Taylor, Kenneth A., and . How not to refute eliminative materialism

1994, Philosophical Psychology 7 (1):101-125 (1994)

Abstract: This paper examines and rejects some purported refutations of eliminative materialism in the philosophy of mind: a quasi-transcendental argument due to Jackson and Pettit (1990) to the effect that folk psychology is “peculiarly unlikely” to be radically revised or eliminated in light of the developments of cognitive science and neuroscience; and (b) certain straight-out transcendental arguments to the effect that eliminativism is somehow incoherent (Baker, 1987; Boghossian, 1990). It begins by clarifying the exact topology of the dialectical space in which debates between eliminativist and anti-eliminativist ought to be framed. I claim that both proponents and opponents of eliminativism have been insufficiently attentive to the range of dialectical possibilities. Consequently, the debate has not, in fact, been framed within the correct dialectical setting. I then go onto to show how inattentiveness to the range of dialectical possibilities undermines both transcendental and quasi-transcendental arguments against eliminativism. In particular, I argue that the quasi-transcendentalist overestimates the degree to which folk psychology can be insulated from the advance of neuroscience and cognitive science just in virtue of being a functional theory. I argue further that transcendental arguments are fallacious and do not succeed against even the strongest possible form of eliminativism. Finally, I argue that that transcendental arguments are irrelevant. Even if such arguments do succeed against a certain’very strong form of eliminativism, they remain complete non-starters against certain weaker forms of eliminativism. And I argue that if any of these weaker forms is true, folk psychology is in trouble enough to vindicate Paul Ckurchland’s claim that our common sense psychological framework is “a radically false and misleading conception of the causes of human behavior and the nature of cognitive activity”.

Comment: Offers interesting refutations to arguments against eliminative materialism. Could be useful in motivating interest in eliminative materialism by demonstrating that it has not been decisively refuted, or as part of an in-depth examination of the view in a course on that subject.