Sunday, October 16, 2011

Still trying to predict human behavior


The phrase ‘folk psychology’ refers to the ordinary psychology we use to understand each other and ourselves. Although folk psychology may initially seem to be a rather simple sort of thing, it can actually be surprisingly difficult to figure out precisely how it works.

One common view is that folk psychology is best understood as a tool for predicting and explaining behavior. The key idea here is that, if we attribute mental states to other people, we will be able to do a better job of predicting and explaining the behaviors they subsequently perform. Philosophers who hold this view often suggest that folk psychology is something like a scientific theory.
The present dissertation argues for a radically different view. It suggests that folk psychology might be better understood as a kind of multi-purpose tool. Specifically, the claim is that folk psychology should be understood as a tool not only for generating predictions and explanations but also for generating moral judgments.

The dissertation begins with a general theoretical defense of this approach. It then proceeds to apply the approach to three major aspects of folk psychology.

The first of these is people’s ordinary concept of intentional action. A series of experiments demonstrate that people’s attributions of intentional action in particular cases can actually be influenced by their moral beliefs. This result suggests that moral considerations may actually be playing a role in the concept of intentional action itself.

The second aspect is our ordinary practice of reason explanation. Here again, a series of experiments demonstrate the role of moral considerations and thereby suggest that morality may play a role in the relevant concepts.

The final aspect to be considered is people’s practice of causal attribution. Moral considerations have long been known to play a role in this practice; the claim defended here is that this role is best understood in terms of the nature of the concept of causation itself.


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