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It’s in your nature: a pluralistic folk psychology

Abstract

I suggest a pluralistic account of folk psychology according to which not all predictions or explanations rely on the attribution of mental states, and not all intentional actions are explained by mental states. This view of folk psychology is supported by research in developmental and social psychology. It is well known that people use personality traits to predict behavior. I argue that trait attribution is not shorthand for mental state attributions, since traits are not identical to beliefs or desires, and an understanding of belief or desire is not necessary for using trait attributions. In addition, we sometimes predict and explain behavior through appeal to personality traits that the target wouldn’t endorse, and so could not serve as the target’s reasons. I conclude by suggesting that our folk psychology includes the notion that some behavior is explained by personality traits—who the person is—rather than by beliefs and desires—what the person thinks. Consequences of this view for the debate between simulation theory and theory theory, as well as the debate on chimpanzee theory of mind are discussed.

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Correspondence to Kristin Andrews.

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Andrews, K. It’s in your nature: a pluralistic folk psychology. Synthese 165, 13–29 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11229-007-9230-5

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Keywords

  • Folk psychology
  • Action theory
  • Belief attribution
  • Explanation
  • Prediction
  • Animal cognition
  • Developmental psychology
  • Social psychology
  • Simulation theory
  • Theory theory
  • Chimpanzee mind
  • Theory of mind