Paul M. Churchland, "Eliminative Materialism" What is eliminative materialism? The view that everything is ultimately composed of immaterial parts b. The view that materialism is false c. The view that our common sense psychological framework is false and should be rejected d. The view that science will never be able to tell us whether our intuitions about the mind are correct Which of the following is NOT part of an argument for eliminative materialism?
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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.
We often account for our actions by citing various beliefs or desires that we have. But what sort of account one is giving, when one offers a folk psychological explanation for something someone has done? Specifically, should we think of these as causal explanations and of folk psychology, consequently, as a scientific theory? Fodor, for one, thinks we should. Think of intentional explanations as causal and of folk psychology as a scientific theory , that is.
Ceteris paribus, it goes without saying. Anyhow, to a first approximation the commonsense view is that there is mental causation, and that mental causes are subsumed by counterfactual supporting generalizations of which the practical syllogism is perhaps the paradigm.
Of course, there are any number of reasons why Fodor and to be fair, most philosophers of mind moved in this direction — science envy, stubborn, semi-conscious unity of the sciences intuitions, etc. The question then becomes how good of a scientific theory it is, and it is here that Churchland pounces. He maintains that there are several criteria by which one judges the merits of a scientific theory: A.
The ratio of its explanatory successes to its explanatory failures. How well it coheres with what other sciences are saying about the same subject matter. While it might do a good job at explaining our mundane, daily goings-on, it tells us nothing about a huge range of mental phenomena: As examples of central and important mental phenomena that remain largely or wholly mysterious within the framework of FP, consider the nature and dynamics of mental illness, the faculty of creative imagination, or the ground of intelligence differences between individuals.
Reflect on the common ability to catch an outfield fly ball on the run, or hit a moving car with a snowball. Consider the internal construction of a 3-D visual image from subtle differences in the 2-D array of stimulations in our respective retinas. Consider the rich variety of perceptual illusions, visual and otherwise. Or consider the miracle of memory, with its lightning capacity for relevant retrieval.
On these and many other mental phenomena, FP sheds negligible light. Human beings used to offer intentional explanations for everything in nature here, Churchland is referencing primitive, animistic accounts of weather, the movement of water, etc.
That story, though still radically incomplete, is already extremely powerful, outperforming FP at many points even in its own domain. And it is deliberately and self-consciously coherent with the rest of our developing world picture. In short, the greatest theoretical synthesis in the history of the human race is currently in our hands, and parts of it already provide searching descriptions and explanations of human sensory input, neural activity, and motor control.
But FP is no part of this growing synthesis. Its intentional categories stand magnificently alone, without visible prospect of reduction to that larger corpus. No beliefs. No desires. The situation with folk psychology, he thinks, is much like it was with the caloric theory of heat, according to which it was the presence of a fluid inside bodies caloric fluid that determined their temperature.
Of course, we now explain temperature in terms of mean molecular energy, and not only was the caloric theory discarded upon this realization, but the caloric fluid as well.
We think there is no such thing. This inference from the falsity of a theory to the non-existence of its ontology presumes a Quinean account of ontological commitment, according to which what exists is a matter of what our best scientific theories quantify over. When we abandon tentative hypotheses about the causal-explanatory role of such phenomena, we never for a moment consider their ontological elimination, as we are supposed to do in the case of folk psychology.
This is just as well for biology. One of the earliest documented forms of folk psychology is biological in nature. This has long been demonstrated to be false, yet few have rushed to conclude that there are no such things as hearts or livers. The bigger problem with ontological elimination in the case of folk psychology is that one cannot even describe the subject-matter of much of psychology, without there being intentionality; representation.
As Greenwood observes: Many practicing psychologists are not particularly concerned with the explanation of human behaviors or physical movements per se. They are instead concerned to provide empirically supported explanations of socially meaningful human actions such as aggression, dishonesty, helping, child abuse, and suicide.
They are concerned with the explanation of those behaviors that are constituted as human actions by their intentional direction and social location. See note 3 Moving my arm in a certain way does not, in itself, constitute an assault. The latter is an action, not merely a set of motor movements, and depends on my representing my victim as in some way deserving of my attack i.
Moving my arm in other ways does not, in itself, constitute giving charity. The latter, again, is an action, not merely a set of motor movements, and depends on my representing the receiver of my largesse as in some way deserving of help. In both cases, the relevant action is only characterizable in intentional terms, and it is actions like these that psychologists are interested in explaining, not mere motor movements, for which entirely neurophysiological causes suffice.
Paul M. Churchland, "Eliminative Materialism"
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.
Edit The thesis of eliminativism seems to be so obviously wrong to many critics, under the claim that people know immediately and indubitably that they have minds, that argumentation seems unnecessary. This sort of intuition pumping is nicely illustrated by simply asking what happens when one asks oneself honestly if one has mental states. Eliminativists object to such a rebuttal of their position by claiming that intuitions very often are completely wrong. Analogies from the history of science are frequently invoked to buttress this observation: It may appear obvious that the sun travels around the earth , for example, but for all its apparent obviousness this conception was proved wrong nevertheless. Similarly, it may appear obvious that apart from neural events there are also mental conditions. Nevertheless, this could equally turn out to be false. But even if one accepts the susceptibility to error of our intuitions, the objection can be reformulated: If the existence of mental conditions seems perfectly obvious and is central in our conception of the world, then enormously strong arguments are needed in order to successfully deny the existence of mental conditions.