Intent as a dichotomic agent between folk psychology and identity theory

Intent as a dichotomic agent between folk psychology and identity theory
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 misterious 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 similar
epistemological ends, were they designed to tackle mutual issues, or at least do they employ common concepts?
One obvious objective that is not only common to the two theories, but ought to be a central topic for every philosophy of mind, is the interpretation of mental states. FP seems to provide compelling empirical evidence that mental states, chiefly the ones that qualify as propositional attitudes (beliefs, desires, fears, etc.), are causally efficacious, i.e.
that is it in the virtue of these mental states that we perform certain actions. This causal relation between mental states and propositional attitudes enables us to explain a person’s behavior.
Conversely, IT theorists deem possible an explanation of mental states, chiefly those that escape a behaviorist explanation (i.e. sensations), by interpreting mental states in terms of brain processes. In other words, IT proponents claim that mental states do not necessarily represent propositional attitudes, nor they have intentionality , but they are simply reports of brain processes. Therefore, the mental state of ‘being in pain’ is simply reporting, or translating a physico-chemical mechanism, i.e. a brain process (Smart, 410). A straightforward objection, although proven a weak one, is how can we report something that we are not aware of? To answer this objection, Smart uses the analogy of lightning. The word ‘lightning’ commonly refers to a flash of light, but science tells us that what lightning is in fact a certain kind of electrical discharge (412). Just the fact that we did not previously know what lightning really was did not prevent us to discourse about lightning, and to refer to the same phenomenon despite our ignorance. Likewise, our mental states reports (e.g. “I am in pain';) are nothing more than reports of our brain states, despite the fact that we have no idea of what those brain states really are as a fact.
Having identified this shared function of mental state interpretation, one cannot help but notice the differences between IT and FP methodological approach. While it is true that, both provide an interpretation of mental states, each of the two theories proposed model appears to be more suitable for certain categories of mental states: propositional states with behaviorist flavor are better explained by FP, while IT makes a better case in explaining sensations. The question at stake is whether they can be compatible one with another, i.e. can they be consistent such that the validity of one would not necessarily exclude the validity of the other?
From an explanatory perspective, one may assume that such a possibility is not that far-fetched. Yet, from a purely theoretical standpoint this companionship does not seem to hold. One irreconcilable distinction between the two lies at the very core of these theories, namely the concept of causality. While for FP the relevance of mental states (their meaning) represents the causal factor that triggers certain behaviors, for IT, mental states do not have causal implications as long as they can be equated with a brain process that is not even consciously acknowledged. In essence, what IT theory asserts is the fact that mental states are simply a by-product of brain processes, and so, their interpretation is independent of whatever meaning we may happen to attribute them; correspondingly, the lighting remains an electrical discharge regardless if the meaning of the word “lightning'; captures or not that reality. FP on the other hand claims that mental states in the virtue of their meaning cause us to behave (overtly or introspectively) in a certain way, hence the intent (meaning) of the mental states plays a central role.
In conclusion, logically speaking it follows that if one holds IT to be true, one must relinquish the plausibility of FP. Whether or not, on empirical grounds the coexisting of the two models will allow for a future theoretical interpretation, it is a contingent matter. It remains a fact to be determined by science and empirical methods alone, as it is the only way paradigms ascend from speculative status to scientific certainty.

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