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Folk Psychological Narratives

Folk Psychological Narratives: The Sociocultural Basis of Understanding Reasons

Daniel D. Hutto
Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: MIT Press,
Pages: 368
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  • Book Info
    Folk Psychological Narratives
    Book Description:

    Established wisdom in cognitive science holds that the everyday folk psychological abilities of humans -- our capacity to understand intentional actions performed for reasons -- are inherited from our evolutionary forebears. In Folk Psychological Narratives, Daniel Hutto challenges this view (held in somewhat different forms by the two dominant approaches, "theory theory" and simulation theory) and argues for the sociocultural basis of this familiar ability. He makes a detailed case for the idea that the way we make sense of intentional actions essentially involves the construction of narratives about particular persons. Moreover he argues that children acquire this practical skill only by being exposed to and engaging in a distinctive kind of narrative practice. Hutto calls this developmental proposal the narrative practice hypothesis (NPH). Its core claim is that direct encounters with stories about persons who act for reasons (that is, folk psychological narratives) supply children with both the basic structure of folk psychology and the norm-governed possibilities for wielding it in practice. In making a strong case for the as yet underexamined idea that our understanding of reasons may be socioculturally grounded, Hutto not only advances and explicates the claims of the NPH, but he also challenges certain widely held assumptions. In this way, Folk Psychological Narratives both clears conceptual space around the dominant approaches for an alternative and offers a groundbreaking proposal.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-27599-6
    Subjects: Philosophy, Psychology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xviii)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xix-xxii)
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. xxiii-xxvi)
  6. 1 The Limits of Spectatorial Folk Psychology
    (pp. 1-22)

    It is a datum that psychologically normal, adult humans often act for reasons. Equally, they often make sense of intentional actions by seeking the reasons motivating such performances.¹ I took off to London for a break because I was at my wit’s end. She canceled her trip because she no longer loved him. The giving and receiving of reasons is a prominent and distinctive aspect of much familiar social commerce. The context in which we do this, the form this takes, and how we come by this ability are the central topics of this book.

    In speaking of “reasons” I...

  7. 2 The Narrative Practice Hypothesis
    (pp. 23-40)

    Not everyone has what it takes to be a folk psychologist. The birds and the bees don’t do it; chimps don’t do it. Even little kids don’t do it! This should not surprise us. Folk psychology is not easy—it is a quite sophisticated skill. Mastery of it rests on having met a number of prerequisites. At the very least, one has to have

    1. A practical understanding of the propositional attitudes

    2. A capacity to represent the objects that these take—propositional contents as specified bythat-clauses

    3. An understanding of the “principles” governing the interaction of the attitudes, both with one...

  8. 3 Intentional Attitudes
    (pp. 41-64)

    Without question, much nonverbal responding takes the form of highly sophisticated patterns of activity. In one sense, these patterns are well suited for interpretation using folk psychological apparatus. Watching cat-and-mouse antics offers a spectacle of high-level anticipatory predator/prey interactions in which the participants exhibit knowledge of their legendary opponents (that is, knowledge of the sorts of things that cats and mice are, in general, likely to do). Moreover, such interplay involves more than general understanding; each animal must also form expectations about what theircurrentadversary, as a token of a more general type, is doing or is about to...

  9. 4 Imaginative Extensions
    (pp. 65-86)

    It might be conceded without too much contest that indexically inspired ACRs are sufficient for explaining the online behavioral antics of simple organisms, such as ants and bees. Still, it might be doubted that the same explanatory strategy can be extended successfully to more sophisticated nonverbal responding. Picking up on this thought, Bermúdez lays down an important challenge to supporters of what he calls “minimalist” approaches. Minimalists—like myself—hold that

    nonlinguistic thinking does not involve propositional attitudes—and,a fortiori, psychological explanation at the nonlinguistic level is not a variant of belief-desire psychology…. It is not, according to the...

  10. 5 Linguistic Transformations
    (pp. 87-100)

    For a creature to have an attitude directed at a proposition (and not just a worldly offering)—for it to apprehend a state of affairs intensionally, so to speak—it must have the capacity to direct its attention at that state of affairs via structured vehicles of thought of some appropriate sort. Paradigmatically, the public sentences of natural language or those of alingua mentisare such vehicles.

