Commensense Psychology: Fodor, Dennett, Baker
Gall, Diane Rebecca
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The predominant conception of our everyday understanding of other people's actions is as a commonsense psychology that is a (proto-)scientific theory. A central version of this conception is that this theory takes propositional attitudes as mental states which are causally effective in the production of human purposive action. In this essay, I argue that this central version of our commonsense psychology is mistaken. I take Jerry Fodor's Psychosemantics as a locus classicus of this view. I examine arguments from Daniel Dennett and Lynne Rudder Baker that Fodor (and others who argue along the same lines as Fodor) make serious errors in being committed to a hyper-realist (i.e., physicalist) conception of mental states and causality. I argue that Fodor does not provide an adequate exposition of how his candidate for a scientific theory that vindicates his version of commonsense psychology accounts for the meaning of a propositional attitude. I further argue that our everyday practices that deploy commonsense psychological concepts are inconsistent with characterising commonsense psychology as a (proto-)theory or as part of a (proto-)science. From this investigation, I conclude that Fodor's conception of commonsense psychology psychology is untenable. Finally, I discuss briefly an alternative that is suggested by the rebuttals of Dennett and Baker that commonsense psychology is better conceived as an non-theoretical explanatory practice that deploys an alternative conception of psychological causality distinct from physical causality.