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Beyond folk psychology? : toward an enriched account of social understanding


Folk psychology is the ability to interpret people's mental states (beliefs, desires, etc.) and use this information to explain and predict their behavior. While folk psychology has traditionally been seen as fundamental to human social understanding, philosophers drawing on the phenomenological tradition have recently argued that most of our everyday social interactions do not involve folk psychology. I defend the role of folk psychology in human social understanding against these phenomenological critics. I argue that we need not abandon the folk psychological picture to heed the central claims of these phenomenological critics. In so doing, I develop an enriched account of human social understanding that accepts their descriptions of the phenomena of human social understanding while retaining a significant role for folk psychological reasoning at the subpersonal level. In chapter 1 I describe the traditional folk psychological account of social understanding and the challenge to it raised by these critics. Since it assumes folk psychology is pervasive, the traditional philosophical and empirical research on human social understanding focuses on the psychological processes by which we attribute mental states : whether we apply theoretical knowledge about human psychology, as proposed by the theory theory, and/or use own psychological mechanisms to "simulate" other people's mental states, as the simulation theory suggests. Two central claims made by the phenomenological critics against this traditional picture are: (i) that some mental state understanding occurs by "direct perception," without the need for theorizing or simulation; and (ii) that attributing beliefs and desires is not required and not often used for unreflectively interacting with other people. I argue that direct social perception and unreflective social interaction are phenomena that should be better emphasized in accounts of human social understanding, but which can be explained by folk psychological reasoning occurring at the subpersonal level, outside of conscious awareness. In chapters 2-3 I develop my conception of personal and subpersonal levels. I then apply this framework in the next two chapters to argue that direct social perception (chapter 4) and unreflective social interaction (chapter 5) can, contrary to the phenomenological critics, be driven by folk psychological theorizing and/or simulation

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