Dennett’s Response to Eliminativism     “Two Contrasts: Folk Craft vs. Folk Science, and Belief vs. Opinion”



Dennett’s position



I.                     Folk Psychology is essentially a craft, not a theory. Calls it “Folk Craft”


A.      Folk Psychology is fast, efficient, sometimes wrong.


Compare folk physics. Folk physics is fast: people respond quickly to the situation of water running off table (by jumping away to avoid getting wet) and yet respond differently and equally quickly when the table has lip to catch the water (no need to jump back). But folk physics sometimes wrong, e.g. siphon.

Likewise, FP fast and efficient, but sometimes wrong, and may be improved on by science.


II.                   Even if FP has a theory, the theory could be wrong, but the practice still good.


Example: airplane pilot. A pilot may have the wrong theory of flying and yet be a good pilot.


Example: (not Dennett’s), Chinese Traditional Medicine. (theory: yin and yang, 5 elements: fire, wood, earth, metal, water, meridians). Theory appears to be wrong. Nothing in the body corresponds to yin and yang, meridians, etc. However, practice still has value.  If Western Medicine not generally more effective than Chinese Traditional Medicine, Chinese Traditional Medicine would be worth saving in spite of wrong theory. Don’t throw away the baby with the bathwater.



III.                 Intentional Stance. FP is a stance. Attributing beliefs and desires to people to predict and manipulate behavior. It is very effective. Is it an accurate description of what goes on in the brain? That concerns the design stance, and the physical stance. Dennett: the details of the design and physical make-up don’t matter to intentional stance.


Example: raccoon trap. To catch a raccoon, suppose the raccoon is rational. Then you can outwit him. What goes on in the raccoon’s brain? Who knows?


Intentional stance is necessary for understanding other people. Evolutionary psychology not detailed enough for specific use. Physics, biology, neuroscience, etc. too detailed to be practical. Nothing approaches FP in usefulness, and likely never will.


IV.                 Churchland’s alternatives to FP.


Churchland provides two highly-speculative, science fictiony ideas of what could someday replace folk psychology:


A.      New language. Using understanding of structure of the brain, develop new, more powerful language for deeper communication. This new language could completely replace all natural languages. New language would not use concepts of belief, desire, etc., so FP would be eliminated .


B.       The corpus collosum is a cable of neurons connecting the two hemispheres of our brains. Split-brain patients have had the corpus collosum cut, and the result is that the two halves of their brain do not communicate well. So, corpus collosum provides communication between the two halves of our brains. Churchland’s idea is that someday people may be able to connect brains (i.e. the brains of two different people) with artificial corpus collosum. Two people could understand each other like two halves of one brain understand each other. Again, communication by natural language would be obsolete.





Dennett’s Intentional Stance vs. Fodor’s Language of Thought Hypothesis



Dennett says Fodor’s theory of language of thought is a little like folk theory that cold consists of a collection of sneezes, some of which escape. Does Fodor believe we must have a collection of sentences in our heads, just because some sentences come out of our mouths?


Dennett likes to make up possible erroneous folk theories to illustrate how a folk theory can seem obviously right to the folk, but yet be wrong.


Dennett has another example of possible wrong folk theory: Tiredness is caused by “fatigues” in the body. In this (fictional) culture, the way to say “I’m tired” translates literally to “I have fatigues”. Imagine a scientist trying to explain that they are wrong:


Scientist: “There are no such things as fatigues”


Folk: “You don’t believe in fatigues? Try running around the block a few times – then you’ll believe in fatigues!”


Scientist: “I know what it is to have fatigues, but there are no such things as fatigues!”


Note: the scientist wants to say “I know what it is to be tired”, but the only way to say that in this language is to say “I know what it is like to have fatigues.”



Cognitive scientists have a similar problem when they try to say “I don’t believe there are beliefs.”




Dennett – Belief vs. Opinion


Many beliefs are implicit beliefs. E.g. John believes that: sheep are not ants; sheep do not fly; sheep do not dissolve in water. But he has never thought about these things. So it is wrong to say that these beliefs are in the head.

Other beliefs are explicit. If you ask me if sheep are mammals and I answer, “yes, sheep are mammals”, this belief becomes an explicit belief. I am aware of this belief, and it is now represented in my head.


Dennett calls implicit beliefs “beliefs” and explicit beliefs “opinions”.


Defenders of language of thought hypothesis do not consider implicit beliefs to be beliefs. They only become beliefs when explicitly represented in the head.