Instrumentalism, Semi-Realism and Causality Comparing Dennett´s view of the function of folk psychology with the Theory-Theory


The commonsense causal efficacy of intentional states



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The commonsense causal efficacy of intentional states

Stich objects to Dennett´s comparison of intentional states and scientific constructs like the parallelogram of forces.


I take commonsense discourse about beliefs and desires at face value. [...They] are conceived by folk psychology to have both causes and effects. [... But] only real entities (illata) can have causes and effects.
There is indeed a difference between scientific tools like the parallelogram of forces and intentional states. While the parallelogram serves as a tool for predicting the behaviour of bodies, but has no causal power itself, intentional states are attributed to others to predict their behaviour because they are causally active.
Lynne Rudder Baker has pointed out that in `Elbow Room` Dennett assumes beliefs to have some causal efficacy. But as soon as Dennett concedes intentional states to be causally active, they become ontologically real. How could Dennett possibly meet this obvious difficulty? Baker offers the following solution:
“This difficulty would be removed if Dennett were also an instrumentalist about causation [... But] to be an instrumentalist about causation would leave one very little about which to be a realist.“
Of course Dennett does not have to bite this bullet (too colloquial?). He could claim that beliefs have indeed no causal power and since it is part of a predictive strategy to explain behaviour we would ascribe causal power to intentional states without them being really causally efficacious. To me this seems very unconvincing and I want to extend an argument used by Churchland to stress its incredibility. Churchland made an interesting comparison between the status of intentional states and the theoretical entities of alchemy.
“It is an objective fact that much of the behaviour of metals and ores is predictable in terms of the alchemical essences [...]. And yet there are no alchemical essences.“
With this move an alchemist could salvage his false theory, and insist on the entities being abstracta rather than illata. But this surely would be an “outrage against reason and truth“. In my opinion the reason why the predictive strategy fails in cases of alchemy and intentional states, is that we treat the entities not as abstracta but as illata with causal power. As soon as we propose theoretical entities to be causally active, they enter the realm of illata and are subject to possible falsification. On one side there are centres of gravity, statistical averages, etc. which are used as predictive tools but do not have causal power themselves. On the other hand there are entities like alchemical essences and intentional states, which are predictive tools too, but have also an empirical status due to them being causally active.




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