Analytic Philosophy

Jerry Fodor

What is eliminative materialism?

Nagel’s main motivations for holding out for the irreducibility of subjective experience are both moral and epistemological. He has shown that the whole of scientific investigation proceeds to increasing points of objectivity toward an ideal “view from nowhere,” whereas concrete experience is always someone’s view from somewhere. Books by Nagel include: The Possibility of Altruism (1970), Mortal Questions (1979), and The View from Nowhere (1986). Nagel’s short introduction to philosophy, What Does It All Mean? (1987), is very accessible.

Eliminative materialism is the doctrine, first proposed by Paul Feyerabend (1974–1994) in the early 1960s, that science will eventually make it possible to eliminate all customary talk that presupposes non-material minds in favor of references to brain states only. The Canadian-born American philosopher Paul Churchland (1942-) and his wife, Patricia Churchland (1943-), have developed this view into a distinct branch of philosophy of mind. The Churchlands have held that our ordinary common sense theory of mind—consisting of intentions, desires, and motives—is mere “folk psychology,” which, like other “folk beliefs,” ought to be put aside in intellectual and scientific endeavors. Churchland wrote:

Eliminative materialism is the thesis that our commonsense conception of psychological phenomena constitutes a radically false theory, a theory so fundamentally defective that both the principles and the ontology of that theory will eventually be displaced, rather than smoothly reduced, by completed neuroscience.

Principal publications by Paul Churchland include Scientific Realism and the Plasticity of Mind (1979), “Eliminative Materialism and the Propositional Attitudes” (published in the Journal of Philosophy in 1981), and The Engine of Reason, the Seat of the Soul (1996); both Paul and Patricia penned On the Contrary (1998).


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