Theoretical Issues in Psychology: An Introduction

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Sacha Bem & Huib Looren de Jong

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    Preface to the Third Edition

    This book is about theoretical and philosophical issues in psychology. As with its second edition, two questions stand out: what is science in general, and the science of the mind or psychology in particular, and what is mind, one of the most important objects of psychology?

    Twentieth-century philosophy of science has passed through a tumultuous development. It came into being by the light of the Vienna Circle of logical positivist philosophers, scientists and mathematicians, who thought it was high time to put a stop to metaphysics and its boundless speculative discussions, and ‘to set philosophy upon the sure path of a science’ (Ayer, 1959: 9). This new ideal for philosophy brought along a kindred ideal for science. Prescriptions for meaningful statements turned into rules for scientific theories. Empirical observation had to be the solid anchor for the logical justification of theories. And so the first, positivist, phase in the twentieth-century philosophy of science was characterized by the search for a demarcation criterion to distinguish science from mere speculative thought.

    Though it is fair to say that the second phase of the philosophy of science started in 1962 with Kuhn's seminal The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1970), the ensuing debate about the positivist law and order, and what is and what is not scientific, had already been anticipated by Wittgensteinian analytic philosophers - not to mention the continental philosophers who, educated mainly in an idealist context, were anti-positivists and anti-empiricists by nature. The bone of contention here was now the empirical doctrine of given, objective, sense data as the foundation for objective science; this was replaced by the notion of the theory-ladenness of observation. It turned out, then, that science had its subjective side, though at the same time the rationality and objectivity of science could not be abandoned. Alongside this philosophical debate, Kuhn's work gave rise to a wealth of studies on the historical and social context of scientific theories, merging with studies from the continental, partly Marxist, side which started from what was seen as the ideological nature of science and technology.

    Attention to the subjective, social origins of science divided into studies of broad socio-economic or cultural influences on the development of theories and scientists and work which focused on social and psychological constraints on epistemological issues, such as the construction of facts, theories and scientific culture. In these empirical studies on what scientists really do, we can also discern a turn towards psychological, in particular cognitive issues: research on observation, thinking, problem-solving, creativity, etc. So, alongside sociological interests, psychological interests for science came to the fore.

    This cognitive turn in science studies interbred with cognitive psychology in general. The contribution of philosophy of mind to studies of cognition is impressive. Mind, intentionality, representation and consciousness are issues for hot debate and are among the most significant theoretical issues in psychology. The so-called ‘cognitive revolution’ started as a rather abstract, grammar-inspired and linguistically modelled study of cognition. This mechanistic, logical view of mind was accompanied by research into artificial intelligence. In the last decades of the previous century, however, the shortcomings of this abstraction became obvious: neuroscience, evolutionism and pragmatism influenced ideas about the interaction between mental or brain functions and (social) environment, although not one but many different theories and models - mechanistic, biologically plausible, anti-mechanistic - issued from the debate.

    This third edition has been rewritten. The material is, as was the case in the second edition, spread over ten chapters: we have reworked, expanded, and thoroughly updated the text. However, the two main theoretical issues in psychology, on science (the nature of scientific psychology) and mind, and its overall structure, have been maintained - theoretical concepts of science (Chapters 1 and 2); the classical philosophy of science in a light historical presentation, that is, positivism and its critics (Chapter 3); the ensuing discussion about the reliability of science in terms of the realism-relativism debate (Chapter 4); and the social and psychological context of science (Chapter 5). This concludes the first half of the book.

    The second half starts with a completely rewritten chapter on philosophy of cognition and mind (Chapter 6). Cognitive psychology started as a linguistic and logic-centred venture - mind as an abstract system of so-called ‘mental language’ (Chapter 7). In the next chapter (Chapter 8) brain-centred approaches to mind questioning the biological plausibility of the linguistic approach are examined. From the beginning the cognitive approach was criticized for its general confinement of mind to internal processes; in the chapter following (Chapter 9), therefore, the main proposals for extending mind beyond the individual are reviewed. This includes evolutionary psychology as well as recent ideas on the extended mind. In the last chapter (Chapter 10) two central and much debated issues of philosophy of mind, consciousness and free will, are elaborated. The discussion of consciousness now takes into account a lot of recent findings and propositions in the domains of cognitive neuroscience and neuropsychology.

    How to use this Book

    Each chapter starts with a Preview and an Introduction that will briefly list its main subject and the issues involved. Boxes in the text highlight important concepts and definitions, or enumerate in a list-wise fashion viewpoints and theoretical constructs. These boxes should be helpful in identifying the key notions in the text, and providing a framework for ordering, comparing and contrasting the various approaches and viewpoints. Definitions of recurring technical terms and philosophical concepts are listed in the Glossary at the end of the book; a term in bold in the main body of the text signals a Glossary term, which the reader is invited to look up. Using the Subject Index may be helpful too, of course. The Conclusion of each chapter summarizes the main issues, and tries to wind up the problematic of the chapter and draw a few general lessons. We would advise the reader to tackle each chapter with a rather quick reading in order to get a global idea of its content. A second reading might then be more in-depth. To verify whether he or she has picked its substance, the reader may wish to check the preview and the introductory section after reading a chapter, review the boxes, and have a second look at the conclusion.

