Bad science! Not science! Hence the star of this edition of Course Notes, Paul Churchland, who has made it his mission to get us to believe that there are no beliefs. I believed this bus was going there.

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A Brief History In principle, anyone denying the existence of some type of thing is an eliminativist with regard to that type of thing. Thus, there have been a number of eliminativists about different aspects of human nature in the history of philosophy. For example, hard determinists like Holbach are eliminativists with regard to free will because they claim there is no dimension of human psychology that corresponds to our commonsense notion of freedom.

Similarly, by denying that there is an ego or persisting subject of experience, Hume was arguably an eliminativist about the self. Reductive materialists can be viewed as eliminativists with respect to an immaterial soul. Nevertheless, contemporary eliminative materialism—the sort of eliminativism that denies the existence of specific types of mental states—is a relatively new theory with a very short history.

However, the basic idea goes back at least as far as C. Like many future writers see section 4. Quine , Paul Feyerabend, and Richard Rorty. While Sellars himself regarded this theoretical framework as empirically correct, his claim that our conception of the mind is theory-based, and at least in principle falsifiable, would be influential to later supporters of eliminativism. Indeed, Feyerabend held that practically any version of materialism would severely undermine common-sense psychology.

Like many of his contemporaries, Feyerabend argued that common-sense mental notions are essentially non-physical in character. Thus, for him, any form of physicalism would entail that there are no mental processes or states as understood by common-sense , p. Like Feyerabend, Quine also endorsed the idea that mental notions like belief or sensation could simply be abandoned in favor of a more accurate physiological account. However, Quine goes on to question just how radical an eliminativist form of materialism would actually be, implying no significant difference between explicating mental states as physiological states, and eliminating mental state terms in favor of physical state terms.

Here we see a tension that runs throughout the writings of many early eliminative materialists. The problem involves a vacillation between two different conditions under which mental concepts and terms are dropped. The first scenario proposes that certain mental concepts will turn out to be empty, with mental state terms referring to nothing that actually exists. Historical analogs for this way of understanding eliminativism are cases where we now say it turned out there are no such things, such as demons and crystal spheres.

The second scenario suggests that the conceptual framework provided by neurosciences or some other physical account can or should come to replace the common-sense framework we now use.

One possible model for this way of thinking about eliminativism might be the discontinuance of talk about germs in favor of more precise scientific terminology of infectious agents. Given these two different conceptions, early eliminativists would sometimes offer two different characterizations of their view: a There are no mental states, just brain states and, b There really are mental states, but they are just brain states and we will come to view them that way.

These alternative ways of understanding eliminative materialism produced considerable confusion about what, exactly, eliminative materialism entailed. Unfortunately, besides suggesting a questionable perspective on reference, this interpretation raised further questions about what distinguished eliminativism from reductionism. In a follow-up article, Steven Savitt introduced the distinction between ontologically conservative reductive and ontologically radical eliminative theory change, which helped to further clarify and distinguish the central claims of eliminative materialism as it is understood today.

In more recent history, eliminative materialism has received attention from a broader range of writers, including many concerned not only with the metaphysics of the mind, but also the process of theory change, the status of semantic properties, the nature of psychological explanation and recent developments in cognitive science.

Much of this attention has been fostered by the husband-wife team of Paul and Patricia Churchland, whose writings have forced many philosophers and cognitive scientists to take eliminativism more seriously.

Another influential author has been Stephen Stich. His important book, From Folk Psychology to Cognitive Science: The Case Against Belief, argues that even conventional computational psychology —which is often assumed to vindicate common-sense psychology—should reject taxonomies for cognitive states that correspond with belief-desire psychology. Contemporary Eliminative Materialism Modern versions of eliminative materialism claim that our common-sense understanding of psychological states and processes is deeply mistaken and that some or all of our ordinary notions of mental states will have no home, at any level of analysis, in a sophisticated and accurate account of the mind.

In other words, it is the view that certain common-sense mental states, such as beliefs and desires, do not exist. To establish this claim, eliminativists typically endorse two central and controversial claims which we will examine below. Much of our discussion will focus upon our notion of belief, since it figures so prominently in contemporary discussions of eliminative materialism.

However, many of the arguments presented below are thought to generalize to other mental notions—especially other propositional attitudes. The generalizations are assumed to describe the various causal or counterfactual relations and regularities of the posits. For instance, a typical example of a folk psychological generalization would be: If someone has the desire for X and the belief that the best way to get X is by doing Y, then barring certain conditions that person will tend to do Y.

