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Berkeley Philosophy Reading Group Message Board The Berkeley Philosophy Meetup Group Discussion Forum › Mental Entities, Science and Philosophy

Mental Entities, Science and Philosophy

Paul M. P.
user 7553533
San Francisco, CA
Post #: 8
Here's my response to Paul Thagard's view of beliefs.

The response to so-called folk psychology that I see as having the least integrity is that represented by the attempt to identify mental entities, that is, artifacts of folk psychology, with brain states, that is, the attempt to say that certain brain states just are what references to mental entities are referring to. An instance of such a theory might hold, for example, that propositions just are, e.g., certain patterns of neural firing, and that propositions in the ordinary mentalistic sense should not be accepted as real because they are slippery entities that, due to being non-material, have no empirical basis of demarcation and no causal-explanatory power. Though this way of thinking is not unusual in science and philosophy, it is about as sound as the following:

Suppose that on a sunny day you cast a shadow with a leaf on a concrete wall. Suppose with your free hand you outline the shadow of the leaf with a piece of chalk. Now, suppose you toss away the leaf, point to the outline and say: that just is a leaf; what we ordinarily refer to as a leaf cannot be accepted as real because it is not a demarcation upon concrete.

Less picturesquely, the relevant problem with saying that a belief, for example, just is a certain brain state is that it is explanatorily vacuous. In general, explaining a phenomenon requires an ostensive notion of the phenomenon being explained for the explanation to have any sense. To illustrate, to explain what a duck is, the audience must have, or be given, an ostensive notion of what a duck is for there to be anything to explain. Regarding beliefs, if one says that beliefs just are brain states, then denies that 'belief' has any meaning other than being a certain brain state, no explanation has been given. Rather, it is merely the case that the word 'belief' has been assigned to certain brain states. In essence, any explanatory power of saying that beliefs are brain states depends on the existence of beliefs in the mental sense. For if the latter do not exist, what is being explained? The supposed explanation in fact has no more significance than naming a certain brain state with a nonsense word.
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