Friday, May 2, 2008

Specific Problems With Folk Psychology

Folk Psychology
Folk psychology is the set of background assumptions, socially conditioned prejudices and convictions that are implicit in our everyday descriptions of others' behavior and in our ascriptions of their mental states. It includes concepts such as belief, desire, fear and hope.

Problems with Folk Psychology
Much of folk psychology involves the attribution of intentional states. Eliminativists point out that these states are generally ascribed syntactic and semantic properties. An example of this is the language of thought hypothesis, which attributes a discrete, combinatorial syntax and other linguistic properties to these mental phenomena. Eliminativists argue that such discrete and combinatorial characteristics have no place in the neurosciences, which speak of action potentials, spiking frequencies, and other effects which are continuous and distributed in nature. Hence, the syntactic structures, which are assumed by folk psychology, can have no place in such a structure as the brain. Against this there have been two responses. On the one hand, there are philosophers who deny that mental states are linguistic in nature and see this as a straw man argument. Those who subscribe to “a language of thought” represent the other view. They assert that the mental states can be multiplied realized and that functional characterizations are just higher-level characterizations of what's happening at the physical level.

It has also been urged against folk psychology that the intentionality of mental states like belief imply that they have semantic qualities. Specifically, the things that they are about in the external world determine their meaning. This makes it difficult to explain how they can play the causal roles that they are supposed to in cognitive processes.

In recent years, this latter argument has been fortified by the theory of connectionism. Many connectionist models of the brain have been developed in which the processes of language learning and other forms of representation are highly distributed and parallel. This would tend to indicate that there is no need for such discrete and semantically endowed entities as beliefs and desires
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