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Volume 14, 2000

Folk Psychology, Mental Concepts and the Ascription of Attitudes

Alvin I. Goldman
Pages 4-25
DOI: 10.5840/protosociology2000141

Folk Psychology and Mental Concepts

There are several different questions associated with the study of folk psychology: (1) what is the nature of our commonsense concepts of mental states?, (2) how do we attribute mental states, to ourselves and to other people?, and (3) how do we acquire our concepts and skills at mental-state attribution? Three general approaches to these questions are examined and assessed: theory theory, simulation theory, and rationality theory. A preliminary problem is to define each of these approaches. Alternative definitions are explored, centering on which questions each approach tries to answer and how it answers them. For example, simulation theorists substantially agree on the answer to question (2) but not on the answer to question (1). The paper then turns to some serious problems facing both rationality theory and theory theory. Rationality theory is faulted for its inadequate treatment of question (1) and for its implausible answers to question (2). Theory theory is faulted for the problems it encounters in explaining first-person attribution, and for its treatment of attributed reasoning about change (the “frame problem”). Turning to simulation theory, the paper argues against Gordon’s “ascent routine” account of first-person attribution and in favor of an inner detection account. Finally, the paper addresses the question of the contents of our mental-state concepts. How do these concepts incorporate both behavioral features and inner features? A dual-representation hypothesis is advanced, and linked speculatively to mirror neurons.

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