Eliminativism and an Argument from Science
Baker (Lynne Rudder)
Source: Mind and Language, 8:180–88, 1993
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Introduction

  1. Eliminative materialism is the metaphysical claim that propositional-attitude concepts, like those of belief and desire, have no genuine application to humans. Barbara Hannan has done an admirable job of presenting a range of arguments against this seductive position. Although, like Hannan, I am an anti-eliminativist, I want to do more here than simply to cheer her on. Rather, I want to try to advance the discussion by organizing my comments around a simple but profound argument that seems to lie at the root of eliminative materialism.
  2. An Eliminativist Argument From Science
    • (P1) Propositional-attitude concepts genuinely apply to humans if and only if they are underwritten by the best science of the mind.
    • (P2) The best science of the mind will not underwrite propositional-attitude concepts. Therefore,
    • (C) Propositional-attitude concepts do not genuinely apply to humans.
  3. For purposes of discussing this Argument from Science, assume that the best science of the mind, even if it lies in the distant future, will be continuous (in some unspecified sense) with current natural science. Also, say that the best science of the mind will underwrite propositional-attitude concepts if it regards possession of internal states with propositional content as causal powers of objects in its domain. Finally, regard the force of 'genuinely' in the expression 'genuinely apply' as ensuring that the issue is whether humans really have attitudes, not just whether it is useful to attribute attitudes. The eliminativist may be happy to accord some kind of second-class status to propositional attitudes, while denying that propositional-attitude concepts genuinely apply to humans.
  4. Since the Argument from Science is valid, the anti-eliminativist must reject one of its premises, (P1) or (P2). Although (P2) is typically taken by anti-eliminativists to be the controversial premise, I want to shift attention to (P1) as the real culprit. To that end, I shall first examine those of Hannan's arguments that may be deployed against (P1), and then argue that (P1) is the better (and far more interesting) target for anti-eliminativists.


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