Two Contrasts

in J. D. Greenwood, ed., The Future of Folk Psychology: Intentionality and Cognitive Science, Cambridge University Press 1991.

Two Contrasts: Folk Craft versus Folk Science and Belief versus Opinion

Daniel C. Dennett

My contribution to this volume is a commentary on the papers by Churchland; Ramsey, Garon and Stich; and their commentators, drawing and expanding on some material in The Intentional Stance (Dennett, 1987).

Let us begin with what all of us here agree on: folk psychology is not immune to revision. It has a certain vulnerability in principle. Any particular part of it might be overthrown and replaced by some other doctrine. Yet we disagree about how likely it is that that vulnerability in principle will turn into the actual demise of large portions--or all--of folk psychology. I am of the view that folk psychology is here for the long haul, and for some very good reasons. But I am not going to concentrate on that in my remarks. What nobody has bothered saying here yet, but is probably worth saying, is that for all of its blemishes, warts and perplexities, folk psychology is an extraordinarily powerful source of prediction. It is not just prodigiously powerful but remarkably easy for human beings to use. We are virtuoso exploiters of not so much a theory as a craft. That is, we might better call it a folk craft rather than a folk theory. The theory of folk psychology is the ideology about the craft, and there is lots of room, as anthropologists will remind us, for false ideology.

What we learn at mother's knee as we are growing up, and what might be to some degree innate, is a multifarious talent for having expectations about the world. Much of that never gets articulated into anything remotely like propositions at all. (Here I am in partial agreement with the new Paul Churchland. He now wants to say that folk psychology is a theory, but theories don't have to be formulated the way they are in books, whereas I think that's a pretty good reason for not calling it a theory, since it doesn't consist of any explicit theorems or laws.) But now what is this thing that is folk psychology, if it is not a theory? What kind of a craft is it? I've certainly had my say about that, in Brainstorms (Dennett, 1978) and The Intentional Stance (Dennett, 1987), and I'm not going to try to telescope all that I say there into a summary here. Instead, I am going to expand on the similarities between folk psychology and folk physics--two crafts that repay attention, and that should be studied with the methods of anthropology, not just the informal methods of philosophers.

If we look at folk physics, we discover some interesting anomalies. Folk physics is as effortless, as second-nature as folk psychology, and it keeps us one step ahead of harsh reality most of the time. A pioneering analysis of a portion of folk physics is found in Patrick Hayes' work on what he calls the naive physics of liquids. (Hayes, 1978, 1979). Consider how robust and swift our anticipations are of the behavior of liquids under normal circumstances.

(The whole paper is now available in Daniel Dennett, Brainchildren, Essays on Designing Minds, MIT Press and Penguin, 1998.)