What Does It Take to Be a True Believer? Against the Opulent Ideology of Eliminative Materialism

In Mind as a Scientific Object. Oxford University Press (2005)
Abstract
           Eliminative materialism, as William Lycan (this volume) tells us, is materialism plus the claim that no creature has ever had a belief, desire, intention, hope, wish, or other “folk-psychological†state. Some contemporary philosophers claim that eliminative materialism is very likely true. They sketch certain potential scenarios, for the way theory might develop in cognitive science and neuroscience, that they claim are fairly likely; and they maintain that if such scenarios turned out to be the truth about humans, then eliminative materialism would be true.            Broadly speaking, there are two ways to reply to such arguments, for those who maintain that eliminative materialism is false (or that the likelihood of its being true is very low). One way is to argue that the scenarios the eliminativists envision are themselves extremely unlikely—that we can be very confident, given what we now know (including nontendentious scientific knowledge), that those scenarios will not come to pass. The other is to argue that even if they did come to pass, this would not undermine common-sense psychology anyway. People would still have beliefs, etc. The two strategies are not incompatible; one could pursue them both. But the second strategy attacks eliminativism at a more fundamental level. And if it can be successfully carried out, then the dialectical state of play will be strikingly secure for folk psychology. For, then it will turn out that folk psychology simply is not hostage to the kinds of potential empirical-theoretical developments that the eliminativists envision. It doesn’t matter, as far as the integrity of folk psychology is concerned, whether or not such scenarios are likely to come to pass. Eliminativist arguments inevitably rely, often only implicitly, on certain assumptions about what it takes for a creature to have beliefs, desires, and other folk-psychological states—assumptions about some alleged necessary condition(s) for being a true believer (to adapt this colorful usage from Dennett 1987).
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