  • Boxes

    Glossary

    Abduction

    or inference to the best explanation is the art (or logic) governing the principles by which we arrive at hypotheses for subsequent testing. Unlike induction, abduction goes beyond generalizing from empirical evidence: compare all swans are white (induction), and insufficient hygiene must be the cause of the epidemic (inference to the best explanation). Like induction, and unlike deduction, it is non-demonstrative. Thus, abduction is usually considered to belong to the context of discovery, although some have tried to develop a logic of prescriptive rules for hypothesis construction -with little success.

    Action

    is what a human agent does. It should be distinguished from mere movement, and also from behaviour, in the technical sense of behaviourism (observable responses). Action involves intentionality and rationality. However, not every action is done on purpose and it might be that a person cannot be held responsible for it. In this sense the problem of free will is related. To explain or account for an action is asking/giving reasons for it, rather than causes.

    Adaptationism

    is the (mistaken) view that natural selection is the only cause for the phenotypic features of organisms, and that therefore for each and every feature of an organism a straightforward evolutionary function can be found. This may result in the invention of ‘just-so’ stories speculatively assigning functions to traits.

    Artificial Intelligence (AI)

    is making machines (computers, or better, computer programs) do things that would require intelligence, if done by men (in Minsky's definition): for example, playing chess, constructing mathematical proofs, answering insight questions about a story, etc. Weak AI aims at nothing more than a working program. Strong AI aims, in addition, at producing programs that essentially do the same as, and are ‘equivalent’ to, a human thinker. Strong AI thus entails the claim that mental activity is in essence computation, be it symbol manipulation, or the simulation of spreading activation in networks (see Connectionism*). There seem to be fewer believers in strong AI nowadays than there used to be and weak AI is a booming business.

    Artificial Life (A-Life)

    is the study of man-made systems that exhibit the characteristics of natural living systems. Scientists aspire to synthesize alternative forms and virtual models of life, using hardware, software and wetware. They thus hope to understand better what life is and what other forms of life could be.

    Background

    is a concept in the philosophy of mind meaning the general and implicit know-how and capacities that enable a person to function in, or to understand, her environment. The background operates implicitly implying that it need not, and even cannot, be explicitly formulated or reflected upon. Background know-how is opposed to knowing-that or declarative knowledge.

    Belief

    is a mental state, a thought, by which a proposition is held to be true, and upon which one is prepared to act: which guides action, as pragmatism would add. Beliefs, together with desires, are taken as the paradigms of mental states - particularly of prepositional* attitudes - in philosophy of mind. See also Belief-Desire Psychology.*

    Belief-Desire Psychology

    is a theory in philosophy of mind (main exponent: Jerry Fodor) that takes beliefs and desires, as used in folk psychology, as the paradigms of mental states. According to Fodor, these mental categories from folk psychology do really exist as cognitive states and have causal efficacy, i.e., they cause behaviour and other mental states. The theory thus takes folk psychology seriously as the point of departure for scientific cognitive psychology.

    Cause, Causality, Causation

    is a relation between two events, such that the first can be said to bring about or necessitate the second event, so that it must occur. It is a notorious philosophical problem how this can ever be empirically established, and whether causes are not subjective constructions, rather than elements of reality. Hume held that we can say only that events would occur with some regularity one after the other, not that one occurs because of the other. What is the difference between the going together of two events (the ‘constant conjunction’), and the claim that one causes the other (e.g., smoking and cancer)? Causal laws describe an invariant relation between two events, where the cause is a necessary condition for the effect, i.e., the latter does not occur without the first. In this context, what counts as a cause is also dependent on explanatory interests, since an event may have a number of causes, only some of which are relevant. Causal laws are contrasted with teleological laws. See also Reasons.*

    Coherence Theory of Truth

    See Truth.

    Common-Sense Psychology

    See Folk Psychology.

    Computation

    in the most general sense means manipulating symbols. The idea of a general-purpose computer was traditionally that it would execute symbol manipulation according to formal mechanic procedures. One should distinguish between this classical symbolic view, as described, and the recent connectionist view on computation, as the spreading of numerical activation through a (neural) network. The computational theory of mind holds that mental processes are essentially computation.

    Computational Theory of Mind

    is the theory that mental processes essentially consist of computation, i.e., symbol manipulation. CTM in its classical version, associated with Jerry Fodor, assumes that mental states are symbol states, strings in a formal language (imagine a computer language, or predicate calculus in logic) in the head, and mental processes are transformations of these symbol strings. Churchland's alternative, that mental processes are activation patterns in a multidimensional vector space, could also be called a computational view of mind, although a completely different kind of computation (numerical versus logical). See also Language of Thought;* Connectionism.*

    Confirmation

    is showing a statement to be supported by empirical evidence (see also Verification).* Carnap thought he could develop a logic in which the degree of inductive support could be assessed. Popper showed that a theory can only be corroborated, but can never be confirmed conclusively: it can, however, be proved wrong with absolute certainty (falsification).

    Connectionism

    is an approach in cognitive psychology and Artificial Intelligence that uses self-organizing networks (modelled on neural networks) of interconnected nodes, in which a change of weights in the connections underlies the network's learning of a discriminating response. In this model of information-processing the network is supposed to tune itself to the environment, rather than following a programme of pre-set rules and commands. See also Representation.*

    Consciousness

    is the state of awareness, of being conscious, as well as the entire set of higher-order mental states and psychological functions that the subject can be aware of, such as thoughts, beliefs, desires, feelings and intentions. Consciousness is a much-debated topic in modern philosophy of mind. Some philosophers think that it is essentially a private, first-person experience. Others try to demystify and naturalize consciousness, to make it available for third-person objective explanation (e.g., that it emerges from brain processes). Consciousness involves the problems of intentionality and qualia.

