Inside doubt: On the non-identity of the theory of mind and propositional attitude psychology [Book Review]

Minds and Machines 15 (3-4):399-414 (2005)

Abstract

Eliminative materialism is a popular view of the mind which holds that propositional attitudes, the typical units of our traditional understanding, are unsupported by modern connectionist psychology and neuroscience, and consequently that propositional attitudes are a poor scientific postulate, and do not exist. Since our traditional folk psychology employs propositional attitudes, the usual argument runs, it too represents a poor theory, and may in the future be replaced by a more successful neurologically grounded theory, resulting in a drastic improvement in our interpersonal relationships. I contend that these eliminativist arguments typically run together two distinct capacities: the folk psychological mechanisms which we use to understand one another, and scientific and philosophical guesses about the structure of those understandings. Both capacities are ontologically committed and therefore empirical. However, the commitments whose prospects look so dismal to the eliminativist, in particular the causal and logical image of propositional attitudes, belong to the guesses, and not necessarily to the underlying mechanisms. It is the commitments of traditional philosophical perspectives about the operation of our folk psychology which are contradicted by?new evidence and modeling methods in connectionist psychology. Our actual folk psychology was not clearly committed to causal, sentential propositional attitudes, and thus is not directly threatened by connectionist psychology

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David Landy
San Francisco State University

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