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An Explication and Critique of Churchland’s Eliminative Materialism

An Explication and Critique of Churchland’s Eliminative Materialism

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An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards (International Programme) Competition by Licia O'Neil. Originally submitted for Philosophy of Mind at Other, with lecturer Dr. David Hilbert in the category of Philosophical Studies & Theology
An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards (International Programme) Competition by Licia O'Neil. Originally submitted for Philosophy of Mind at Other, with lecturer Dr. David Hilbert in the category of Philosophical Studies & Theology

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 31, 2012
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05/13/2014

 
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“An Explication and Critique of Churchland’s Eliminative Materialism”We all tend to marvel at migrating birds or loggerhead turtles that somehow all find their way home after a long transoceanic journey. We are amazed at the predictability andsynchronicity of these and many other animal behaviors. Animal behavior is fascinating; itintrigues and amazes us. Yet if you think about human behaviors, specifically our ability to predict and explain other human’s behavior, that is even more amazing than migration patterns.The common-sense approach we utilize when we predict and explain behavior is called folk  psychology. Here is an example of the application of folk psychology: Imagine signing up for a philosophy course. You read the course description and it states that your philosophy class willmeet every Monday at 2:30 in room 202. Whether conscious of it or not, you would use folk  psychology to predict that when you enter room 202 on Mondays at 2:30 there will be other students and a professor present. Folk psychology is the theory that helps explain human mentalstates which lead to prediction and explanation of human behavior. Folk psychology involvesintentional states such as believing, hoping, feeling, and desiring; mental states we all experienceevery day. For every social interaction, we all rely on our intentional mental states and our abilityto accurately predict other people’s mental states.Well, apparently not all of us consider these states to be mental. In fact, eliminativematerialism is the thesis that there are no mental states. Eliminativism claims there are only physical states of the body and brain. And because of their position, eliminativists argue that folk  psychology is radically false and should be discarded in its entirety. One such eliminativist isPaul Churchland. Churchland contends that all that exists is the brain and there are no suchthings as propositional attitudes (i.e. belief, feelings, and desires). Churchland proposes that we
 
do away with folk psychology in its entirety and just wait for completed neuroscience to explainthese phenomena. Churchland provides three arguments in support of his position against folk  psychology. Here, in an extremely concise gloss, are the three points Churchland argues in hisconception of eliminativism: 1. folk psychology ought to be eliminated because it does notexplain all intentional states; 2. folk psychology has not advanced at the same pace of mosttheories; and 3. folk psychology does not reduce to or compliment any other theory.In the following paper I shall first explicate folk psychology. Then I shall explain themain arguments Churchland uses in support of his claim that folk psychology ought to beeliminated in its entirety and be replaced by completed neuroscience. I shall critiqueChurchland’s argument against folk psychology by providing objections to his points of defenseand conclude that it is not folk psychology that is radical but rather it is the argument that folk  psychology ought to be eliminated which is radical. Finally, by pointing out how Churchland’sdefense is based on falsities, I conclude that his argument is fallacious and therefore refutable.
 
An Explication and Critique of Churchland’s Eliminative Materialism
Human beings have the amazing capacity to predict and explain behavior by usingcommon sense perceptions. When we make predictions or explain behavior, we apply acommon-sense theory which includes taking into consideration intentional states such as believing, hoping, feeling, and desiring. This common sense approach to understanding behavior is called folk psychology. Since folk psychology is used in every day predictions, the suggestionthat it ought to be eliminated seems fairly radical and would most certainly face opposition. One person who has called for the elimination of folk psychology is Canadian philosopher PaulChurchland. Churchland’s argument against folk psychology is based on his eliminativematerialism position which denies the existence of the aforementioned intentional (propositional)attitudes. Churchland contends that folk psychology is critically flawed and will eventually bereplaced by neuroscience. In the following essay I shall explicate Churchland’s version of eliminative materialism and raise objections to his position; the objections raised which will notonly shed light on falsities within his argument, but also prove that his desire to eliminate folk  psychology is extreme and unnecessary.While the introduction provided a compendious definition of folk psychology, a moredetailed description of folk psychology is in order before I explicate Churchland’s eliminativematerialism. In the article
 Folk Psychology is Here to Stay
, co-authors Terrance Horgan andJames Woodward define folk psychology as “a network of principles which constitutes a sort of common-sense theory about how to explain human behavior” (HW, p. 197)
1
. Standardformulations of the theory of folk psychology generally follow along the lines of the following
1 Throughout this essay I will use the initials “HW” when citing Horgan and Woodward’s article and “PC” whenciting Paul Churchland’s. Refer to the bibliography for source details.

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