Eliminative materialism

Eliminative materialism (also called eliminativism) is the claim that people's common-sense understanding of the mind (or folk psychology) is false and that certain classes of mental states that most people believe in do not exist.[1] It is a materialist position in the philosophy of mind. Some supporters of eliminativism argue that no coherent neural basis will be found for many everyday psychological concepts such as belief or desire, since they are poorly defined. Rather, they argue that psychological concepts of behaviour and experience should be judged by how well they reduce to the biological level.[2] Other versions entail the non-existence of conscious mental states such as pain and visual perceptions.[3]

Eliminativism about a class of entities is the view that that class of entities does not exist.[4] For example, materialism tends to be eliminativist about the soul; modern chemists are eliminativist about phlogiston; and modern physicists are eliminativist about the existence of luminiferous aether. Eliminative materialism is the relatively new (1960s–1970s) idea that certain classes of mental entities that common sense takes for granted, such as beliefs, desires, and the subjective sensation of pain, do not exist.[5][6] The most common versions are eliminativism about propositional attitudes, as expressed by Paul and Patricia Churchland,[7] and eliminativism about qualia (subjective interpretations about particular instances of subjective experience), as expressed by Daniel Dennett and Georges Rey.[3] These philosophers often appeal to an introspection illusion.

In the context of materialist understandings of psychology, eliminativism stands in opposition to reductive materialism which argues that mental states as conventionally understood do exist, and that they directly correspond to the physical state of the nervous system.[8] An intermediate position is revisionary materialism, which will often argue that the mental state in question will prove to be somewhat reducible to physical phenomena—with some changes needed to the common sense concept.

Since eliminative materialism claims that future research will fail to find a neuronal basis for various mental phenomena, it must necessarily wait for science to progress further. One might question the position on these grounds, but other philosophers like Churchland argue that eliminativism is often necessary in order to open the minds of thinkers to new evidence and better explanations.[8]

Cellarius ptolemaic system
Eliminativists argue that modern belief in the existence of mental phenomena is analogous to the ancient belief in obsolete theories such as the geocentric model of the universe.


Various arguments have been put forth both for and against eliminative materialism over the last forty years. Most of the arguments in favor of the view are based on the assumption that people's commonsense view of the mind is actually an implicit theory. It is to be compared and contrasted with other scientific theories in its explanatory success, accuracy, and ability to allow people to make correct predictions about the future. Eliminativists argue that, based on these and other criteria, commonsense "folk" psychology has failed and will eventually need to be replaced with explanations derived from the neurosciences. These philosophers therefore tend to emphasize the importance of neuroscientific research as well as developments in artificial intelligence to sustain their thesis.

Philosophers who argue against eliminativism may take several approaches. Simulation theorists, like Robert Gordon[9] and Alvin Goldman[10] argue that folk psychology is not a theory, but rather depends on internal simulation of others, and therefore is not subject to falsification in the same way that theories are. Jerry Fodor, among others,[11] argues that folk psychology is, in fact, a successful (even indispensable) theory. Another view is that eliminativism assumes the existence of the beliefs and other entities it seeks to "eliminate" and is thus self-refuting.[12]

Eliminative Materialism2
Schematic overview: Eliminativists suggest that some sciences can be reduced (blue), but that theories that are in principle irreducible will eventually be eliminated (orange).

Eliminativism maintains that the common-sense understanding of the mind is mistaken, and that the neurosciences will one day reveal that the mental states that are talked about in everyday discourse, using words such as "intend", "believe", "desire", and "love", do not refer to anything real. Because of the inadequacy of natural languages, people mistakenly think that they have such beliefs and desires.[2] Some eliminativists, such as Frank Jackson, claim that consciousness does not exist except as an epiphenomenon of brain function; others, such as Georges Rey, claim that the concept will eventually be eliminated as neuroscience progresses.[3][13] Consciousness and folk psychology are separate issues and it is possible to take an eliminative stance on one but not the other.[4] The roots of eliminativism go back to the writings of Wilfred Sellars, W.V. Quine, Paul Feyerabend, and Richard Rorty.[5][6][14] The term "eliminative materialism" was first introduced by James Cornman in 1968 while describing a version of physicalism endorsed by Rorty. The later Ludwig Wittgenstein was also an important inspiration for eliminativism, particularly with his attack on "private objects" as "grammatical fictions".[4]

Early eliminativists such as Rorty and Feyerabend often confused two different notions of the sort of elimination that the term "eliminative materialism" entailed. On the one hand, they claimed, the cognitive sciences that will ultimately give people a correct account of the workings of the mind will not employ terms that refer to common-sense mental states like beliefs and desires; these states will not be part of the ontology of a mature cognitive science.[5][6] But critics immediately countered that this view was indistinguishable from the identity theory of mind.[2][15] Quine himself wondered what exactly was so eliminative about eliminative materialism after all:

Is physicalism a repudiation of mental objects after all, or a theory of them? Does it repudiate the mental state of pain or anger in favor of its physical concomitant, or does it identify the mental state with a state of the physical organism (and so a state of the physical organism with the mental state)?[16]

