The case against eliminative materialism

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Committee Member

Edward Erwin, Committee Chair


Eliminative materialism is the most radical version of physicalism, the dominant conception of theorizing in psychology.The strongest version of eliminative materialism is the view that nothing mental exists. Defenders of this view, such as Churchland, argue that our "common-sense" conception of the mental, which incorporates explanation of behavior in terms of the organism's beliefs and desires, is an empirical theory that will be replaced by advanced neuroscience.Other versions hold that an important class of mental states does not exist. Early eliminativists, such as Rorty, argued that science may someday show that sensations do not exist. More recently, philosophers such as Stich have argued that cognitive mental states either do not exist or can play no explanatory role in a scientific psychology.Dennett opts for an instrumentalist theory. While intentional explanations can play no final role in a scientific psychology, the "intentional stance" has heuristic value and can coexist alongside mechanistic, scientific explanation.These philosophers' arguments are found to be unsound. There are important disanalogies between our ordinary psychological framework and empirical theories. Intentional psychology has conceptual resources beyond those recognized by the eliminativists. The status of intentional explanation, together with defects in the eliminativists' arguments, make rejection of eliminative materialism rational.



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