Comparison of Dennett's and Churchland's Intentional Stances

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Daniel Dennett intentional stance compared to Churchland eliminativism

Daniel Dennett invented intentional stance in which behavior is viewed as an entity in terms of mental properties while Churchland eliminativism claims that folk psychology is false, and most mental states that people believe in do not exist.

Dennett’s view is more plausible compared to Churchland eliminativism due to the following explanations derived from Dennett’s book explaining folk psychology.

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Dennett (1987, pp 48-49) folk psychology provides reason giving explanation for a certain action. Dennett explains that every action that an agent or a person does brings an account for an historical origin with the assumptions that the agents' action was entirely rational, the agents' action was entirely reasonable in the prevailing conditions, the agent held certain beliefs, the agent desired certain things and that the agents future action could be systematically predicted from the beliefs and desires; therefore Dennett uses this phrase to emphasize the credibility of folk psychology.

Dennett (1987, p. 52) argues that based on our fixed personal views of what humans ought to believe, desire or do, we predict the actions of others driven by the assumption that all human beings have desires and belief and act on them regarding the beliefs and desires to get what they want. This is based on the following rules; the beliefs of the person are those that a rational person ought to have, the beliefs are true and relevant to the persons' life, the person's desires are those that a rational person should have and that the agents' behavior will be composed of those acts that a rational person with these traits should perform. For that reason, Dennett brings out the predictive value of folk psychology depending on the rationality of the person in question.

Dennett required as a condition for possibility that an intentional stance with a personal stance where the object is viewed as a person by treating the system rationally (1971/1978 p.240). This is disregarded by Churchland eliminativism by its claims that the intuition in the human mind does not exist.

Dennett (1987, pp 43-48) defines three levels of intentional psychology. This are the stances that are supportive of the intentional stance and work together to define, explain and predict a person’s behavior. A physical stance makes prediction from the knowledge of the physical constitution of the system and the physical laws that govern its operations, more abstract is the design stance which does not focus on the physical nature of the systems operation but it assumes that there is no malfunction and it makes prediction based on the purpose of the systems design function and purpose. The intentional stance however is the most abstract and it requires no knowledge of the structure or the design but it clarifies further the explanation of mental explanations of a person behavior, their predictive value and their relations to other forms of explanation. This trashes eliminative materialism by Churchland by bringing out clearly the existing of mental states by breaking it down to three.

Folk psychology is condemned by Churchland for its failures to explain mental diseases and other involuntary activities of the mind. But we can oppose this as unfair. These aspects of mental life are not explained by the folk psychology theory, so it should not be criticized for its inability to explain them. It only gives explanation for the behavior of humans; or even more specifically, the actions of humans. Here, it is very successful. By contrast, neuroscience is almost useless at predicting whether you’ll watch a movie or you’ll go to work.

Furthermore, the predictive and explanatory power of folk psychology is based on its development in psychology ( For instance, the content of cognition about beliefs and desires that happen without conscious volition has become part of folk psychology. The idea of fixed and unchanging ‘character’ was preferred by the Greeks, whereas now we tend to be attracted more to the situation someone finds themselves in. In recent empirical psychology, the importance of situation is found and there are many such findings and theories that use folk psychological concepts and ideas. The termination of the concepts of beliefs and desires from psychology would get rid of much scientific psychology as well as folk psychology.

Arguments presented by eliminativism are expressions of beliefs and rely on beliefs about the meaning of words and how reasoning works in order to change what we believe about folk psychology. Eliminativism claims that there are no beliefs which are contrary to the argument it presents. So what does eliminativism express and what is it trying to change? If these beliefs do not exist and that there are no beliefs, including the beliefs about meaning and beliefs linked by reasoning, then arguments for eliminativism become meaningless. An argument for eliminativism contradicts itself – it concludes that there are no beliefs but it takes for granted that there are beliefs.

But we can express dissent. Eliminativism is taking out Intentional content. The very ideas of meaning, or ‘making sense’, of ‘true’ v. ‘false’ belief, or ‘reasoning’ itself, are to be turned down, as they all rest on Intentional content. Assertions and statements are all ‘about’ something. The analogy that life is a vital principle distinct from physics and chemistry fails. Those who were against vitalism accepted that they needed to be alive to make their claims, but offered an alternative account of what ‘life’ is. Eliminativists claim that they are independent of Intentional content to make their claims. Without having some different account of meaning which is void of Intentional content, this is what is inconceivable. We cannot conceptualize that folk psychology is false, because that very idea, ‘folk psychology is false’, preconditions the folk psychological concept of Intentional content. At least until a new better theory of meaning is brought up, the assumption that eliminativism is true undermines itself.

Intentional stance meets the criteria designed by Dennett’s (1995,pp.30-51) that it has substrate neutrality which is a mechanism that show that results are produced regardless of the material used to perform the procedure (“the power of procedure is due to the logical structure, not the causal strengths of the materials used in instantiation”). Underlying mindlessness which brings out that each constituent step and each transition between each step is so utterly simple that they can be performed by a “dutiful idiot”. Finally that intentional stance brings about warranted results, anything that is done by an algorithm, is always done to totality if it is executed without misstep. Algorithm is a recipe that is not liable to failure.

One of the objections to Dennett is the instinctive knowing that it matters to us whether an object has inner life or not. It is the claim that we do not just ideate the intentional states of other people. The fact that the vulnerability of people to central notions like love, trust and friendship. It compares a human to a robot calibrated to act like the human. Rey, G. (1988p 5-24) has argued against this by denying the premise on the basis that the robot is irrational and void of emotions and therefore metaphysically impossible. In other words, if something acts in all ways conscious, it necessarily is, as consciousness defined in terms of behavioral capacity not ineffable qualia.

Dennett’s idea of treating people as ideally creatures that use reason will yield the best prediction. It is reasoned out that people often have beliefs or desires that are often not thought of an awkward and the theory does not allow us to say anything about these but the thought behind the intentional stance is based on the evolutionary theory, especially the notion that the ability to make quick predictions of a system’s behavior based on what we think it might be thinking was an evolutionary adaptive advantage. The fact that our predictive powers are not perfect is further result of the advantages sometimes accrued by acting contrary to expectations.

It is therefore imperative to state that Dennett’s theory of intentional stance is more plausible as compared to Churchland eliminativism by proving that humans have feelings and act rationally most of the time which makes it easy to predict their behavior and other actions that they pursue in order to satisfy their desires.

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