    Consensus Theory of Truth

    See Truth.

    Constructionism, Social

    is a position in (social) psychology and in the philosophy of science that considers all the products of knowledge and (social) science, such as categories, concepts, facts, data and measurements, to be completely a matter of social artefacts, since all knowledge is conveyed only by language and communication. The role of language is not to refer to an extralinguistic world, but to contribute to mutual understanding and to sustain social relations. Truth is defined by consensus, i.e., as nothing more than what happens to be agreed upon. This position leans strongly towards relativism.

    Context of Discovery

    in this context the focus is on a reliable description of the historical, social and even psychological circumstances and influences that were relevant to the discovery of a scientific theory. It is the subject of a methodological programme for a contextual historiography of science, in opposition to the positivistic programme of the context* of justification of theories.

    Context of Justification

    in this context the focus is on the methodological requirements of a scientific theory, its logical argument, i.e., the degree to which the conclusions are supported by factual premises (induction*), or are inferred from general lawlike premises (deduction*). In this positivistic programme it is maintained that it is not the business of science to pay attention to the social or psychological circumstances of the problem-solving situation.

    Correspondence Theory of Truth

    See Truth.*

    Deduction

    is the reasoning process or argument in which a conclusion is logically drawn, or deduced from a set of premises. Induction and abduction are non-demonstrative, whereas deduction is demonstrative: its conclusions follow with logical certainty, on pain of contradiction. It is also seen as the argument that takes you from general statements (e.g., All birds are …) to particular conclusions (This bird is …).

    Deductive-Nomological Model of Explanation

    is the view that explaining is deriving a proposition describing the event to be explained (the explanandum) from a general law or set of laws (the explanans): for example, all plants containing chlorophyll are green, grass contains chlorophyll, therefore grass is green. Subsuming an event under a ‘covering law’ is considered tantamount to answering the question of why it happened. The positivist ideal of a theory as an axiomatic formal system accounts for the element of (logical, demonstrative) deduction; ‘nomological’ means lawful. See also Explanation.*

    Demarcation

    Since the logical positivists, philosophers of science have tried to find an unfailing criterion separating rational scientific knowledge from metaphysical speculation, irrationality, superstition and pseudo-science. The logical positivists proposed as such verifiability, Popper falsifiability. Neither of these works.

    Determinism

    is the metaphysical doctrine that the past completely determines the future, that every event has a sufficient cause (or set of causes). Determinism denies that events are due to chance. It is a moot point whether free will is compatible with determinism.

    Dualism

    is a position in the mind-body problem, associated with the seventeenth-century French philosopher Descartes, and part of the whole tradition that is called ‘Cartesianism’. Dualism divides human existence into having a mind and a body. Mind and body are completely different substances, though they interact in a mysterious way. Mind is associated with a private inner mental world (theatre), to which the owner by a kind of inner eye has privileged access, whereas the body is part of the external observable world. See also Consciousness.*

    Dynamical Systems Theory

    is a general formalism for describing complex systems, using the notions of an abstract space of possible states of the system (state space), and of a trajectory through it, governed by laws that can be described mathematically. For psychological purposes, behaviour (like approach-avoidance, or walking) can be described, in a more or less geometrical way, as evolution (or ‘flow’) through state space. Important assets are its conceptualization of the agent-environment coupling and evolution over time.

    Eliminativism

    is the claim that folk psychological categories like beliefs and desires eventually can, and should, be eliminated and replaced by neuroscientific terms: we will talk about the firing of our neurons rather than about the pain when we hit our thumb. In contrast, reductionism allows us to keep our common-sense concepts (like ‘water’) even when they are identified with scientific concepts (water is ‘really’ H2O).

    Emergence

    is when a system has new properties that are not present in the constituents: these are called emergent, and the system is more than the sum of its parts. Sometimes a system's emergent properties can be explained and predicted from the properties of the parts and their interactions (as in chemistry, where a molecule can be predicted from the way the atoms are put together). However, some authors prefer to restrict the term ‘emergence’ to those systemic properties that are entirely unpredictable from the lower-level parts.

    Empiricism

    is a doctrine in philosophy and, in particular, a position in epistemology, which says that all knowledge comes from the senses, and that only those expressions have a claim to knowledge and to truth that can be translated, directly or indirectly, into sense impressions. These impressions, or sense-data, form the given content of our mental states of which we have direct awareness. This view was taken as the rock bottom of positivism. See also Theory-laden;* Rationalism;* Foundationalism.*

    Epiphenominalism

    means that mental processes are a by-product of physical processes, and have no causal powers of their own. Behaviour (e.g., wincing) is entirely determined by neural processes (e.g., withdrawal reflexes), and not by the mind (e.g., not by the feeling of pain).

    Epistemology

    is the theory of knowledge, a main branch of philosophy. Its central problems are the origin and legitimacy of knowledge. This relates to questions about the credentials of the senses and of reason; about the nature of truth, of meaning, etc. The main historical positions in the field are rationalism and empiricism.

