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Intent As A Dichotomic Agent Between Folk Psychology And Identity Theory

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The framework of choice for the contemporary philosophers of mind is physicalism, a position that integrates the study of mind within the ‘scientific’ human knowledge regulated by the laws of matter and energy. In this paper, I will provide arguments that support the incompatibility between two different theories of mind, namely mind-brain identity theory (IT) and folk psychology (FP) on logical grounds. The first part of the essay will familiarize the reader with the basic concepts, definitions and some of the key arguments employed by IT and FP.

Let us begin with a summary about identity theory. Simply put this theory holds that states and processes of the mind are identical to states and processes of the brain. To make use of an example, our experience of pain it is exactly reflected by a corresponding neurological state in the brain, i.e. C-fibres firing. From this point of view, the mind is the brain – they are identical. However, this identity is only contingent, i.e. its confirmation relies upon ulterior scientifical advancements. There are two types of identity theories: type-identity theory and token-identity theory. The later is just a moderate derivation of the former, by proposing a not so radical claim, i.e. that supports the identity of particular instances (tokens) of mental states (e.g. a particular pain ) with correspondent particular brain states. Type-identity theory on the other hand, assumes a stronger position of strict identity, i.e. that pain as a type of mental state, is identical with a particular brain state. In this paper I refer to identity theory as type-identity theory (IT). The initiator of this theory was U.T. Place, and his innovative essay “Is Counsciousness a Brain Process” (1956) greatly influenced J.J.C. Smart. Consequently, in “Sensations and Brain Processes” (1959) Smart asserts that “processes reported in sensation statements are in fact processes in the brain”.

IT theorists object against the “physical irreducibility” of mental states, i.e. that they are something mysterious

and eluding physical laws, and so they deny the existence of the soul or counsciousness as something irreducible physical. Smart, a converted IT from behaviorist theory, doesn’t consider sensations or mental states as behaviors or dispositions, but type-identical with brain states; so pain, belief, desire are nothing else but neural firing, chemical release and whatever else might happen in the brain at that moment. Therefore, just as lightning is nothing but an electrical discharge, so pain just is C-fibers firing in the brain. Nevertheless, IT proponents circumscribe their identity mainly around the ‘sensation statements’, the like behaviorism does not handle very well. It is important to realize the kind of identity they propose. The identity between sensations and brain states is not an analytical identity, nor a necessary one, but just contingent; it will turn out to be the same thing, even if today this realization is not technologically possible.

An illustrative example of this kind of identity is the identity between ‘lightning’ and ‘electric charges in motion’ (Place, 1956:45). Of course, semantically the two words purport different significations, but nonetheless they describe the same phenomenon.

One important outcome of this physicalist identity of mind-brain is that it provides scientific legitimacy over mental properties, and thus provides us with the hope that one day we could understand the mind via brain science.

Having laid out the main IT tenets, let us see what Folk Psychology accounts for, what are its major claims and arguments. So, what is Folk Psychology? By analogy with folk physics and the way ordinary people with no training in physics, refer to physical processes in their environment, FP is referring to the ordinary understanding of lay people about the mental lives and outward behavior of their fellow human beings. It encompasses all the usual assumption we make about people’s behavior, mental states and surrounding conditions, and it is considered the basis of many of our social actions and judgments about the psychology of others. Many philosophers and cognitive scientist claim that this popular psychology can be regarded as a scientific theory and FP terms like belief, desire, fear, etc, can play a role in serious scientific theorizing. A typical example of FP generalization would be something like: If someone has the desire for X and the belief that the best way to get X is by doing Y, then that person will tend to do Y; if our desire had been different, we would have behaved differently.

What is especially appealing to FP is its ability to explain and predict human behavior. Furthermore, some suggest that the remarkable success of FP in predicting overt behavior may be a sufficient condition for its legitimacy as a theory , at least for the most part of it. One of the main tenets of FP is the concept of propositional attitude. Beliefs, desires, hopes and fears are all typical FP prepositional attitudes. Let us identify these properties on some typical examples of FP. When people believe that the train will be late if there is snow in the mountains, and come to believe that there is snow in the mountains, they will typically come to believe that the train will be late (Ramsey et al, 1990:504). This example is useful to identify the semantic property of the attitude, i.e. it is in virtue of a certain belief (that the train will be late if there is snow in the mountains) that caused a given effect or cause (to believe that the train will be late). To be causally efficacious, or active, we could explain why Alice went to her office, when we realize that she wanted to send some e-mails, and she believed that she could do so from her office (505).

Armed now with some IT and FP terminology and concepts, let us see if we can find some posits that would reveal a common ontology . Such an instance would allow a line of reasoning for establishing the compatibility of the two theories. Endeavored in such an inquiry, one reasonable question would be whether the two theories share the same conceptual framework. In plain words do these two theories aim towards achieving

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