Neuroscience and folk psychology, an overview

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This article looks at two approaches to the human brain and to the causation of behaviour: the objective approach of neuroscience, which treats the brain as a physical system operating in accordance with physical laws of general application; and the subjective approach of folk psychology, which treats people, and thus their brains and minds, as making choices or decisions on the basis of beliefs, desires, etc. It suggests three ways in which these two approaches might be related, two physicalist and one non-physicalist; and argues, with reference to ethical and legal issues,ues that there are strong commonsense grounds for preferring the non-physicalist alternative, and that science does not justify its rejection. It is suggested that a considerable onus of proof lies on proponents of physicalist approaches, having regard to the implications of such approaches for important issues of justice and human rights.In this paper, I outline two approaches to the human brain, involving two different views of the causation of human behaviour; and I consider how these two approaches might be linked or related. The first is the objective approach of neuroscience, which treats the human brain as a physical object, operating in accordance with the same physical laws as other physical objects. The second is the subjective approach of folk psychology, which we apply both in our ordinary interactions with other people and in our thinking about our own behaviour; and which treats people (and so their brains and minds) as choosing or deciding what to do on the basis of their beliefs, desires and so on.

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Supreme Court of New South Wales, Queens Square, Sydney, NSW 2000, Australia.

Publication date: February 1, 1994

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