    Explanation

    means in normal discourse to make something easier to understand, to elucidate, or to answer a why-question. In the theory of science, especially when logical positivism held sway over the field, it was considered as a strictly logical relation between the explanandum (that which has to be explained) and the explanans (that which explains). This ideal was found in the covering-law model of explanation: an event is explained when it can be deduced from a natural law plus initial conditions. Accordingly, the model was also called deductive-nomological (D-N model; in Greek nomos means law). This model has been challenged: the notion of law and the ideal of the logical relation were disputed as requirements for explanation, in particular in the human/social sciences, where sometimes the context is seen as useful circumstantial evidence for interpretation/explanation (see also: Reasons).* The inference to the best explanation is the idea that one sometimes opts for the best among a set of possible explanations (see also Abduction;* Teleology).*

    At the end of the nineteenth century when hermeneutics was formulated, ‘Explanation’ (Erklären) denoted an objective methodology differentiated from ‘Understanding’ (Verstehen). It was considered as the principal methodology for the natural sciences, but of no use to the human sciences.

    Explanatory Pluralism (or Multiplicity of explanations)

    contrasts with reductionism and unified science. There can be many legitimate levels of description and ways of explanation, at least in psychology. On which level the explanatory answer should be searched for depends on what one wants to know.

    Falsification

    means showing a statement to be false. According to Popper, a theory is to be rejected when predictions derived from it turn out to be false. Thus, whereas a theory can never be verified, it can conclusively be falsified.

    Folk Psychology

    means common-sense psychology, the kind of explanation of everyday behaviour in terms of the goals, desires, beliefs, opinions and plans that supposedly drive one's fellow beings’ behaviour. Fodor and others consider folk psychology as belief-desire psychology, the kind of psychology that uses intentional language, and requires representations as explanatory concepts. Beliefs and desires, construed as propositional attitudes, are, in this view, literally causes and lawful explanations, and can and should be preserved in a computational theory of mind.

    Foundationalism

    is a (usually dismissive) label for those normative positions in epistemology or the philosophy of science, like positivism, which demand that true knowledge and science should be demarcated from irrationality or pseudo-science by building upon secure epistemological foundations, such as empiricism, rationalism or other views which call upon universal, ahistoric principles or the postulates of rationality.

    Free Will

    using a simple and practical definition, is the ability to make (relatively) unconstrained choices. Freedom of will requires that at least three conditions must be fulfilled: the agent must have been able to do otherwise; the action must have originated in the individual (rather than being imposed externally); and the behaviour must be understandable as the result of rational consideration (rather than random or crazy).

    Functional explanation

    describes the way a thing works, what its goal or function is in a system or environment, rather than its physical characteristics.

    Functionalism

    is the thesis that mental states are functional states of a machine or a brain, implying that the actual physical make-up of the machine (the implementation) is irrelevant to the functional role it realizes. As a simple example of a functional description consider a carburettor: it can be made in infinitely many different materials and designs, all with the function of providing fuel to an engine. Analogously, mental states are functional roles: they have causal relations with input, with other mental states, and with behaviour, that can be described irrespective of the physical make-up of the system. An important consequence of functionalism in the philosophy of mind is that the same mental process (functional state) can be realized in brains as well as in computers (or in a contraption made of empty beer cans, for that matter): this is called multiple realizability. Narrow (or machine) functionalism considers a function solely in terms of the internal economy of the system. Wide functionalism is more like the biological notion of function: it includes the role a function has in the system's environment; for example, a rattlesnake has a heat detector and a movement detector, and this has the function of detecting mice only in an environment where the snake can feed on mice.

    Given

    in traditional epistemology is the directly given sensory data (sense data*) upon which knowledge is based: it is knowledge by acquaintance. See also: Theory-Laden.*

    Hermeneutics

    was originally (since the seventeenth century) the art or the method for the exegesis of classical, theological and juridical texts. At the end of the nineteenth century hermeneutics was made into a general methodology for understanding (Verstehen) and interpretation in the human sciences, in contrast with the objective method of explanation in the physical sciences. Philosophical hermeneutics was developed in the twentieth century and became a philosophical theory of the fundamental historical and linguistic situation of human experiences. It is one of the main epistemological convictions in modern hermeneutics, that since in the human sciences meaning is the central concept, the knowing subject and the known object share a common background. Hence, to understand the sometimes subtle meanings in these sciences, subject and object confront each other, are partners in a discussion, so to say. To understand the meaning of social, historical or psychological concepts and actions, it is essential to understand the context, and to understand the context, it is essential to understand the parts: this is the hermeneutic circle (see also Holism).*

    Holism

    is the idea that the whole has priority over its parts. Holism is encountered in different domains. In contrast with the empiricist/associationist account of perception, Gestalt psychology contends that perception should not be analysed in atomistic sensations, since in normal perception a gestalt is predominant: perception is organized by certain configurations. Epistemological holism is the (Quine-Duhem) thesis that the meaning of a term or a sentence can only be understood in the context of a whole body of sentences, a theory, or even a worldview. This also means that observational data can only be appreciated within or in the context of a theory. See also Theory-laden.*

    Homunculus

    means literally ‘little man’. This refers to the kinds of explanation where intelligent behaviour is explained by intelligent processes (the little man) inside the agent -which is a pseudo-explanation when the intelligent processes themselves remain unexplained. Dennett made a variety of the homunculus explanation respectable under the label of intentional stance: the prediction or description of intelligent behaviour (of, say, a chess computer) in terms of the goals and knowledge it has. This is legitimate as long as it yields adequate descriptions and successful predictions (it is perfectly OK if it helps us to win a game of chess), and if it can in the end be explained by specifying the design (e.g., the chess computer's program). This consists of decomposing the intelligent ‘little man’ inside, with its complex function, into an ‘army of idiots’, each with a much more simple function.