On the other hand, the same philosophers also claimed that common-sense mental states simply do not exist. But critics pointed out that eliminativists could not have it both ways: either mental states exist and will ultimately be explained in terms of lower-level neurophysiological processes or they do not.[2][15] Modern eliminativists have much more clearly expressed the view that mental phenomena simply do not exist and will eventually be eliminated from people's thinking about the brain in the same way that demons have been eliminated from people's thinking about mental illness and psychopathology.[4]

While it was a minority view in the 1960s, eliminative materialism gained prominence and acceptance during the 1980s.[17] Proponents of this view, such as B.F. Skinner, often made parallels to previous superseded scientific theories (such as that of the four humours, the phlogiston theory of combustion, and the vital force theory of life) that have all been successfully eliminated in attempting to establish their thesis about the nature of the mental. In these cases, science has not produced more detailed versions or reductions of these theories, but rejected them altogether as obsolete. Radical behaviorists, such as Skinner, argued that folk psychology is already obsolete and should be replaced by descriptions of histories of reinforcement and punishment.[18] Such views were eventually abandoned. Patricia and Paul Churchland argued that folk psychology will be gradually replaced as neuroscience matures.[17]

Eliminativism is not only motivated by philosophical considerations, but is also a prediction about what form future scientific theories will take. Eliminativist philosophers therefore tend to be concerned with the data coming from the relevant brain and cognitive sciences.[19] In addition, because eliminativism is essentially predictive in nature, different theorists can, and often do, make different predictions about which aspects of folk psychology will be eliminated from folk psychological vocabulary. None of these philosophers are eliminativists "tout court".[20][21][22]

Today, the eliminativist view is most closely associated with the philosophers Paul and Patricia Churchland, who deny the existence of propositional attitudes (a subclass of intentional states), and with Daniel Dennett, who is generally considered to be an eliminativist about qualia and phenomenal aspects of consciousness. One way to summarize the difference between the Churchlands's views and Dennett's view is that the Churchlands are eliminativists when it comes to propositional attitudes, but reductionists concerning qualia, while Dennett is an anti-reductionist with respect to propositional attitudes, and an eliminativist concerning qualia.[4][22][23][24]

Arguments for eliminativism

Problems with folk theories

Eliminativists such as Paul and Patricia Churchland argue that folk psychology is a fully developed but non-formalized theory of human behavior. It is used to explain and make predictions about human mental states and behavior. This view is often referred to as the theory of mind or just simply theory-theory, for it is a theory which theorizes the existence of an unacknowledged theory. As a theory in the scientific sense, eliminativists maintain, folk psychology needs to be evaluated on the basis of its predictive power and explanatory success as a research program for the investigation of the mind/brain.[25][26]

Such eliminativists have developed different arguments to show that folk psychology is a seriously mistaken theory and needs to be abolished. They argue that folk psychology excludes from its purview or has traditionally been mistaken about many important mental phenomena that can, and are, being examined and explained by modern neurosciences. Some examples are dreaming, consciousness, mental disorders, learning processes, and memory abilities. Furthermore, they argue, folk psychology's development in the last 2,500 years has not been significant and it is therefore a stagnating theory. The ancient Greeks already had a folk psychology comparable to modern views. But in contrast to this lack of development, the neurosciences are a rapidly progressing science complex that, in their view, can explain many cognitive processes that folk psychology cannot.[19][27]

Folk psychology retains characteristics of now obsolete theories or legends from the past. Ancient societies tried to explain the physical mysteries of nature by ascribing mental conditions to them in such statements as "the sea is angry". Gradually, these everyday folk psychological explanations were replaced by more efficient scientific descriptions. Today, eliminativists argue, there is no reason not to accept an effective scientific account of people's cognitive abilities. If such an explanation existed, then there would be no need for folk-psychological explanations of behavior, and the latter would be eliminated the same way as the mythological explanations the ancients used.[28]

Another line of argument is the meta-induction based on what eliminativists view as the disastrous historical record of folk theories in general. Ancient pre-scientific "theories" of folk biology, folk physics, and folk cosmology have all proven to be radically wrong. Eliminativists argue the same in the case of folk psychology. There seems no logical basis, to the eliminativist, for making an exception just because folk psychology has lasted longer and is more intuitive or instinctively plausible than the other folk theories.[27] Indeed, the eliminativists warn, considerations of intuitive plausibility may be precisely the result of the deeply entrenched nature in society of folk psychology itself. It may be that people's beliefs and other such states are as theory-laden as external perceptions and hence intuitions will tend to be biased in favor of them.[20]

Specific problems with folk psychology

Much of folk psychology involves the attribution of intentional states (or more specifically as a subclass, propositional attitudes). Eliminativists point out that these states are generally ascribed syntactic and semantic properties. An example of this is the language of thought hypothesis, which attributes a discrete, combinatorial syntax and other linguistic properties to these mental phenomena. Eliminativists argue that such discrete and combinatorial characteristics have no place in the neurosciences, which speak of action potentials, spiking frequencies, and other effects which are continuous and distributed in nature. Hence, the syntactic structures which are assumed by folk psychology can have no place in such a structure as the brain.[19] Against this there have been two responses. On the one hand, there are philosophers who deny that mental states are linguistic in nature and see this as a straw man argument.[29][30] The other view is represented by those who subscribe to "a language of thought". They assert that the mental states can be multiply realized and that functional characterizations are just higher-level characterizations of what's happening at the physical level.[31][32]

