Belief attribution in science: Folk psychology under theoretical stress

Synthese 87 (June):379-400 (1991)
Some eliminativists have predicted that a developed neuroscience will eradicate the principles and theoretical kinds (belief, desire, etc.) implicit in our ordinary practices of mental state attribution. Prevailing defenses of common-sense psychology infer its basic integrity from its familiarity and instrumental success in everyday social commerce. Such common-sense defenses charge that eliminativist arguments are self-defeating in their folk psychological appeal to the belief that eliminativism is true. I argue that eliminativism is untouched by this simple charge of inconsistency, and introduce a different dialectical strategy for arguing against the eliminativist. In keeping with the naturalistic trend in the sociology and philosophy of science, I show that neuroscientists routinely rely on folk psychological procedures of intentional state attribution in applying epistemically reliable standards of scientific evaluation. These scientific contexts place ordinary procedures of attribution under greater stress, producing evidence of folk psychological success that is less equivocal than the evidence in mundane settings. Therefore, the dependence of science on folk psychology, when combined with an independently plausible explanatory constraint on reduction and an independently motivated notion of theoretical stress, allows us to reconstitute the charge of (neurophilic) eliminativist inconsistency in a more sophisticated form
Keywords Attribution  Belief  Eliminativism  Folk Psychology  Science
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DOI 10.1007/BF00499818
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