    Idealism

    is a philosophical doctrine holding that reality is essentially mental, consisting in something like the World Spirit (Hegel): this is called objective idealism. Idealism is usually considered a subjective epistemology, implying that knowledge is first and foremost a product of the activity of the knowing subject, and that there is no way of finding out whether knowledge corresponds with, or refers to, something like an external reality. The idealist view of truth is coherence, being consistent with the rest of knowledge. See also Realism;* Relativism.*

    Identity Theory

    is a materialistic solution to the mind-body problem, which says that mental events are identical with physical events. The mind-brain identity theory identifies mental events with brain events. This is a strong conception of materialism, type-materialism, saying that a type of mental state (e.g., being angry) is identical to a certain type of brain state (say, the firing of specific neurons x, y, z). Functionalism (token-materialism) opposes this.

    Ideology

    according to a Marxist interpretation, is the production of ideas, the set of beliefs, conceptions, categories, moral standards, etc., of a social class, reflecting the material basis, the socio-economic conditions of the group. Since in this view all groups, except the proletariat, have the wrong ideas or ‘false consciousness’, ideologies are deceptive. In later interpretations ideology has lost the connotation of ‘false consciousness’, though the ideas of the group are still supposed to be influenced by socio-economic circumstances and to guide that group's social and political actions.

    Idiographic

    is the method leading to the understanding of individual, unique events (from the Greek idios meaning unique, individual), as in the human sciences and history: it is opposed to the nomothetic method.

    Incommensurability

    means literally having no common yardstick. When two theories do not refer to a common set of facts, they are incommensurable. Since a paradigm produces, according to Kuhn, its own evidence, and facts are theory-laden, there is no neutral ground for comparing one paradigm with another, and they make sense of the world in terms of completely different categories, concepts and meanings. This notion can be criticized for leading to relativism.

    Individualism

    is a thesis in the philosophy of mind, holding that for purposes of psychological explanation only the internal features of an organism are relevant, i.e., that ‘psychology ends at the skin’. What someone believes can be described without reference to the things in his or her environment. This is almost the same as internalism (see also Solipsism;* Functionalism, narrow).*

    Induction

    is the reasoning process or argument in which an empirical conclusion (a generalization) is inferred from empirical premises, that is, observation statements. Unlike deduction, induction is non-demonstrative: its conclusions are not logically certain. The conclusion of an inductive argument is probable, supported by the premises. It is also seen as the argument that takes us from particular statements to generalizations. See also Abduction;* Confirmation.*

    Inference to the Best Explanation

    See Abduction; Explanation.

    Instrumentalism is the view that scientific theories, concepts and entities are instruments or convenient tools that help us to understand the world and facilitate our thinking, but do not convey literal truths and do not have ontological import.

    Intentionality

    is the distinguishing property of mental states or psychological phenomena, implying that they have a content, and are directed at, about, or involved with objects, whereas physical things lack this property. Words, or books, are directed at, are about objects, and have meaning, but they take the intentionality from mental states: they have derived intentionality, not intrinsic intentionality. Intentionality in this technical sense has little to do with being intended or on purpose: to intend to do something is one among the many manifestations of intentionality. Materialist theories aim at naturalizing intentionality.

    Language Game

    is a pattern of practices, a ‘form of life’, which explains the meaning of interconnected expressions and concepts. It is associated with the later Wittgenstein, who compared the use of language with a game and rules. The message that the meaning of a word or an expression can never be isolated from its practical context - meaning is use - can also be taken to imply the relativistic notion that expressions or beliefs derive their meanings only from the social context of language games, and that language games are a matter of (arbitrary) consensus. See also Truth.*

    Language of Thought

    is Fodor's hypothesis that mental activity has a structure like a formal, or logical, language. Mental representations are strings of symbols that are characterized by their syntactical structure (see also (Methodological) Solipsism).* Thinking is manipulating these symbols in more or less the same way as when constructing logical proofs. The LOT hypothesis explains the systematicity and productivity of thinking: we can think infinitely many thoughts by combining a finite number of mental elements, and these thoughts will cohere with each other.

    Laws

    are a much-debated concept in the philosophy of science. Historically it suggests a lawgiver, and during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries it was the idea that the Creator had dictated that nature should progress according to His will, and that the scientist could discover its laws. Nowadays, laws are seen as rather lawlike, empirical generalizations. Some laws are causal (e.g., frustration leads to aggression) while others are not (e.g., all swans are white). Laws may contain unobservables: theoretical terms that cannot be directly seen, but from which testable predictions can be derived (e.g., the unconscious, genes). See also Cause.*

    Logical Positivism

    See Positivism, Logical.

