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Co-authored with George Botterill


(Cambridge University Press, 1999.)

ISBN 0-521-551111-0            ISBN 0-521-55915-4 (pbk.)




What is the relationship between common-sense, or ‘folk’, psychology and contemporary scientific psychology? Are they in conflict with one another? Or do they perform quite different, though perhaps complementary, roles? George Botterill and Peter Carruthers discuss these questions, defending a robust form of  realism about the commitments of folk psychology, and about the prospects for integrating those commitments into natural science. Their focus throughout the book is on the ways in which cognitive science presents a challenge to our common-sense self-image – arguing that our native conception of the mind will be enriched, but not overturned, by science.


The Philosophy of Psychology has been designed and tested as a text-book for upper-level undergraduate and beginning graduate students in philosophy and cognitive science. As a text which not only surveys but advances the debates on the topics discussed, it will also be of interest to researchers working in these areas.


‘George Botterill and Peter Carruthers have written a cutting-edge text that will intellectually stimulate students and their instructors. The Philosophy of Psychology is more than a textbook, however. The distinctive positions that the authors map out on controversial issues in the philosophy of mind will give this book a life outside the classroom in professional discussions about the ability of psychology to provide naturalistic theories of even the most recalcitrant mental phenomena.’

Colin Allen, Texas A&M University







1          Introduction: some background

            1          Developments in philosophy of mind

            2          Developments in psychology

            3          Conclusion

            Selected reading


2          Folk-psychological commitments

            1          Realisms and anti-realisms

            2          Two varieties of anti-realism

            3          The case for realism about folk psychology

            4          Realism and eliminativism

            5          Using folk psychology

            6          Conclusion

            Selected reading


3          Modularity and nativism

            1          Some background on empiricism and nativism

            2          The case for nativism

            3          Developmental rigidity and modularity

            4          Fodorian modularity

            5          Input systems versus central systems

            6          Conclusion

            Selected reading


4          Mind-reading

            1          The alternatives: theory-theory versus simulation

            2          Problems for simulationism

            3          A hybrid view

            4          Developmental studies

            5          Accounting for autistic impairments

            6          Conclusion

            Selected reading


5          Reasoning and irrationality

            1          Introduction: the fragmentation of rationality

            2          Some psychological evidence

            3          Philosophical arguments in defence of rationality

            4          Psychological explanations of performance

            5          Practical rationality

            6          Conclusion

            Selected reading


6          Content for psychology

            1          Introduction: wide versus narrow

            2          Arguments for wide content

            3          The coherence of narrow content

            4          Explanation and causation

            5          Folk-psychological content

            6          Conclusion

            Selected reading


7          Content naturalised

            1          Introduction

            2          Informational semantics

            3          Teleo-semantics

            4          Functional-role semantics

            5          Naturalisation versus reduction

            6          Conclusion

            Selected reading


8          Forms of representation

            1          Preliminaries: thinking in images

            2          Mentalese versus connectionism

            3          The place of natural language in thought

            4          Conclusion

            Selected reading


9          Consciousness: the final frontier?

            1          Preliminaries: distinctions and data

            2          Mysterianism

            3          Cognitivist theories

            4          Conclusion

            Selected reading



Index of names

Index of subjects






When we initially conceived the project of this book, our first task was to determine what sort of book it should be. The question of intended audience was relatively easy. We thought we should aim our book primarily at upper-level undergraduate students of philosophy and beginning-level graduate students in the cognitive sciences generally, who would probably have some previous knowledge of issues in the philosophy of mind. But we also hoped, at the same time, that we could make our own contributions to the problems discussed, which might engage the interest of the professionals, and help move the debates forward. Whether or not we have succeeded in this latter aim must be for others to judge.



The question of the content of the book was more difficult. There is a vast range of topics which could be discussed under the heading of ‘philosophy of psychology’, and a great many different approaches to those topics could be taken. For scientific psychology is itself a very broad church, ranging from various forms of cognitive psychology, through artificial intelligence, social psychology, behavioural psychology, comparative psychology, neuro-psychology, psycho-pathology, and so on. And the philosopher of psychology might then take a variety of different approaches, ranging from one which engages with, and tries to contribute to, psychological debates (compare the way in which philosophers of physics may propose solutions to the hidden-variable problem); through an approach which attempts to tease out philosophical problems as they arise within psychology (compare the famous ‘under-labourer’ conception of the role of the philosopher of science); to an approach which focuses on problems which are raised for philosophy by the results and methods of psychology.

            We have chosen to take a line towards the latter end of this spectrum, concentrating on cognitive psychology in particular. Our main focus is on the relationships between scientific (cognitive) psychology, on the one hand, and common-sense or ‘folk’ psychology, on the other. Since humans are such social creatures, one might expect psychology to be a subject in which people would start out with the advantage of being expert laymen. Yet there are various ways in which scientific psychology can easily seem to threaten or undermine our self-image – either by raising doubts about the very existence of mental states as we conceive of them, or by challenging one or another cherished picture we have of ourselves (for example, as rational). And various questions can be raised concerning the extent to which folk and scientific psychology are attempting to do the same kind of job or achieve the same kind of thing.