Advocates of the theory-theory claim that generalizations like these function in folk psychology much like the laws and generalizations of scientific theories. At the same time, many theory-theorists allow that the laws of folk psychology are learned more informally than scientific theories, as part of our normal development see, for example, P. Churchland, and Lewis, According to theory-theorists, the posits of folk psychology are simply the mental states that figure in our everyday psychological explanations.

Theory-theorists maintain the controversial position that, as theoretical posits, these states are not directly observed, though they are thought to account for observable effects like overt behavior. Theory-theorists also claim that common-sense assigns a number of properties to these states, such as causal, semantic and qualitative features.

For instance, the theory-theory claims common-sense assigns two sorts of properties to beliefs. First, there are various causal properties. As functionalists have claimed, these causal roles appear to define our ordinary notion of belief and distinguish them from other types of mental states.

Second, beliefs have intentionality ; that is, they each express a proposition or are about a particular state of affairs. Moreover, as we will see below, it is also a popular target of eliminative materialists who challenge the propriety and explanatory value of beliefs.

Although eliminative materialists have traditionally appealed to something like the idea that our folk conception of the mind is a theory, as suggested by the theory-theory, it does not actually require that our commonsense mental notions are embedded in a theoretical framework used for explaining and predicting.

Virtually any sort of embedding conceptual framework could be proposed in support of the first step of the eliminativist argument. In fact, although it is seldom recognized, the only thing eliminative materialism actually requires is the relatively weak assumption that we have mental concepts i. Even opponents of the theory-theory will typically allow that we possess some sort of conception of mental states like beliefs or pains and that such a conception at least tacitly assigns to their corresponding mental entities a variety of intrinsic, relational, intentional, phenomenal, causal, and temporal properties.

Anyone who denies this would be denying that we possess notions of mental states — a highly implausible view. Eliminative materialists argue that the central tenets of folk psychology radically misdescribe cognitive processes; consequently, the posits of folk psychology have no role to play in a serious scientific theory of the mind because the posits pick out nothing that is real.

Like dualists, eliminative materialists insist that ordinary mental states cannot be reduced to or identified with neurological events or processes. However, unlike dualists, straightforward eliminativists claim there is nothing more to the mind than what occurs in the brain.

The reason mental states are irreducible is not because they are non-physical; rather, it is because mental states, as described by common-sense psychology, do not really exist. To see all of this a little better, it will help to return to the important distinction made by Steven Savitt discussed in Section 1 between ontologically conservative or retentive theory change on the one hand, and ontologically radical or eliminative theory change on the other hand.

Ontologically conservative theory change occurs when the entities and posits of the replaced theory are relocated, often with some degree of revision, in the replacing theory. For example, as our theory of light was gradually replaced by our understanding of electro-magnetic radiation, our conception of light was dramatically transformed as we recognized ways in which our old conception was mistaken or incomplete.

Nevertheless, at no point did we come to say that there is really no such thing as light. Rather, light was eventually identified with a form of electro-magnetic radiation. By contrast, our notion of demons did not come to find a new home in contemporary theories of mental disorder. The notion of a demon is just too far removed from anything we now posit to explain behavior that was once explained by demonology.

Consequently, the transition from demonology to modern accounts of this behavior was ontologically radical. We dropped demons from our current ontology, and came to realize that the notion is empty—it refers to nothing real.

Eliminative materialists claim that an ontologically radical theory change awaits the theoretical posits of folk psychology in a manner similar to these cases. With straightforward eliminativism, just as we came to understand that there are no such things as demons because nothing at all like demons appear in modern accounts of strange behavior , so too, eliminative materialists argue that various folk psychological concepts—like our concept of belief—will eventually be recognized as empty posits that fail to correspond with anything that actually exists.

Since there is nothing that has the causal and semantic properties we attribute to beliefs and many other mental states it will turn out that there really are no such things. The Ramsey-sentences are a formal reconstruction of the platitudes of commonsense psychology. They provide a set of roles or conditions that more or less must be met for the instantiation of any given state. Eliminative materialists claim that this is precisely what will happen with at least some of our folk mental notions.

This is analogous to what happened in the case of demons and crystal spheres. Because there are no such things, these concepts have no role to play in a proper scientific ontology. This alternative stance is that although the commonsense concept does indeed correspond with something real, the kind in question is, for a host of reasons, ill-suited for serious scientific theorizing.

