Social systems

Philosophical Psychology 20 (5):1-22 (2007)
It used to be thought that folk psychology is the only game in town. Focusing merely on what people do will not allow you to predict what they are likely to do next. For that, you must consider their beliefs, desires, intentions, etc. Recent evidence from developmental psychology and fMRI studies indicates that this conclusion was premature. We parse motion in an environment as behavior of a particular type, and behavior thus construed can feature in systematizations that we know. Building on the view that folk psychological knowledge is knowledge of theoretical models, I argue that social knowledge is best understood as lying on a continuum between behavioral and full-blown psychological models. Between the two extremes, we have what I call ‘social models’. Social models represent social structures in terms of their overall purpose and circumscribe individuals’ roles within them. These models help us predict what others will do or plan what we should do without providing information about what agents think or want. Thinking about social knowledge this way gives us a more nuanced picture of what capacities are engaged in social planning and interaction, and gives us a better tool with which to think about the social knowledge of animals and young children.
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