such knowledge and some evidence to suppose that we do not (Gordon 1986: Goldman 1989). It is more likely, say simulationists, that these abilities are simply underpinned by the innate capacity to simulate others.
Simulationists argue that a compelling case can be made against the theory theory. I do not discuss that case here. Instead I address an issue which, although crucial to the outcome of the debate, has not yet been examined. This issue concerns the nature of the commonsense psychological explanations produced by the mechanism whose functioning both theories claim to describe.
Two assumptions bring the issue of explanation to the fore. One of these pertains to the range and the other to the type of event that the theories are adduced to account for. The merits of the theory theory and the simulation theory are usually discussed in relation to the practice of the prediction of intentional behavior. The reasonable assumption, (assumption A), is that the mechanism that is deployed in prediction will be the same one that is deployed in the explanation, the description and the interpretation of our own and others’ behavior. The second assumption, (assumption B), is that the two theories offer competing accounts of the...