    Materialism

    is a metaphysical doctrine in philosophy that the world and all its entities and phenomena, including psychological phenomena, are manifestations of spatiotemporal matter. There are strong and more or less weak versions. The strong versions imply reductionism: mental phenomena have to be seen as manifestations of body or brain processes and must, scientifically, be reduced to these processes. Identity theory, physicalism and eliminativism are strong versions. Naturalism might be seen as a weaker version of materialism, allowing for the non-reducibility of mental phenomena. Non-reductive materialism is also called emergent materialism: it holds that some objects or processes, while entirely dependent on matter, nevertheless have properties that transcend the vocabulary of physics (for example, consciousness as a product of the brain). See also Supervenience.*

    Meaning

    See Semantics.

    Metaphysics

    is a branch of philosophy that tries to answer questions about the general or abstract nature of reality, and also about a reality that is supposed to lie behind the world and that is not accessible using scientific method. In psychology and the philosophy of mind, metaphysics includes questions about the mind, consciousness, intentionality and qualia; in the philosophy of science it involves questions about causality, matter, rationalism, etc. Metaphysics is challenged, in a sense, by positivism, materialism and naturalism, though these positions themselves are supported by metaphysical presuppositions.

    Methodological Solipsism

    See Solipsism.

    Model

    is sometimes used as a synonym for a theory (as in a model of the brain): it is mostly, however, a kind of mini-theory, usually in a more or less visual or metaphorical form.

    Modularity

    is the idea that the mind consists of a set of more or less separate skills or special purpose processors. Fodor demands that to count as modules, processors must be informationally encapsulated, stimulus-driven and automatic, insensitive to higher cognitive processes, and probably innate and hardwired. He assumes that we also have a holistic central cognitive system operating on the symbolic inputs from the modules. The sensory systems are examples of encapsulated modules, independent of higher level cognition, and translating sensory input into a symbolic code fit for the central system.

    Evolutionary psychologists propose modularity in a far looser sense, as specialized skills or cognitive tools (stereovision, cheater detection) tailored to adaptive problems, with some coordination between these skills.

    Brain imaging in neuropsychology sometimes assumes some weak sort of modularity, such that areas of the brain are interpreted as specializing for certain cognitive functions.

    Multiple Realizability

    See Functionalism.

    Multiplicity of explanation

    See Explanatory Pluralism.

    Naturalism

    is a claim that the methods of natural science can be applied to all phenomena, including mental processes. This can be construed as physicalism, which holds that the concepts and methods of current physics can in the end explain everything. However, it can also mean that some phenomena, although beyond the realm of physics, can and should be investigated and explained in an objective, scientific way, i.e., not necessarily in terms of physics, though at least not contradicting physics. In psychology this suggests a broadly biological approach, considering mind as a capacity for survival, developed from animal patterns of reactivity. By extension, naturalism may imply a rejection of solipsism: minds are capacities for coping with the environment and mental functions should be considered in relation to the organism's world. Naturalizing, therefore, is the name of the programme that aims at demystifying, stripping a concept or a theory of its metaphysical content, and using for its explanation objective, scientific methods, as in naturalizing epistemology, or naturalizing intentionality.

    Natural Kinds

    according to the ontological view are the categories that divide things into natural classes, that ‘carve nature at the joints’ (such as gold, water, animals). Some philosophers try to relate the notion of natural kinds to essences and necessary properties (like, ‘Gold has necessarily the atomic number 79’). The issue of what natural kinds are is closely related to questions of taxonomy: what should the classification of science be? For example, consider the question of whether a whale should be classified a fish or a mammal. Some opponents of the natural kind view hold that classifications are human-made and theory-laden.

    Nomothetic

    is the method for finding general laws (from the Greek nomos meaning law), as in the positivistic notion of explanation. It is the opposite of the idiographic method.

    Objectivism

    is the view in philosophy of science that the scientific method should be objective, that is, based on observables, empirical matters of fact, and that science is a realistic enterprise. It is a dismissive label, affiliated with positivism and opposed to subjectivism/relativism.

    Ontology

    is a main branch of philosophy, concerned with the question of what kinds of things, properties and events exist (fundamentally) as furniture of the world. A traditional and popular position is materialism: only spatiotemporal matter exists. The Cartesian position, important in psychology, is dualism, which presupposes two principal substances: mind and matter (body). See also Natural Kinds.*

    Paradigm

    is a concept in the philosophy of science, introduced by Kuhn. It is a whole complex of methods, concepts and theories; techniques and laboratory apparatus; social processes and institutional structures, all of which determine what the legitimate problems and solutions are in a field of scientific research. See also Incommensurability.*

    Phenomenal

    pertains to immediate awareness, first-person experience, qualia.

    Phenomenology

    is the name of a school of philosophy that claims to study and describe ‘phenomena’, i.e., observing objects as they appear in direct awareness. These ‘phenomena’ are certainly not the empirically observable matters of fact which the empirical sciences claim to study.

    Physicalism

    is a reductive materialist doctrine in philosophy of science saying that all the sciences or scientific theories should be reduced to physics, and that only the language and methods of physics are scientifically respectable. See also Reductionism.*

    Positivism, Logical

    Positivism in general refers to philosophical positions that emphasize empirical data and scientific methods. Logical positivism (or neo-positivism) is mostly associated with the so-called Wiener Kreis (1920s-1930s), a group of philosophers, physicists and logicians who claimed that legitimate knowledge consisted exclusively of observation sentences and the logical connections between them. Statements that are not (empirically) verifiable are meaningless nonsense or metaphysics.