It has also been argued against folk psychology that the intentionality of mental states like belief imply that they have semantic qualities. Specifically, their meaning is determined by the things that they are about in the external world. This makes it difficult to explain how they can play the causal roles that they are supposed to in cognitive processes.[33]

In recent years, this latter argument has been fortified by the theory of connectionism. Many connectionist models of the brain have been developed in which the processes of language learning and other forms of representation are highly distributed and parallel. This would tend to indicate that there is no need for such discrete and semantically endowed entities as beliefs and desires.[34]

Arguments against eliminativism

Intuitive reservations

The thesis of eliminativism seems to be so obviously wrong to many critics, under the claim that people know immediately and indubitably that they have minds, that argumentation seems unnecessary. This sort of intuition pumping is illustrated by asking what happens when one asks oneself honestly if one has mental states.[35] Eliminativists object to such a rebuttal of their position by claiming that intuitions often are mistaken. Analogies from the history of science are frequently invoked to buttress this observation: it may appear obvious that the sun travels around the earth, for example, but for all its apparent obviousness this conception was proved wrong nevertheless. Similarly, it may appear obvious that apart from neural events there are also mental conditions. Nevertheless, this could equally turn out to be false.[20]

But even if one accepts the susceptibility to error of people's intuitions, the objection can be reformulated: if the existence of mental conditions seems perfectly obvious and is central in people's conception of the world, then enormously strong arguments are needed in order to successfully deny the existence of mental conditions. Furthermore, these arguments, to be consistent, need to be formulated in a way which does not pre-suppose the existence of entities like "mental states", "logical arguments", and "ideas", otherwise they are self-contradictory.[36] Those who accept this objection say that the arguments in favor of eliminativism are far too weak to establish such a radical claim; therefore there is no reason to believe in eliminativism.[35]


Some philosophers, such as Paul Boghossian, have attempted to show that eliminativism is in some sense self-refuting, since the theory itself presupposes the existence of mental phenomena. If eliminativism is true, then the eliminativist must permit an intentional property like truth, supposing that in order to assert something one must believe it. Hence, for eliminativism to be asserted as a thesis, the eliminativist must believe that it is true; if that is the case, then there are beliefs and the eliminativist claim is false.[12][37]

Georges Rey and Michael Devitt reply to this objection by invoking deflationary semantic theories that avoid analysing predicates like "x is true" as expressing a real property. They are construed, instead, as logical devices so that asserting that a sentence is true is just a quoted way of asserting the sentence itself. To say, "'God exists' is true" is just to say, "God exists". This way, Rey and Devitt argue, insofar as dispositional replacements of "claims" and deflationary accounts of "true" are coherent, eliminativism is not self-refuting.[38]


Another problem for the eliminativist is the consideration that human beings undergo subjective experiences and, hence, their conscious mental states have qualia. Since qualia are generally regarded as characteristics of mental states, their existence does not seem to be compatible with eliminativism.[39] Eliminativists, such as Daniel Dennett and Georges Rey, respond by rejecting qualia.[40][41] This is seen to be problematic to opponents of eliminativists, since many claim that the existence of qualia seems perfectly obvious. Many philosophers consider the "elimination" of qualia implausible, if not incomprehensible. They assert that, for instance, the existence of pain is simply beyond denial.[39]

Admitting that the existence of qualia seems obvious, Dennett nevertheless states that "qualia" is a theoretical term from an outdated metaphysics stemming from Cartesian intuitions. He argues that a precise analysis shows that the term is in the long run empty and full of contradictions. The eliminativist's claim with respect to qualia is that there is no unbiased evidence for such experiences when regarded as something more than propositional attitudes.[22] In other words, they do not deny that pain exists, but that it exists independently of its effect on behavior. Influenced by Ludwig Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations, Dennett and Rey have defended eliminativism about qualia, even when other portions of the mental are accepted.

Efficacy of folk psychology

Some philosophers argue that folk psychology is a quite successful theory.[11][42][43] Simulation theorists doubt that people's understanding of the mental can be explained in terms of a theory at all. Rather they argue that people's understanding of others is based on internal simulations of how they would act and respond in similar situations.[9][10] Jerry Fodor is one of the objectors that believes in folk psychology's success as a theory, because it makes for an effective way of communication in everyday life that can be implemented with few words. Such an effectiveness could never be achieved with a complex neuroscientific terminology.[11]