    Traditionally, the having of propositional attitudes is analyzed as instantiating a three-place relation; thinkers stand in relation to sentences of some kind and this, in turn, is what allows them to adopt...

  11. 6 Unprincipled Embodied Engagements
    (pp. 101-128)

    The detour taken in the past three chapters was necessary in order to clarify the important distinction between intentional attitudes and propositional attitudes. With it in hand, it will be possible to say how children eventually acquire their first understanding of propositional attitude terms and what form it takes. My claim is that this must wait for the mastery of certain complex linguistic forms and that it builds on a natural sensitivity to the intentional attitudes of others as well as on a growing capacity to respond to these attitudes in complex ways in face-to-face encounters. It is therefore important...

  12. 7 Getting a Grip on the Attitudes
    (pp. 129-142)

    Having a grasp of the core propositional attitudes is indisputably a non-negotiable attribute of practicing folk psychologists. The NPH makes no offer to explain how children come into possession of such understanding prior to their acquisition of folk psychological skills. It simply assumes that the basic components needed for playing the understanding-reasons game are mastered in advance. This claim is surely in good empirical standing; the evidence suggests that knowledge of the attitudes is acquired in a punctuated way during early childhood. Three major moments have been identified:

    Children’s understanding progresses through at least three phases: an early desire psychology,...

  13. 8 No Native Mentalizers
    (pp. 143-162)

    The idea that our successful everyday navigation of the social world depends on third-person mindreading capacities is extremely popular. It is generally supposed that the latter are constantly but quietly at work, normally unnoticed and behind the scenes, as it were, and that they are responsible for our successful daily dealings with others. As discussed in the first chapter, to date the big issue has not been whether mindreading of this kind happens, only how it is carried off. Do we make use of a built-in theory or simulative procedures that manipulate our own cognitive mechanisms directly?

    So far, I...

  14. 9 No Childʹs Science
    (pp. 163-178)

    At its core, scientific theory theory (or STT) holds that folk psychology is the result of explicit scientific theorizing on the part of preschoolers—that is, that our mature ToM is in fact the hard-won product of sustained observation, statistical analysis, experimental trial and error, and learning from others (Gopnik 2004, 2003; Gopnik and Meltzoff 1997; Gopnik and Wellman 1992). In particular, the concept of belief is thought to be constructed by each child, individually, during ontogeny—reliably it “appears to be constructed between 3 and 4” (Gopink 1993, 332). In promoting this idea, STT therefore avoids the sorts of...

  15. 10 Three Motivations and a Challenge
    (pp. 179-198)

    For all that has been said, it is likely that some readers may still be inclined to believe in the existence of inherited mindreading devices (IMDs), positing these in order to fulfill certain perceived explanatory needs. And it might be thought, for example, that this idea could be combined with a softer variant of the NPH, according to which encounters with folk psychological narratives are needed, but only to put the finishing touches on our capacity to understand intentional action in terms of reasons, not as abasisfor it.

    Yet, before considering whether such a combination is even possible...

  16. 11 First Communions
    (pp. 199-228)

    The existence of chimpanzee ToM abilities was once a very hot topic of debate. As early as 1978 Premack and Woodruff asked, in a paper by the same name, “Does the chimpanzee have a theory of mind?” Of all the primates, it was initially thought that chimps alone engage in acts of genuine tactical deception.¹ It was thought that if this could be established then it would have settled the matter; to deceive with intent apparently involves representing the beliefs, desires, and intentions of others—implying that chimpanzees have the capacity for metarepresentational intentional attribution. For true intentional deception calls...

  17. 12 Ultimate Origins and Creation Myths
    (pp. 229-248)

    When thinking about the prehistoric origins of folk psychology, it is important to realize that our hominid ancestors (with the possible exception of the early humans) were without the resources of a grammatically complex language. For this reason I hold that they would have been unable to act for reasons of their own and equally without the ability to interpret their compatriots as having done so. They lacked facility with sophisticated public languages with a compositional semantics that would have been needed for having and representing such complex states of mind.

    In a nutshell, the hominids would have lacked the...

  18. Notes
    (pp. 249-290)
  19. References
    (pp. 291-328)
  20. Index
    (pp. 329-344)