            What this means is that there is a great deal less in this book about levels of explanation, say, than certain pre-conceptions of what is required of a text on Philosophy of X (where X is some science) would suggest. There is also much less on connectionism than will be expected by those who think that philosophy of psychology just is the connectionism and/or eliminativism debate. And we say rather little, too, about a number of areas in which much scientific progress has been made, and which have been well worked-over by philosophical commentators – including memory, vision, and language.

            Following an introductory chapter in which we review some background developments in philosophy of mind and scientific psychology, the main body of the book begins in Chapter 2 with a discussion of the relationships between folk and scientific psychologies, and the proper interpretation of the former. Here we defend a robustly realistic construal of our folk-psychological commitments, which underpins much of what we say thereafter. Chapter 3 reviews the psychological arguments for nativism and modularity, raising the question whether modularism is consistent with our picture of ourselves as unified subjects of experience (and indicating a positive answer). Chapter 4 then considers what may be the best scientific view of the nature of our folk psychology, and the course of its development in the individual – arguing for a nativist/modularist ‘theory-theory’ approach, as opposed to either an ‘empiricist’ or a ‘simulationist’ one. Chapter 5 discusses the extent to which psychological evidence of widespread human irrationality undermines our picture of ourselves as rational agents, and considers the arguments of some philosophers that widespread irrationality is impossible. Chapter 6 takes up the issue concerning the appropriate notion of intentional content required by psychology (both folk and scientific) – that is, whether it should be ‘wide’ or ‘narrow’ – and defends the role of narrow content in both domains. (Here, in particular, we are conscious of swimming against a strong tide of contrary opinion.) Chapter 7 is concerned with the question of the naturalisation of semantic content, discussing the three main programmes on offer (‘informational’, ‘teleological’, and ‘functional-role’ semantics). Chapter 8 discusses the connectionism-Mentalese debate, and considers a variety of ways in which natural language may be more closely implicated in (some of) human cognition than is generally thought. Then finally, in Chapter 9, we consider the arguments for and against the possibility of integrating phenomenal consciousness into science. Here, as elsewhere in the book, we defend an integrationist line.

            We think that the prospects for the future survival of folk psychology are good, and also for its relatively smooth integration into psychological science. And we think that the prospects for fruitful collaboration between empirically-minded philosophers of mind and theoretically-minded cognitive psychologists are excellent. These are exciting times  for scientific psychology; and exciting times, too, for the philosopher of psychology. We hope that readers of this book will come to share some of that excitement.


Number of chapters

Not only did we face questions about audience and content, but we also faced a question about the number of chapters the book should contain; which is rather more significant than it might at first seem. Since lengths of teaching-terms can range from eight weeks up to fifteen in universities around the world, the challenge was to devise a structure which could be variably carved up to meet a number of different needs. We opted for a basic structure of eight main chapters, together with an introduction which could if necessary be set as preliminary reading before the start of the course proper (or skipped altogether for classes with appropriate prior knowledge). Then the two long final chapters were designed to be taken in two halves each, if desired. (Chapter 8, on forms of representation, divides into one half on the connectionism versus language-of-thought debate and one half on the place of natural language in cognition; and Chapter 9, on consciousness, divides into one half on the ‘new mysterianism’ concerning phenomenal consciousness and one half on recent naturalistic theories of consciousness.) Moreover, Chapters 6 and 7 both cover a great deal of much-debated ground concerning the nature of mental content (wide versus narrow in Chapter 6, and the question of naturalisation in Chapter 7); so each could easily be taken in two or more stages if required.



We are grateful to our students at the University of Sheffield (both undergraduate and graduate), on whom we piloted the text of this book at various stages of its preparation, and whose worries and objections did much to make it better. We are also grateful to Colin Allen for agreeing to use the penultimate draft of the book as a graduate-level seminar-text at Texas A&M, and for providing us with much useful feedback as a result; and to Thad Botham, one of the students on that course, for sending us his comments individually.

            We are also grateful to the following individuals for their comments, whether oral or written, on some or all of the material in the book: Colin Allen, Alex Barber, Keith Frankish, Susan Granger, Christopher Hookway, Gabriel Segal, Michael Tye, and a reviewer for Cambridge University Press.

            Thanks also to Shaun Nichols and colleagues (and to Cambridge University Press) for permission to reproduce their (1996) diagram of ‘off-line processing’, given here as Figure 4.1; and to Alex Botterill for the art-work for Figure 3.1.

            Finally, we are grateful to our families for their patience.