• Summary
  • Contents
  • Subject index

Without taking a single psychology course, ordinary people learn to understand, predict, and explain one another’s actions, thoughts, and motivations. Many cognitive scientists and philosophers claim that our everyday or folk understanding of mental states constitutes a theory of mind. That theory is widely called folk psychology (sometimes commonsense psychology). The terms in which folk psychology are couched are familiar ones of ‘belief’ and ‘desire,’ ‘hunger,’ ‘pain,’ and so forth. According to many theorists, folk psychology plays a central role in our capacity to predict and explain the behavior of ourselves and of others. This book has two goals: (a) to provide a framework for analyzing folk psychologies, and (b) to describe multiple forms that folk psychologies assume in different cultures.


What is forbidden and why?

All societies ban certain acts and objects, and all propose consequences that people can expect if they violate those bans. The Polynesian word taboo and its variants (tapu or tafu in Tahitian and Maori, tabu in Tongan, kapu in Hawaiian) has long since been adopted into European languages to serve as a popular designator of proscribed behavior. Steiner's (1999, pp. 118–119) analysis of the meaning of taboo in Polynesia suggests that the term applies to things regarded as dangerous, particularly because they are either sacred or unclean. In other societies, the meaning has been extended to include additional things that appear to threaten people's welfare. Those things are objects and events mysteriously associated with damaged social relations, illness, death, or ...

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