See also


  1. ^ Ramsey, William (2016-01-01). "Eliminative Materialism". In Zalta, Edward N. (ed.). The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2016 ed.). Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University.
  2. ^ a b c d Lycan, W. G. & Pappas, G. (1972) "What is eliminative materialism?" Australasian Journal of Philosophy 50:149-59.
  3. ^ a b c Rey, G. (1983). "A Reason for Doubting the Existence of Consciousness", in R. Davidson, G. Schwartz and D. Shapiro (eds), Consciousness and Self-Regulation Vol 3. New York, Plenum: 1-39.
  4. ^ a b c d e Ramsey, William, "Eliminative Materialism", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2008 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2008/entries/materialism-eliminative/> Section 4.2.
  5. ^ a b c Rorty, Richard (1970). "In Defence of Eliminative Materialism" in The Review of Metaphysics XXIV. Reprinted Rosenthal, D.M. (ed.) (1971)
  6. ^ a b c Feyerabend, P. (1963) "Mental Events and the Brain" in Journal of Philosophy 40:295-6.
  7. ^ Churchland, Patricia; Churchland, Paul (1998). On the contrary : critical essays, 1987-1997. MIT Press. ISBN 9780262531658. OCLC 42328879.
  8. ^ a b http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/materialism-eliminative/#SpeProFolPsy, by William Ramsey
  9. ^ a b Gordon, R. (1986). Folk psychology as Simulation, Mind and Language 1: 158-171.
  10. ^ a b Goldman, A. (1992). In Defense of the Simulation Theory, Mind and Language7: 104-119.
  11. ^ a b c Fodor, Jerry (1987). Psychosemantics : the problem of meaning in the philosophy of mind. MIT Press. ISBN 9780262061063. OCLC 45844220.
  12. ^ a b Boghossian, P. (1990). "The Status of Content."Philosophical Review. 99: 157-84.
  13. ^ Jackson, F. (1982) "Epiphenomenal Qualia", The Philosophical Quarterly 32:127-136.
  14. ^ Sellars W. (1956). "Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind", In: Feigl H and Scriven M (eds) The Foundations of Science and the Concepts of Psychology and Psychoanalysis: Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science, Vol. 1. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press: 253-329. online
  15. ^ a b Savitt, S. (1974). Rorty's Disappearance Theory, Philosophical Studies 28:433-36.
  16. ^ Quine, W.V.O. (1960) Word and Object. MIT Press. Cambridge, Massachusetts (p. 265)
  17. ^ a b Niiniluoto, Ilkka. Critical Scientific Realism. Pg 156. Oxford University Press (2002). ISBN 0-19-925161-4.
  18. ^ Skinner, B.F. (1971) Beyond Freedom and Dignity. New York: Alfred Knopf.
  19. ^ a b c Churchland, P.S. (1986) Neurophilosophy: Toward a Unified Science of the Mind/Brain. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.
  20. ^ a b c Churchland, P.M. and Churcland, P. S. (1998). Intertheoretic Reduction: A Neuroscientist's Field Guide. On the Contrary Critical Essays, 1987-1997. Cambridge, Massachusetts, The MIT Press: 65-79.
  21. ^ Dennett, D. (1978) The Intentional Stance. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.
  22. ^ a b c Dennett, D. (1988) "Quining Qualia" in: Marcel, A and Bisiach, E (eds), Consciousness in Contemporary Science, 42-77. New York, Oxford University Press.
  23. ^ Churchland, P.M. (1985). "Reduction, Qualia and the Direct Inspection of Brain States," in Journal of Philosophy, 82, 8-28.
  24. ^ Churchland, P.M. (1992). A Neurocomputational Perspective: The Nature of Mind and the Structure of Science. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press. ISBN 0-262-03151-5. Chapt. 3
  25. ^ Carruthers, P. & Smith, P. (1996) Theories of Theories of Mind. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
  26. ^ Heal, J. (1994) "Simulation vs. Theory-Theory: What's at Issue?" In C. Peacocke (ed.), Objectivity, Simulation and the Unity of Consciousness Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  27. ^ a b Churchland, P.M. (1981) Eliminative Materialism and the Propositional Attitudes. Journal of Philosophy 78(2): 67-90.
  28. ^ Jackson, F. & Pettit, P. (1990). "In Defense of Folk Psychology". Philosophical Studies 59: 31-54.
  29. ^ Horgan, T. and Graham, G. (1990). In Defense of Southern Fundamentalism, Philosophical Studies 62: 107-134
  30. ^ Dennett, D. (1991). Two Contrasts: Folk Craft Versus Folk Science, and Belief Versus Opinion, in: Greenwood, J. (ed), The Future of Folk Psychology. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  31. ^ McLaughlin, B. and Warfield, T. (1994). "The Allure of Connectionism Reexamined", Synthese 101: 365-400.
  32. ^ Fodor, J. and Pylyshyn, Z. (1984). "Connectionism and Cognitive Architecture: A Critical Analysis", Cognition 28: 3-71.
  33. ^ Stich, S. (1983). From Folk Psychology to Cognitive Science. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.
  34. ^ Ramsey, W., Stich, S. and Garon, J. (1990). Connectionism, Eliminativism and the Future of Folk Psychology, Philosophical Perspectives 4: 499-533.
  35. ^ a b Lycan, W. "A Particularly Compelling Refutation of Eliminative Materialism" ((online)). Retrieved Sept. 26, 2006.
  36. ^ John Polkinghorne points out that such philosophers expect more attention to their works that "we would give to the scribblings of a mere automaton"
  37. ^ Boghossian, P. (1991). "The Status of Content Revisited." Pacific Philosophical Quarterly. 71: 264-78.
  38. ^ Devitt, M. & Rey, G. (1991). Transcending Transcendentalism in Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 72: 87-100.
  39. ^ a b Nagel, T. 1974 "What is it like to be a Bat?" Philosophical Review, 83, 435-456.
  40. ^ Rey, G. (1988). A Question About Consciousness, in H. Otto & J. Tuedio (eds), Perspectives on Mind. Dorderecht: Reidel, 5-24.
  41. ^ Dennett, D. (1978). The Intentional Stance. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.
  42. ^ Kitcher, P. S. (1984). "In Defense of Intentional Psychology", Journal of Philosophy 81: 89-106.
  43. ^ Lahav, R. (1992). "The Amazing Predictive Power of Folk Psychology", Australasian Journal of Philosophy 70: 99-105.