Thus, dropping the commonsense concept from science is, at least in part, due to pragmatic considerations about proper scientific practice. With conventional eliminative materialism, any token invoking of the mental state concept or term will designate nothing — the concept or term has no identifiable intentional object. By contrast, with this alternative picture, particular uses of a mental state concept or term may indeed refer to some actual neurological state or condition that shares many of the features associated with the concept in question.

However, because no legitimate scientific type maps properly onto the folk psychological type, the latter should be dropped from the categories of scientific psychology. So with this alternative interpretation of eliminativism, the alleged problem with folk psychology has more to do with the classification system it provides for certain types of mental states or processes; its criteria for demarcation and categorization are grossly ill-suited for cognitive science.

The unscientific nature of the category may be due to a variety of considerations or combination of considerations including but not limited to demarcation criteria that are overly subjective or context dependent, cut across more natural kinds, reduce to wildly disjunctive arrays of real properties, fail to yield useful generalizations, collapse together useful levels of analysis, and so on.

Thus, this alternative conception of eliminativism is the exact converse of certain forms of instrumentalism. To see this a little better, consider our concept of weed. It is used in everyday life to pick out certain actual plants, but the category is badly ill-suited for science.

The category of weeds is highly subjective and cross-classifies a number of natural floral kinds. While it would be wrong to say there are no such things as weeds, the notion does not belong in the science of botany. The alternative conception of eliminativism is based on the idea that certain commonsense psychological categories should be regarded as similar to the category of weeds. Although the folk notion in question may correspond with something actual, the folk category should be dropped from the sciences of the mind because it is inappropriate for serious scientific theorizing and explanation.

Griffiths argues that the category of emotion should be dropped from scientific psychology and replaced with categories that are better grounded in scientific psychology and neuroscience. He points out that the folk concept cuts across three different kinds of affective states: affect programs, higher cognitive emotions and social constructions.

Affect programs are basic and automatic states such as fear or anger that have an evolutionary basis and that are triggered by specific conditions. By contrast, higher cognitive emotions, like jealousy or shame, and social constructions are much less automatic and more easily influenced by a broader range of factors like higher-order thoughts or cultural conditioning.

Griffiths argues that these psychological types are almost certainly subserved by radically different cognitive mechanisms and consequently should not be lumped together under some superordinate commonsense category of emotion.

Griffiths develops a similar line of argument against emotion based upon levels of analysis and the difference between function-based taxonomies as opposed to lineage-based taxonomies. A comparable type of outlook is endorsed by Edouard Machery with regard to our concept of ironically concepts Machery, Machery argues that because our folk notion of concept corresponds to such a heterogeneous group of scientific kinds of stored information — including prototypes, exemplars, and theories — then psychologists would be better off just using these scientific categories and abandoning talk of concepts altogether.

Similar sorts of arguments have been leveled against the folk categories of belief Stich, , pain Hardcastle, , consciousness Irvine, , and mental illness Murphy and Stich, One problem with this gloss on eliminativism is that it often depends upon controversial normative claims about appropriate scientific taxonomies.

Many deny that, say, the highly disjunctive nature of a commonsense notion is sufficient justification for dropping it. If it was, we would eliminate the categories of memory and inference from scientific psychology.


Eliminative Materialism

A Brief History In principle, anyone denying the existence of some type of thing is an eliminativist with regard to that type of thing. Thus, there have been a number of eliminativists about different aspects of human nature in the history of philosophy. For example, hard determinists like Holbach are eliminativists with regard to free will because they claim there is no dimension of human psychology that corresponds to our commonsense notion of freedom. Similarly, by denying that there is an ego or persisting subject of experience, Hume was arguably an eliminativist about the self.


Course Notes – Paul Churchland, “Eliminative Materialism and the Propositional Attitudes”

Overview[ edit ] Various arguments have been put forth both for and against eliminative materialism over the last forty years. It is to be compared and contrasted with other scientific theories in its explanatory success, accuracy, and ability to allow people to make correct predictions about the future. Eliminativists argue that, based on these and other criteria, commonsense "folk" psychology has failed and will eventually need to be replaced with explanations derived from the neurosciences. These philosophers therefore tend to emphasize the importance of neuroscientific research as well as developments in artificial intelligence to sustain their thesis. Philosophers who argue against eliminativism may take several approaches.


Eliminative materialism



Eliminative materialism and the propositional attitudes


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