    Pragmatic Theory of Truth

    See Truth; Pragmatism.

    Pragmatism

    is the philosophical view that knowledge should primarily be considered as guiding our actions in coping with the world, rather than as a theoretical set of beliefs, or a picture corresponding in some way with the world. See also Truth;* Realism.*

    Propositional Attitude

    is a mental state consisting of an attitude (‘He believes …’, ‘She expects …’) and a proposition (‘… that it is/will be raining’). Propositional attitudes make up folk psychology (belief-desire psychology), in the sense that mental states, such as beliefs and desires, figure as explanations of behaviour (‘She buys an umbrella because she expects …’) and specify mental content in the form of propositions (which happen to fit nicely with a language of thought theory). Hence, they are closely related to issues of intentionality and mental representation.

    Qualia

    (singular: quale) are first-person phenomenal qualities, experiences or feelings, such as feeling pain, seeing red, drinking wine, tasting a truffle, hearing ‘God Save the Queen’. Friends of qualia think that they exist, that humans/living beings do experience them, but that they are not accessible to objective, third-person, scientific means. Some materialists deny the existence of qualia, while others suggest they can be reduced to brain processes.

    Rationalism

    is an answer to the epistemological question about the origin of knowledge. Rationalists believe that knowledge is based on naturally given, innate ideas. The opposite position is empiricism (or empirism).

    Realism

    is the view that our knowledge, or scientific theories, correspond to reality. Specifying what ‘correspondence’ means is difficult. In the naive version it means something like ‘mirroring’ or ‘copying’. Scientific realism holds that theories correspond with reality: that, for example, elementary particles cited in the laws of physics really exist. Convergent realism claims that the increased agreement between, and wider applicability of, the scientific laws (e.g., elementary physics, or evolution) indicate that they somehow approach reality. Realism is less obvious than it seems: patently false theories can be useful, and may produce correct predictions. Internal realism (Putnam) rejects the naive copy-theory of truth and holds that knowledge is a human creation, without being subjective. In the pragmatic view it is claimed that the epistemological relation to the world should not be seen as exclusively linguistic or theoretical (intellectualistic), but that in the subsequent practice of intervention, manipulation and action the world makes a difference: that it replies, so to say. See also Idealism;* Relativism;* Truth.*

    Reasons

    are the means by which we explain, or account for, actions. Reasons can be distinguished from causes because actions have meanings, to be interpreted in the light of (social) contexts, that cannot be traced in the physical/physiological events and processes that cause the movements of the action. Some philosophers maintain that reasons are causes.

    Reduction

    is the explanation of a higher level macro-phenomenon through underlying lower level micro-mechanisms, deriving a complex phenomenon from more simple and more basic phenomena. The classical model of reduction refers to the deduction of higher-level laws from lower-level laws plus boundary conditions.

    Reductionism

    See Eliminativism; Materialism; Physicalism.

    Relativism

    holds that theories, concepts and categories are not absolutely true or valid, but are irredeemably dependent on subjective views, social contexts and historical processes: there is no such thing as objective knowledge, no knowable world independent from knowing subjects; neither are there objective criteria to assess whether one of the many possible perspectives is more warranted than another. Informally speaking, truth is in the eye of the beholder, it all depends on how you see things. Relativists challenge realism and the correspondence theory of truth. Relativism is related to idealism.

    Representation

    Mental representation is a crucial but problematic concept in cognitive psychology. Mental states supposedly mean, refer to, or stand for something else: they have mental content. The concept of mental representation is thus burdened with many of the problems of meaning and intentionality (see also Semantics;* Propositional Attitudes*). One of the problems is that mental representation runs the risk of a homunculus pseudo-explanation. Fodor assumes that mental representations have a symbolic format, as sentences in the language of thought. Connectionists consider them as activation patterns in neural networks. These theories one might call a representational theory of mind: thinking is essentially having and manipulating representations. This constitutes an attempt to exorcize the homunculus pseudo-explanation by naturalizing representations. Some recent developments (such as dynamic systems theory) have questioned the usefulness of representation as an explanatory construct in cognitive psychology.

    Semantics

    concerns the meaning of linguistic representations (utterances) and by extension of mental representations (thoughts). It is a deep philosophical question about how words or thoughts can mean a thing in the external world, and even more, how they can mean things that do not exist (e.g., how one can think of a unicorn). Some proposals suggest relations of causation or covariation between representation and referent. See also Language Game.*

    Sense Data

    are experiences that are, supposedly, directly given in the senses, such as colour or sound, and are thus evident, indubitable, and unadulterated by cognitive processing. Some empiricists thought that sense data could and should be the foundation of knowledge. It is doubtful whether there is such a thing as pure sense data, and even more dubitable whether they can carry the epistemological burden that empiricism requires. See also Theory-laden.*

    Situated

    in cognitive science refers to an ‘agent’ (robot, mind, consciousness) which is embedded in an environment.

    Social Constructionism

    See Constructionism, Social.

    Social Interactionism

    See Symbolic Interactionism.