Further reading

  • Baker, L. (1987). Saving Belief: A Critique of Physicalism, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-02050-7.
  • Broad, C. D. (1925). The Mind and its Place in Nature. London, Routledge & Kegan. ISBN 0-415-22552-3 (2001 Reprint Ed.).
  • Churchland, P.M. (1979). Scientific Realism and the Plasticity of Mind. New York, Press Syndicate of the University of Cambridge. ISBN 0-521-33827-1.
  • Churchland, P.M. (1988). Matter and Consciousness, revised Ed. Cambridge, Massachusetts, The MIT Press. ISBN 0-262-53074-0.
  • Rorty, Richard. "Mind-body Identity, Privacy and Categories" in The Review of Metaphysics XIX:24-54. Reprinted Rosenthal, D.M. (ed.) 1971.
  • Stich, S. (1996). Deconstructing the Mind. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-512666-1.

External links

Category mistake

A category mistake, or category error, or categorical mistake, or mistake of category, is a semantic or ontological error in which things belonging to a particular category are presented as if they belong to a different category, or, alternatively, a property is ascribed to a thing that could not possibly have that property. An example is the metaphor "time crawled", which if taken literally is not just false but a category mistake. To show that a category mistake has been committed one must typically show that once the phenomenon in question is properly understood, it becomes clear that the claim being made about it could not possibly be true.

Emergent materialism

In the philosophy of mind, emergent (or emergentist) materialism is a theory which asserts that the mind is an irreducible existent in some sense, albeit not in the sense of being an ontological simple, and that the study of mental phenomena is independent of other sciences. It primarily maintains that the human mind's evolution is a product of material nature and that it cannot exist without material basis.

Folk psychology

In philosophy of mind and cognitive science, folk psychology, or commonsense psychology, is a human capacity to explain and predict the behavior and mental state of other people. Processes and items encountered in daily life such as pain, pleasure, excitement, and anxiety use common linguistic terms as opposed to technical or scientific jargon.Traditionally, the study of folk psychology has focused on how everyday people—those without formal training in the various academic fields of science—go about attributing mental states. This domain has primarily been centred on intentional states reflective of an individual's beliefs and desires; each described in terms of everyday language and concepts such as "beliefs", "desires", "fear", and "hope".Eliminative materialism is the claim that folk psychology is false and should be discarded (or "eliminated").

Geoffrey Hunter (logician)

Geoffrey Basil Bailey Hunter (December 14, 1925 – June 8, 2000) was a British professor, philosopher, and logician. Hunter was Professor Emeritus of the University College of Wales, Bangor where he was professor from 1978 until he retired in 1992. He also taught at Queen's University Kingston, Ontario (1950–1952) and was a lecturer in Philosophy at University of Leeds (1952–1965), and reader in Logic at University of St Andrews (1965–1978). Geoffrey was probably most known for his work titled 'Metalogic: An Introduction to the Metatheory of Standard First-Order Logic' published in 1971.

Hard problem of consciousness

The hard problem of consciousness is the problem of explaining how and why sentient organisms have qualia or phenomenal experiences—how and why it is that some internal states are felt states, such as heat or pain, rather than unfelt states, as in a thermostat or a toaster. The philosopher David Chalmers, who introduced the term "hard problem" of consciousness, contrasts this with the "easy problems" of explaining the ability to discriminate, integrate information, report mental states, focus attention, etc. Easy problems are easy because all that is required for their solution is to specify a mechanism that can perform the function. That is, their proposed solutions, regardless of how complex or poorly understood they may be, can be entirely consistent with the modern materialistic conception of natural phenomena. Chalmers claims that the problem of experience is distinct from this set and that the problem of experience will "persist even when the performance of all the relevant functions is explained".The existence of a "hard problem" is controversial and has been disputed by philosophers such as Daniel Dennett and cognitive neuroscientists such as Stanislas Dehaene and Antonio Damasio.

Index of philosophy of mind articles

This is a list of philosophy of mind articles.

