5.3.4 Eliminativism


By the end of this section you will discover:

  • How eliminativism supports physicalism.

A final materialist/physicalist proposal to consider is one called Eliminativism or eliminative materialism. The versions of materialism/physicalism that we’ve considered so far all attempt to explain which physical states/events can account for mental states like pains, pleasures, beliefs, desires, emotions, etc. The eliminativist says, in effect, that that’s a mug’s game. According to the eliminativist, our ordinary notions of mental states and processes do not “carve nature at its joints” (cf. Plato, Phaedrus 265d-266a). And so, we should not expect to find physical properties that exactly map onto such mental categories.

Here is how contemporary philosopher William Ramsey describes the position and one of its primary motivations:

Eliminative materialists argue that the central tenets of folk psychology radically misdescribe cognitive processes; consequently, the posits of folk psychology have no role to play in a serious scientific theory of the mind because the posits pick out nothing that is real. Like dualists, eliminative materialists insist that ordinary mental states cannot be reduced to or identified with neurological events or processes. However, unlike dualists, straightforward eliminativists claim there is nothing more to the mind than what occurs in the brain. The reason mental states are irreducible is not because they are non-physical; rather, it is because mental states, as described by common-sense psychology, do not really exist  (SEP, “Eliminative Materialism,” Section 2).

Perhaps in the future, we will develop more adequate mental categories, but when we do – according to Eliminativism – we will see that it will be relatively straightforward to explain them fully in material/physical terms. We’ll have to wait and see whether that check will eventually be cashed.

Ponder if you will….

Do you believe that Eliminativism will prove to be the best approach to the mind? No, you don’t, according to Eliminativism: nobody believes anything!


Works Cited

Ramsey, William. “Eliminative Materialism.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Stanford University, 11 Mar. 2019, https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/materialism-eliminative/#ConEliMat.


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PPSC PHI 1011: The Philosopher's Quest by Daniel G. Shaw, Ph.D. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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