Monday, 22 October 2007

Folk psychology

The reading group at the Philosophy Department at Lancaster University – one stop up the railway line from Preston – is reading Matthew Ratcliffe’s (expensive) book ‘Rethinking Commonsense Psychology’. Although we’ve just read the first two chapters which are basically preparatory, the idea that talk of ‘folk psychology’ by philosophers and cognitive scientists isn’t the harmless shorthand it is taken to be is interesting. It makes me feel guilty about all the times I’ve just used the phrase without thinking.

It also seems to me to be plausible that philosophers have over-intellectualised mutual understanding. In a paper written with Bill Fulford, Richard Gipps argued a few years ago that accounts of delusion suffered the same fault.

But because he aims to argue against all versions of folk psychology (including accounts in which folk psychology is a theory which is only tacitly known), Ratcliffe has a tricky case to make. He will have to argue that his favoured approach, which draws on a phenomenological tradition, not only is a better description of the surface of human practices but also of the underlying generalities. We’ll see.

At the last meeting one student expressed the worry that so far we’d given the author ‘a kicking’. It is strange - but obvious on reflection - to think that the philosophical culture of respecting authors precisely by criticising them might seem alien to newcomers to it.