Alan Turing

Alexius Meinong

Anomalous monism

Anthony Kenny

Arnold Geulincx

Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness

Australian materialism

Baruch Spinoza

Biological naturalism

Brain in a vat

C. D. Broad

Chinese room



Consciousness Explained

Critical realism (philosophy of perception)

Daniel Dennett

David Hartley (philosopher)

David Kellogg Lewis

David Malet Armstrong

Direct realism

Direction of fit

Disquisitions relating to Matter and Spirit

Donald Davidson (philosopher)

Dream argument

Dualism (philosophy of mind)

Duration (Bergson)

Edmund Husserl

Eliminative materialism

Embodied philosophy

Emergent materialism

Evil demon

Exclusion principle (philosophy)

Frank Cameron Jackson

Fred Dretske

Functionalism (philosophy of mind)

G. E. M. Anscombe

Georg Henrik von Wright

George Edward Moore

Gilbert Harman

Gilbert Ryle

Gottfried Leibniz

Hard problem of consciousness

Henri Bergson

Hilary Putnam



Indefinite monism


Internalism and externalism

Intuition pump

J. J. C. Smart

Jaegwon Kim

Jerry Fodor

John Perry (philosopher)

John Searle

Karl Popper

Kendall Walton

Kenneth Allen Taylor

Ludwig Wittgenstein

Mad pain and Martian pain

Mental property

Methodological solipsism

Michael Tye (philosopher)


Mind-body dichotomy


Multiple Drafts Model

Multiple realizability

Naming and Necessity

Naïve realism


Neutral monism

Noam Chomsky

Parallelism (philosophy)

Personal identity


Philosophy of artificial intelligence

Philosophy of mind

Philosophy of perception


Pluralism (philosophy)

Privileged access

Problem of other minds

Property dualism

Psychological nominalism


Reflexive monism

René Descartes

Representational theory of mind

Richard Rorty

Ron McClamrock

Self (philosophy)

Society of Mind


Stephen Stich

Subjective idealism


Sydney Shoemaker

Tad Schmaltz

The Concept of Mind

The Meaning of Meaning

Thomas Nagel

Turing test

Type physicalism

Unconscious mind

Wilfrid Sellars

William Hirstein

William James


Intentionality is a philosophical concept and is defined by the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy as "the power of minds to be about, to represent, or to stand for, things, properties and states of affairs". The once obsolete term dates from medieval scholastic philosophy, but in more recent times it has been resurrected by Franz Brentano and adopted by Edmund Husserl. The earliest theory of intentionality is associated with St. Anselm's ontological argument for the existence of God, and with his tenets distinguishing between objects that exist in the understanding and objects that exist in reality.

Language of thought hypothesis

The language of thought hypothesis (LOTH), sometimes known as thought ordered mental expression (TOME), is a view in linguistics, philosophy of mind and cognitive science, forwarded by American philosopher Jerry Fodor. It describes the nature of thought as possessing "language-like" or compositional structure (sometimes known as mentalese). On this view, simple concepts combine in systematic ways (akin to the rules of grammar in language) to build thoughts. In its most basic form, the theory states that thought, like language, has syntax.

Using empirical data drawn from linguistics and cognitive science to describe mental representation from a philosophical vantage-point, the hypothesis states that thinking takes place in a language of thought (LOT): cognition and cognitive processes are only 'remotely plausible' when expressed as a system of representations that is "tokened" by a linguistic or semantic structure and operated upon by means of a combinatorial syntax. Linguistic tokens used in mental language describe elementary concepts which are operated upon by logical rules establishing causal connections to allow for complex thought. Syntax as well as semantics have a causal effect on the properties of this system of mental representations.

These mental representations are not present in the brain in the same way as symbols are present on paper; rather, the LOT is supposed to exist at the cognitive level, the level of thoughts and concepts. The LOTH has wide-ranging significance for a number of domains in cognitive science. It relies on a version of functionalist materialism, which holds that mental representations are actualized and modified by the individual holding the propositional attitude, and it challenges eliminative materialism and connectionism. It implies a strongly rationalist model of cognition in which many of the fundamentals of cognition are innate.


Materialism is a form of philosophical monism which holds that matter is the fundamental substance in nature, and that all things, including mental aspects and consciousness, are results of material interactions.

In Idealism, mind and consciousness are first-order realities to which matter is subject and secondary. In philosophical materialism the converse is true. Here mind and consciousness are by-products or epiphenomena of material processes (the biochemistry of the human brain and nervous system, for example) without which they cannot exist. According to this doctrine the material creates and determines consciousness, not vice versa.

Materialist theories are mainly divided into three groups. Naive materialism identifies the material world with specific elements (e.g. the scheme of the four elements—fire, air, water and earth—devised by the pre-Socratic philosopher Empedocles). Metaphysical materialism examines separated parts of the world in a static, isolated environment. Dialectical materialism adapts the Hegelian dialectic for materialism, examining parts of the world in relation to each other within a dynamic environment.

Materialism is closely related to physicalism, the view that all that exists is ultimately physical. Philosophical physicalism has evolved from materialism with the theories of the physical sciences to incorporate more sophisticated notions of physicality than mere ordinary matter, such as: spacetime, physical energies and forces, dark matter, and so on. Thus the term "physicalism" is preferred over "materialism" by some, while others use the terms as if they are synonymous.