    Solipsism

    is the view that only oneself and one's experiences exist and that, accordingly, one can only know what is in one's own mind. Methodological solipsism is associated with Fodor's philosophy of mind, implying that only the syntactical (formal) structure of mental states is of psychological importance and that their semantics, such as a reference to the world, is not relevant for explaining mental states and how they affect behaviour and other mental states: Claire's belief can be about an extraterrestrial and cause her desire to meet him, her visiting a secret place in a cave, and her waiting for what is to come: though it might well be that the creature does not exist. So we should approach mental states as if they were solipsistic states. See also Language of Thought.*

    Supervenience

    is a relation between two epistemological domains. The notion of supervenience holds that no changes can occur at the mental level without some changes at the physiological level. This means that there is no such thing as a disembodied mind (mental processes without accompanying neurophysiological processes). Supervenience fits nicely with non-reductive materialism: it only entails a rejection of metaphysical dualism, but does not require lawful correspondences between the mind and brain: it is therefore entirely compatible with functionalism.

    Symbolic Interactionism

    is a sociological theory that sees language and shared meanings as the principal way of interaction between people.

    Syntactical

    refers to the form of statements, that is, the logical or formal linguistic relations between sentences or parts thereof. See also Semantics.*

    Teleology

    is goal-directedness. Teleological explanations invoke functions, goals, purposes or end-states as explanations for behaviour (e.g., a thermostat has the goal of keeping room temperature constant; the function of the heart is to pump blood; the purpose of their making so much noise was to scare off the animals). This poses a problem for classical physics, where only causes (events preceding the effect in time) are recognized: in teleological explanations, the effect follows the goal.

    Theory

    is a coherent (and non-contradictory) set of statements (concepts, ideas) that organizes, predicts and explains phenomena, events, behaviour, etc. Ideally, hypotheses (testable predictions) can be derived from a theory. Theoretical terms should be unambiguously defined. A formal-logical axiomatic structure is the ideal of clarity and coherence for theories: this can be seen in mathematical theories in physics, but is almost never realized in psychology. See also Theory-Laden.*

    Theory-laden

    is an epistemological characteristic of observations, statements, etc., meaning that they only make sense within a system or in the context of other beliefs, a theory, or a worldview. The idea of theory-ladenness was mainly developed in contrast to the empiricist doctrine of neutral, objective sense* data; this doctrine was criticized for implying the ‘myth of the given’. Since the idea of the ‘given’* proved to be untenable, the relation between the knowing subject and the known object became an issue in epistemology and the philosophy of science, especially in the debate between relativism on the one hand, and scientific realism and pragmatism on the other.

    Token and Type

    A type is a concept, e.g., ‘bicycle’. A token is a particular instance of that type, e.g., your bicycle. ‘The bicycle is the solution to New York traffic problems’ refers to the type, ‘The bicycle has a flat tyre’ refers to the token. You can have the same bicycle type as your neighbour (say, a blue Peugeot mountain bike), but not the same token bicycle (if you are not co-owners). The type-token distinction plays a role in the mind-brain identity debate. Type identity is the identification of a mental type (pain for example) with a physiological type (the firing of C-fibres for example). Token identity is that every instance of a mental state is identical with an instance of a physical state - but the types do not match (for example, pain in an octopus may be identical with the firing of a different type of neuron from that in humans).

    Truth

    is the term for the abstract concept the truth, as in ‘The truth and nothing but the truth’, as well as for the epistemological quality of theories, beliefs, propositions, statements: ‘What she says is true’ or ‘Which statement is true?’ Realists distinguish truth from reality: only conceptions, beliefs, statements, etc., about the reality or about the world can be true (or false). This realistic distinction, however, is in conflict with the relativistic notion that thought and world are interconnected. A particular version of the abstract concept is the philosophical/epistemological problem of truth: ‘What is truth, anyway?’ There are different theories of truth. The correspondence theory of truth, which states that truth consists of the correspondence between thought and reality, is associated with realism. Critics of this theory contest the nature of the concept of correspondence, taken as a kind of mirroring, and they also dispute the distinction between subject and object. Idealism and relativism, therefore, adhere to the coherence theory of truth: the more beliefs in a system are coherent, the truer they are. Relativism also adheres to another theory, the consensus theory of truth: truth is what is agreed upon by common consent. Both theories of truth are criticized by realists, because the world does not play any role in the theories, and, as to the latter theory, realists do not like the idea that truth is dependent on group-think. The pragmatic theory of truth claims that the truth, or better the reliability (because truth is never absolute), of a belief cannot be conceived apart from its practical consequences, but is demonstrated in a subsequent experiment, test or action. This theory is sometimes ridiculed in the phrase, ‘True is what works.’

    Turing Machine

    The prototype of a symbol manipulator, a Turing machine can read a symbol from tape, perform an elementary operation on it, and write the result back. The English mathematician Alan Turing proved that every task that could be written as a set of elementary operations (an algorithm) could be executed on a universal Turing machine. This was the basis for the claim of strong AI (see Artificial Intelligence*).

    Understanding/Verstehen

    See Hermeneutics.

    Verification

    means assessing the fit between a theory (or better, the prediction generated by a theory) and empirical facts. Logical positivists proposed verifiability (the specification of how to find empirical facts that make the rejection or acceptance of a statement possible) as the criterion for a meaningful theory (see Demarcation*). However, it is impossible to verify general laws: they can only be confirmed or falsified.

    NOTE Very useful dictionaries are Blackburn (2005) for philosophy; Reber (2009) for psychology; and for philosophy of science, Psillos (2007).

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