Folk personality psychology: mindreading and mindshaping in trait attribution

Synthese 198 (9):8213-8232 (2020)
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Character-trait attribution is an important component of everyday social cognition that has until recently received insufficient attention in traditional accounts of folk psychology. In this paper, I consider how the case of character-trait attribution fits into the debate between mindreading-based and broadly ‘pluralistic’ approaches to folk psychology. Contrary to the arguments of some pluralists, I argue that the evidence on trait understanding does not show that it is a distinct, non-mentalistic mode of folk-psychological reasoning, but rather suggests that traits are ordinarily understood as mentalistic dispositions. I also examine several ways in which trait attribution might also serve regulative, ‘mindshaping’ functions by promoting predictable norm-governed behavior, and argue that mindreading plays several important roles in these cases as well. I conclude that an appreciation of the relationship between trait attribution and mindreading is crucial to understanding the role it plays in our folk psychology.



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Evan Westra
Purdue University

Citations of this work

What Is the Function of Confirmation Bias?Uwe Peters - 2022 - Erkenntnis 87 (3):1351-1376.

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References found in this work

Folk Psychology as Simulation.Robert M. Gordon - 1986 - Mind and Language 1 (2):158-71.
Character as Moral Fiction.Mark Alfano - 2013 - Cambridge University Press.

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