Folk psychology and its dogmas

This is something that would have concerned me if I were a sociologist alone. Can we trust our intuitions? No, I’m not talking about phenomenal intuitions, but insights we can have (gnostic and noetic, as opposed to epistemic). This post will be primarily exegetical, for this issue is something I am still not fully decided on.

I. Definition of folk psychology

Folk psychology is the set of background assumptions, convictions and conditioned prejudices that we have of the behaviour of others and their ascriptions of their mental states. Folk mentality (such as folk physics) is what we use pre-scientifically or pre-philosophically in judging phenomena.

Conponents of folk psychology include belief, fear, desire and hope.

II. Question – methodological and epistemological

Should we presuppose these given preferences or tenets in our judgement or reality or question them?

III. Question – meta-ethical and normative ethical

Should we presuppose our moral intuitions given by folk psychology or question them?

IV. Philosophical dogmas of folk psychology

Aristotelian teleology – ‘everything has a purpose and order’

Modus ponens – the logical inference formally expressed as P –> Q. Instantiated as ‘If John doesn’t stop fixing the radiator, we will be flooded’ (Also include modus tollens)

Law of excluded middle – logical inference expressed as P : P v ¬P

Law of noncontradiction – logical inference expressed as ¬(P&¬P)

Double negation elimination – Logical inference expressed as ¬¬P=P

Occam’s razor – the simplest explanation is the most true

Quine’s challenged second dogma – experience is uninterpreted

Criterion of morality – actions are judged as right or wrong

Basic empiricism – knowledge comes from phenomenal experience

V. III and IV revisited

If we challenge these dogmas, we might have reason to not believe them

Aristotelian teleology – ‘everything has a purpose and order’ (Refuted piecemeal by rationalist metaphysics, refuted whole by cosmology and natural selection)

Modus ponens – the logical inference formally expressed as P –> Q. Instantiated as ‘If John doesn’t stop fixing the radiator, we will be flooded’ (Also include modus tollens) (Modus ponens inferences are queer to understand, but not so much as to deny them)

Law of excluded middle – logical inference expressed as P : P v ¬P (The Copenhagen interpretation of Quantum Mechanics denies this)

Double negation elimination – Logical inference expressed as ¬¬P=P (Denied by intuitionalistic logic)

Occam’s razor – the simplest explanation is the most true (questioned by philosophers of science, but is held as a desiderata of scientists)

Quine’s challenged second dogma – experience is uninterpreted (challenged by Quine in ‘Two Dogmas of Empiricism)

Criterion of morality – actions are judged as right or wrong (Challenged on many fronts, see various perspectives on the realism debate; error-theory, expressivism, prescriptivism, fictionalism and reductionism)

Basic empiricism – knowledge comes from phenomenal experience (Challenged by psychological nativism, Transcendental Idealism (my favoured position) and German Idealism)

I don’t personally want to challenge folk psychology, but I am curious as what its role should be, should we accept it and get on with exploring it, or should we question it and look for truth with the capital T?

I’d like to note that many sociological discourses find that our folk psychological assumptions are mostly socially constructed. Quite a Marxian thought.

P.S. I have also put these posts on my myspace.

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