Philosophies contradictory to materialism or physicalism include idealism, pluralism, dualism, and other forms of monism.

Multiple realizability

Multiple realizability, in the philosophy of mind, is the thesis that the same mental property, state, or event can be implemented by different physical properties, states, or events. The idea has its roots in the late 1960s and early 1970s when a number of philosophers, most prominently Hilary Putnam (1967, 1988) and Jerry Fodor (1975), put it forth as an argument against reductionist accounts of the relation between mental and physical kinds. In short, a theory of mind that includes multiple realizability allows for the existence of strong AI. The original targets of these arguments were the type-identity theory and eliminative materialism. The same arguments from multiple realizability were also used to defend many versions of functionalism, especially Machine state functionalism.

In recent years, however, multiple realizability has been used to attack the very theory that it was originally designed to defend. As a result, functionalism has fallen out of favor as a dominant theory in the philosophy of mind. The dominant theory ("received view" in the words of Lepore and Pylyshyn) in modern philosophy of mind is a version of generic non-reductive physicalism and one of its central pillars is the hypothesis of multiple realizability.

Complicating our historical understanding, Restrepo noted in 2009 that the thesis of the multiple realizability of the mental was held by Turing at least ten years before the usually attributed authors described the phenomenon. In 1950, Turing expressed the multiple realizability of the mental in the following:

The [Babbage Engine's] storage was to be purely mechanical, using wheels and cards.

The fact that Babbage's Analytical Engine was to be entirely mechanical will help us rid ourselves of a superstition. Importance is often attached to the fact that modern digital computers are electrical, and the nervous system is also electrical. Since Babbage's machine was not electrical, and since all digital computers are in a sense equivalent, we see that this use of electricity cannot be of theoretical importance. ... If we wish to find such similarities we should look rather for mathematical analogies of function.

Patricia Churchland

Patricia Smith Churchland (born July 16, 1943) is a Canadian-American analytical philosopher noted for her contributions to neurophilosophy and the philosophy of mind. She is UC President's Professor of Philosophy Emerita at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), where she has taught since 1984. She has also held an adjunct professorship at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies since 1989. She is a member of the Board of Trustees Moscow Center for Consciousness Studies of Philosophy Department, Moscow State University. In 2015, she was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. Educated at the University of British Columbia, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Oxford, she taught philosophy at the University of Manitoba from 1969 to 1984 and is married to the philosopher Paul Churchland. The New Yorker magazine observed regarding the philosophical couple that, "Their work is so similar that they are sometimes discussed, in journals and books, as one person."

Paul Churchland

Paul Montgomery Churchland (born October 21, 1942) is a Canadian philosopher known for his studies in neurophilosophy and the philosophy of mind. After earning a Ph.D. from the University of Pittsburgh under Wilfrid Sellars (1969), Churchland rose to the rank of full professor at the University of Manitoba before accepting the Valtz Family Endowed Chair in Philosophy at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) and a joint appointments in that institution's Institute for Neural Computation and on its Cognitive Science Faculty.

As of February 2017, Churchland is recognised as Professor Emeritus at the UCSD, and is a member of the Board of Trustees of the Moscow Center for Consciousness Studies of Moscow State University. Churchland is the husband of philosopher Patricia Churchland, with whom he collaborates, and The New Yorker has reported the similarity of their views, e.g., on the mind-body problem, are such that the two are often discussed as if they are one person.

Philosophy of mind

Philosophy of mind is a branch of philosophy that studies the ontology, nature, and relationship of the mind to the body. The mind–body problem is a paradigm issue in philosophy of mind, although other issues are addressed, such as the hard problem of consciousness, and the nature of particular mental states. Aspects of the mind that are studied include mental events, mental functions, mental properties, consciousness, the ontology of the mind, the nature of thought, and the relationship of the mind to the body.

Dualism and monism are the two central schools of thought on the mind–body problem, although nuanced views have arisen that do not fit one or the other category neatly. Dualism finds its entry into Western philosophy thanks to René Descartes in the 17th century. Substance dualists like Descartes argue that the mind is an independently existing substance, whereas property dualists maintain that the mind is a group of independent properties that emerge from and cannot be reduced to the brain, but that it is not a distinct substance.Monism is the position that mind and body are not ontologically distinct entities (independent substances). This view was first advocated in Western philosophy by Parmenides in the 5th century BCE and was later espoused by the 17th-century rationalist Baruch Spinoza. Physicalists argue that only entities postulated by physical theory exist, and that mental processes will eventually be explained in terms of these entities as physical theory continues to evolve. Physicalists maintain various positions on the prospects of reducing mental properties to physical properties (many of whom adopt compatible forms of property dualism), and the ontological status of such mental properties remains unclear. Idealists maintain that the mind is all that exists and that the external world is either mental itself, or an illusion created by the mind. Neutral monists such as Ernst Mach and William James argue that events in the world can be thought of as either mental (psychological) or physical depending on the network of relationships into which they enter, and dual-aspect monists such as Spinoza adhere to the position that there is some other, neutral substance, and that both matter and mind are properties of this unknown substance. The most common monisms in the 20th and 21st centuries have all been variations of physicalism; these positions include behaviorism, the type identity theory, anomalous monism and functionalism.Most modern philosophers of mind adopt either a reductive physicalist or non-reductive physicalist position, maintaining in their different ways that the mind is not something separate from the body. These approaches have been particularly influential in the sciences, especially in the fields of sociobiology, computer science (specifically, artificial intelligence), evolutionary psychology and the various neurosciences. Reductive physicalists assert that all mental states and properties will eventually be explained by scientific accounts of physiological processes and states. Non-reductive physicalists argue that although the mind is not a separate substance, mental properties supervene on physical properties, or that the predicates and vocabulary used in mental descriptions and explanations are indispensable, and cannot be reduced to the language and lower-level explanations of physical science. Continued neuroscientific progress has helped to clarify some of these issues; however, they are far from being resolved. Modern philosophers of mind continue to ask how the subjective qualities and the intentionality of mental states and properties can be explained in naturalistic terms.

