PHL471: Churchland's elminativism

Churchland's Eliminativism


Churchland is going to argue that our working notion of intentionality, and in particular of propositional attitudes, is a theory -- and more importantly a bad theory. Many of the kinds of things supposed in this theory (the theory's "ontology") simply don't exist.

Folk psychology as theory

Claim: folk psychology has more problems that benefits

Churchland claims this theory, folk psychology, is inadequate. An analogy

To read Churchland sympathetically (that is, to take his case as strongly as we can make it, which we should do before we assess it), it is important to recognize that he explicitly grants that folk psychology "does ejoy a substantial amount of explanatory and predictive success." But, "when one centers one's attention not on what [folk psychology] can explain, but on what it cannot explain or fails even to address" see may see its limitations.

I believe one can consider Churchland's position like this. Imagine a time at which the development of medicine was such that it saved more lives than it lost, but that medicine at this time still did much harm compared to medicine today (when, say, they knew to make people rest in isolation when they had a disease, but didn't have the germ theory yet and doctors went from autopsies to deliveries without washing their hands). Then imagine medicine stayed at that point of development for a very long time. One might then say, medicine is stagnant, we have to shake it up and improve it. This would not be to deny it was beneficial in many ways; but rather to say it can be greatly improved.

Churchland specifically says, "Eliminative materialism does not imply the end of our normative concerns. It implies only that they will have to be reconstituted at a more revealing level of understanding, the level that a matured neuroscience will provide." Thus, we must be careful to not indulge in the denial of the antecedent of a conditional. That is, to make the fallacious move from "If P then Q" and "not P" to "not Q." E.g.: if folk psychology is true, then human obey certain norms; folk psychology is false; humans do not obey these norms. That is bad reasoning.

Eliminativism is a viable alternative.

Churchland considers and addresses three objections: Successor theory?

What might the successor to folk psychology look like? We can only speculate, but here are some options, and how they might change our everyday discourse about minds:
  1. Connectionism. Common discourse might remain quite like it is today.
  2. Innate perceptual processing units. Understanding these, we might talk in terms of their basic structure.
  3. Modularity. Notions of single mind begin to break down.