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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Incorrigibility and elimination : a mentalist response Black, John Adrian


This essay is primarily an examination of a view, propounded by Richard Rorty at the beginning of the last decade, about the nature and existence of minds and mental states. The view is a species of eliminative materialism, and one which is of historical importance in the development of this general position. I argue that it is false. I also attempt to draw some positive conclusions in the philosophy of mind from a criticism of some of its underlying assumptions. Rorty's fundamental idea is that the belief in the existence of minds and mental states is a primitive scientific theory, which in all likelihood is soon to be overthrown by the superior theory of neurophysiology. It will then be rational, he claims to deny the existence of minds and mental states. Essential to Rorty's argument for this view is the notion that mental states have a property which the neural states of the replacing theory lack, namely of being the proper subjects of certain in corrigible reports, and which prevents the identification of the two. I undermine this argument by showing that ( i ) incorrigibility is not the mark of the mental and ( ii ) even if it were, it could not ground the categorical gulf which Rorty sees between mental and physical. I turn then to the major presupposition of the view, that mental states are theoretical entities posited in the causal explanation of behaviour, to see if this characterisation of the mental is an hypothesis adequate to account for the various phenomena of mental discourse. After examining reason-explanation, causal explanation in terms of mental states, the reporting role of mental ascriptions and the non-constative uses of mental language, I find that it is not. In particular, Rorty's view cannot account for the limited extent to which certain mental reports are incorrigible, nor for the validity of justificatory and non-constative uses of mental language. I argue that the existence of mental states is guaranteed by this validity, and therefore that the issue of their elimination goes beyond considerations of theoretical superiority to the very fabric of human interaction, moral and otherwise. I emerge with the view that ordinary language and neurophysiology are compatible ways of describing people and their behaviour, and that far from being the murky posits of some proto-scientific folk-psychology, mental states are known to exist.

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