Between reduction and elimination: Finding the place of commonsense propositional attitude psychology.
AuthorHannan, Barbara Ellen.
AdvisorPollock, John L.
MetadataShow full item record
PublisherThe University of Arizona.
RightsCopyright © is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the University Libraries, University of Arizona. Further transmission, reproduction or presentation (such as public display or performance) of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.
AbstractThe commonsense practice of explaining and predicting behavior by reference to propositional attitude states such as beliefs and desires has recently come under attack. It is said that such belief/desire psychology is a folk theory, vulnerable to being shown false, and replaceable by a neuroscientific or computational theory. I argue herein that this eliminativist attack on commonsense propositional attitude psychology (CPA psychology) is poorly motivated, and I present positive arguments to the effect that CPA psychology constitutes an independently legitimate descriptive and explanatory practice or theory. I argue that even if CPA psychology and its embedded propositional attitude notions should prove irreducible to anything stateable in the language of physical or computational theory, this is not by itself any reason for thinking that CPA psychology is illegitimate or ought to be eliminated. In addition to arguing against eliminativism, I explicate and evaluate two non-reductionist alternatives to eliminativism: the "intentional stance" theory of Daniel C. Dennett, and the property dualism of Donald Davidson and Stephen Schiffer. I argue that the latter gives a better account than the former of how propositional attitude states can enter into true causal explanations of action. Taking mental properties to supervene upon physically-realized computational properties of organisms, I argue, secures a non-superfluous explanatory role for mental properties. One problem for such a supervenience thesis is the "wide" individuation of propositional content properties. I discuss this problem and conclude that it presents no insurmountable obstacle to taking content to play a role in causal explanation. The upshot of the dissertation is that propositional attitudes as explanatory notions can neither be reduced nor eliminated; we must count propositional attitude states as legitimate explanatory constructs despite the "open texture" of propositional attitude properties. I close the dissertation with a discussion of Hilary Putnam's arguments for conclusions remarkably similar to my own.