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What is eliminative materialism? What are Paul Churchland’s arguments for eliminative materialism? What problems are there with Churchland’s arguments? Do you think that Churchland can successfully overcome such perceived problems?

What is eliminative materialism? What are Paul Churchland’s arguments for eliminative materialism? What problems are there with Churchland’s arguments? Do you think that Churchland can successfully overcome such perceived problems?

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An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards (Ireland) Competition by James McCullough. Originally submitted for Philosophy at Queen University Belfast, with lecturer Charlotte Blease in the category of Philosophical Studies
An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards (Ireland) Competition by James McCullough. Originally submitted for Philosophy at Queen University Belfast, with lecturer Charlotte Blease in the category of Philosophical Studies

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

 
15988066What is eliminative materialism? What are Paul Churchland’s arguments for eliminativematerialism? What problems are there with Churchland’s arguments? Do you think thatChurchland can successfully overcome such perceived problems?In this essay I will be looking at theory known as “eliminative materialism”. I will look atsome of the reasons which have motivated philosophers to accept EliminativeMaterialism. The three arguments for Eliminative Materialism which I will look at comefrom the philosopher Paul Churchland. Having laid out Churchland’s arguments I willturn to several criticisms directed against them. I hope to show that Churchland’s criticshave revealed several holes in his arguments for eliminative materialism and thatChurchland cannot convince us that these criticisms are false. Furthermore I hope toshow that Churchland’s arguments are not strong enough to prove that eliminativematerialism is true.So what is eliminative materialism? To understand what eliminative materialism is wemust first talk about what is known as “folk psychology”. The term folk psychologyrefers to our commonsense understanding of our mental lives. Within our folk  psychological understanding of ourselves we refer to mental states such as beliefs,desires, intentions etc as explanations of human behaviour. So for example if we wish toknow why Emperor Hadrian had a wall built in northern England we might answer infolk psychological terms that he
 feared 
an invasion from the Scots and that he strongly
desired 
to keep England as part of the empire and he
believed 
that a wall might be a gooddefence against the Scots.One further point about folk psychology is that it can be considered as a theory or not.Some philosophers argue that it is while others argue the opposite view. However for thisessay I will be assuming that folk psychology is a theory.1
 
15988066This now leads us to the eliminative materialist thesis. Eliminative materialists also arguethat folk psychology is a theory and go on to argue that it is a false theory which should be eliminated. Furthermore they claim that once folk psychology is eliminated all talk talk of beliefs, desires, intentions etc. will be replaced by neuro-scientific vocabulary.
1
 Therefore the purpose of this essay will be to look at some of the reasons for and againstthe view that folk psychology is a false theory and that it should be eliminated.So what reasons might we have to eliminate Folk Psychology? Why should we consider folk psychology to be false? As mentioned above I will be looking at three argumentsfrom Frank Churchland. Let’s look at Churchland’s first argument for eliminativematerialism. Before stating his thesis Churchland begins by pointing out the following.Physical sciences such as physics, chemistry, biology and neuroscience together form acoherent explanation of human beings: “If we approach homo sapiens from the perspective of natural history and the physical sciences, we can tell a coherent story of hisconstitution, development, and behavioural capacities”
2
. What is meant by this is that thetheoretical posits and conclusions of each of the individual physical sciences all fit inneatly with those of all the other sciences. So for example there are no contradictions between chemistry and biology or neuroscience and physics.Churchland goes on from here to make the claim that folk psychology does not reduce tothese sciences: “But FP is no part of this growing synthesis. Its intentional categoriesstand magnificently alone, without visible prospect of reduction to that larger corpus.”
3
 
1
Paul M. Churchland, ` Eliminative Materialism and the Propositional Attitudes (1991) p.601
2
Ibid p.605
3
Ibid
2
 
15988066As Folk psychology does not cohere with the physical sciences it should be consideredfalse and eliminated.This then is one argument for eliminative materialism. Does it provide us with a goodenough reason to accept eliminative materialism? There are some philosophers whoargue that this particular argument does not necessarily entail that folk psychology isfalse. One counter-argument to Churchland’s points out that simply because Folk Psychology may not reduce to theories such as physics and neuroscience it is not entailedthat “FP is radically false, or that humans do not undergo the intentional events it posits.”
4
 There is one theory for example which agrees with Churchland that folk psychologycannot be reduced to neuroscience, yet does not seek to eliminate mental states. Thistheory, known as anomalous monism
5
, asserts that mental states are in fact identical toneurological states: “every concrete mental event is identical to some concreteneurological event”.
6
The existence of anomalous monism offers a way out of eliminativematerialism yet it is pointed out by the philosophers who raised this point thatChurchland has made no attempt to defend eliminative materialism against AnomalousMonism: “Churchland never mentions Davidson’s version of the identity theory”
7
But even if anomalous monism proved to be false it still does not seem that Churchland’sargument is infallible. Churchland makes the claim that folk psychological concepts do
4
T. Horgan and J.Woodward, `The Philosophical Review 94 (1985) p 203
5
“Anomalous Monism is a theory of the relationship between mental and physical events and propertiesdeveloped by Donald Davidson. It holds that every causally interacting mental event is identical to some physical event — particular mental events (tokens) are the very same events as particular physical events(token-identity, or monism). But it also claims that there can be no strict laws on the basis of which anymental event-type can predict, explain, be predicted or explained – therefore, mental properties cannot bereduced to physical properties” (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Anomalous Monism)
6
T. Horgan and J.Woodward, `The Philosophical Review 94 (1985) p 204
7
Ibid
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