Revisionary materialism

Revisionary materialism is the view that falls between eliminative materialism and reductive materialism when it comes to a particular psychological phenomenon.Take, for example, debates over the reality of a psychological concept like "demonology" – the posit that evil spirits influence human behaviour. An eliminativist might argue that this theory completely fails to describe anything real; the reductionist might argue that the concepts are valid, and that science will simply provide an increasingly detailed understanding of the demons. The revisionist would be somewhere in between, suggesting only that partial revision of the common sense understanding will be necessary. That is, parts of the demon theory will be validated by future research.Today, one is likely to be eliminativist about demons. However, eliminative materialists mention other psychological concepts (e.g. belief, will, consciousness) about which one is more likely to be revisionist.

Unlike strong eliminative materialism, the revisionist often claims that a theory or concept is only partially incorrect, perhaps because it ignores a few important causal factors.

Self-refuting idea

Self-refuting ideas or self-defeating ideas are ideas or statements whose falsehood is a logical consequence of the act or situation of holding them to be true. Many ideas are called self-refuting by their detractors, and such accusations are therefore almost always controversial, with defenders stating that the idea is being misunderstood or that the argument is invalid. For these reasons, none of the ideas below are unambiguously or incontrovertibly self-refuting. These ideas are often used as axioms, which are definitions taken to be true (tautological assumptions), and cannot be used to test themselves, for doing so would lead to only two consequences: consistency (circular reasoning) or exception (self-contradiction). It is important to know that the conclusion of an argument that is self-refuting is not necessarily false, since it could be supported by another, more valid, argument.


Sentience is the capacity to feel, perceive or experience subjectively. Eighteenth-century philosophers used the concept to distinguish the ability to think (reason) from the ability to feel (sentience). In modern Western philosophy, sentience is the ability to experience sensations (known in philosophy of mind as "qualia"). In Eastern philosophy, sentience is a metaphysical quality of all things that require respect and care. The concept is central to the philosophy of animal rights because sentience is necessary for the ability to suffer, and thus is held to confer certain rights.

Stephen Stich

Stephen P. Stich (born May 9, 1943) is a professor of Philosophy and Cognitive Science at Rutgers University, as well as an Honorary Professor in Philosophy at the University of Sheffield. Stich's main philosophical interests are in the philosophy of mind, epistemology, and moral psychology. His 1983 book, From Folk Psychology to Cognitive Science: The Case Against Belief, received much attention as he argued for a form of eliminative materialism about the mind. He changed his mind, in later years, as indicated in his 1996 book Deconstructing the Mind.

Subjective idealism

Subjective idealism, or empirical idealism, is the monistic metaphysical doctrine that only minds and mental contents exist. It entails and is generally identified or associated with immaterialism, the doctrine that material things do not exist. Subjective idealism rejects dualism, neutral monism, and materialism; indeed, it is the contrary of eliminative materialism, the doctrine that all or some classes of mental phenomena (such as emotions, beliefs, or desires) do not exist, but are sheer illusions.

Type physicalism

Type physicalism (also known as reductive materialism, type identity theory, mind–brain identity theory and identity theory of mind) is a physicalist theory, in the philosophy of mind. It asserts that mental events can be grouped into types, and can then be correlated with types of physical events in the brain. For example, one type of mental event, such as "mental pains" will, presumably, turn out to be describing one type of physical event (like C-fiber firings).

Type physicalism is contrasted by token identity physicalism, which argues that mental events are unlikely to have "steady" or categorical biological correlates. These positions make use of the philosophical type–token distinction (e.g., Two persons having the same "type" of car need not mean that they share a "token", a single vehicle). Type physicalism can now be understood to argue that there is identicalness between types, whereas token identity physicalism says one can only describe a particular, unique, brain event.

There are other ways a physicalist might criticize type physicalism; eliminative materialism and revisionary materialism question whether science is currently using the best categorisations. In the same way talk of demonic possession was questioned with scientific advance, categorisations like "pain" may need to be revised.

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