, Volume 39, Issue 1, pp 61-70

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Restrictive Materialism and the Propositional Attitudes

  • Bennett HolmanAffiliated withDepartment of Logic and Philosophy of Science, University of California Irvine Email author 


It has been argued that naturalizing the mind will result in the elimination of the ontology of folk psychology (e.g. beliefs and desires). This paper draws from a wide range of empirical literature, including from developmental and cross-cultural psychology, in building an argument for a position dubbed “restrictive materialism”. The position holds that while the ontology of folk psychology is overextended, there is a restricted domain in which the application of the folk ontology remains secure. From the evidence of developmental uniformity and cross-cultural ubiquity of beliefs and desires, it is argued that the ontology (but not the principles) of folk psychology may be incorrigible. Thus, even if radically false as a description of first-order brain processes, beliefs and desires might be an unavoidable second-order brain process. Given that the domain of psychology is how humans think, if the above argument is correct, then beliefs and desires will continue to earn their rightful place in the ontology of any future psychology, in just the same way as any other scientific entity.


Propositional attitudes Folk psychology Restrictive materialism Belief-desire explanation