Understanding Our Own Beliefs and Desires

Part of the New Directions in Philosophy and Cognitive Science book series (NDPCS)


Now that we have a framework for understanding the cognitive role of concepts in introspection, we can investigate some of the details of particular conceptual processes and their application to the understanding of one’s own mental states. One of the more interesting and relevant conceptual structures to consider here is folk psychology. Folk psychology, as it is typically understood in philosophy and cognitive science, is the common conceptualization of human activity in terms of ordinary mental states, most notably beliefs and desires, which we utilize to understand one another in everyday life. If, for example, someone mistakes you for a clerk in a bookstore, asking you where to find the gardening section, you will quite likely understand this person’s behavior in terms of a mistaken belief that you work in the store (assuming you are not actually a bookstore clerk, of course). The concept of belief helps you understand the person’s question, in terms of a background psychological state as the reasonable internal cause of her behavior. In this chapter, I will argue that the folk psychological concepts that we use to understand each other in such contexts are applied recursively as well, to one’s own mental states, thereby constituting a notable kind of conceptually mediated introspection. Moreover, in light of the conceptually mediated nature of folk psychology, we will see further how the introspective attribution of mental states to oneself is a fallible and opaque process, in contrast to the Cartesian transparency and infallibility often assumed of introspective knowledge.


Phenomenal Quality Propositional Attitude Phenomenal Property Folk Psychology Phenomenal Experience 
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Copyright information

© Jesse Butler 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of Central ArkansasUSA

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