What Is Folk Psychology?

Stephen P. Stich and Ian Ravenscroft

in Deconstructing the Mind

Published in print January 1999 | ISBN: 9780195126662
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780199868322 | DOI:

Series: Philosophy of Mind Series

What Is Folk Psychology?

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A central premise in eliminativist arguments is that terms like “belief” and “desire” can be viewed as theoretical terms, in a tacit or unconscious theory of the mind, often called “folk psychology.” But the term “folk psychology” has been used as a label for a number of different sorts of things, and on some interpretations of the term, folk psychology could not turn out to be a false theory. Some philosophers, notably David Lewis, unpack the idea of folk psychology by appealing to the platitudes about the mind that everyone knows. Other philosophers unpack the idea by appeal to tacit principles that underlie the capacity to attribute mental states to other people and oneself. On this latter account, it could turn out that folk psychology consists entirely of procedural rules (as in a recipe or computer program), or that it is encoded in a connectionist network that does not map onto a set of propositions in a unique and well‐motivated way. If things do turn out this way, then eliminativist arguments will not work, because folk psychology does not make claims that can be true or false. The chapter begins with a brief history of the idea that ordinary claims about mental states – both our own and those of other people – are subserved by a tacit theory. The basic idea is traced to the work of Wilfred Sellars. Noam Chomsky's work in linguistics made it plausible that we could use a complex theory, without having any conscious access to the principles of the theory.

Keywords: Noam Chomsky; connectionism; eliminativism; folk psychology; David Lewis; tacit theory; Wilfrid Sellars

Chapter.  10112 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Philosophy of Mind

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