• 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 constitutes competence, how are competencies identified, and what should be done about incompetence?

The term competence, as used throughout this chapter, refers to how well people accomplish tasks. A distinction is sometimes drawn between demonstrated competence and potential competence. Judgments about demonstrated competence are based on observations of how well a person has performed some act. Judgments about potential competence are founded on estimates of how well someone could perform if the occasion demanded it and if the person “really tried.” Such phrases as “He's an underachiever” or “I know she can do better than that” imply the belief that an individual's demonstrated achievement has not been an accurate indicator of that person's potential.

A variety of words other than competence are used in referring ...

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