In Defense of Folk Psychology

The use of folk psychology has been practiced by people since civilization. However, the psychology has not found its rightful place in the academic circles since many scholars differ on its applicability using scientific methods. Invariably, discussions on folk psychology has revolved around the terms, belief and desire and in the process overshadowed other terms that could lead to better understanding and even applicability of the field to everyday life. This paper is an argument in the favor of folk psychology as an important part of academic fields that has to be developed like any other field.

The Issue

The recent past has seen increased debate on the issue of folk psychology among philosophers and developmental psychologists. However, there is a strong feeling among the scholars that folk psychology is not well-anchored in the literature and academic circles. This is based on the fact that the discipline has continued to elicit mixed reactions among the scholars. Arguments have been advanced for and against the development of folk psychology in regard to the applicability and use in the psychology. Evidently, the confusion engulfing folk psychology has been extrapolated by the folk psychology scholars themselves as they continue to argue for and against folk psychology. My purpose for this essay is to show that folk psychology is significant in contributions to the scientific study.

Method and Presuppositions

In the study of folk psychology, there has always been the question to enquire the extent to which scientific approaches can protect commonsense as the foundation of folk psychology (Baron-Cohen, Tager-Flusberg, & Cohen, 7). The most obvious and immediate answer has always been that the scientific understanding of commonsense has precipitated the exemption of folk psychology as scientifically sound study.

The current understanding of what constitutes folk psychology underlines the work that was done by the first philosophers who theorized about the field. As time elapses and more philosophers and academicians become interested in the field, folk psychology has continued to gather various names with some suggesting that folk psychology is actually cognitive psychology. Those who hold such views opines that folk psychology should be dropped, as it is now swallowed up by more scientific psychology fields, owing to their experiment ability and measurability of what is constituted as evidences.

On the one side of this argument there are those scholars, like Fodor and Dretske, who argue that the justification of folk psychology as a science will be done by the science itself (Baron-Cohen, Tager-Flusberg, & Cohen, 7).  In other words, their argument is founded on the fact that folk psychology itself contains inherent elements that make it a science even if those elements are not clear to a layman observer.

On the other hand, there are eliminate materialists, like Churchland and Stich, who argue that the empiricism of folk psychology  makes it susceptible to replacement by a more scientific approach to the understanding of human behavior with far more better conceptual resources. The proceeding arguments have been that, just like folk biology has been shelved as it lacks scientific evidences to back it up.  As such, Baron-Cohen, Tager-Flusberg, & Cohen (7) observed that calls have been upfront abandoned folk psychology in favor of more scientifically oriented theories. This, therefore, forms the basis on which there have been increased calls that to abandon folk psychology as science will not justify the continued application of folk psychology.

In order to show that folk psychology is significant in the contribution to scientific study, I will attempt to show that folk psychology encompasses items and models that can lead to measurements and experiments to prove assertions. I also intend to show that folk psychology is a wide area and the perceived similar branches are simply nothing, but branches of the larger folk psychology. Finally, I intend to show that the current controversy on the applicability of folk psychology in scientific study is simply a result of terminological misunderstandings between philosophers and developmental psychologists. I presuppose that Baron-Cohen, Tager-Flusberg, & Cohen (7) rightfully identified the necessary and relevant conditions that must be met by an area of study, like folk psychology, before becoming a scientific area of study.

The Text’s Argument

According to Cooney (3), folk psychology is hinged on the three pillars that determine its applicability in the understanding of human behaviors. One of the three pillars is that folk psychology is a set of practices that are common to human practices. The second pillar is that folk psychology itself accounts for what initiates human being to engage in certain practices at a given time. And the final pillar is that underlies the ability to engage those activities and practically account for their occurrences. Cooney (3) claims that a scientifically sound branch of study involves experiment and measurements that can be quantified to bring about concrete evidences that show that something is tangible. Many people view a scientific study to be viable and feasible when the evident produced has undergone through an agreed process and mechanism that makes its findings absolute and that is beyond any challenge. Folk psychology is, therefore, considered only as the everyday way of understanding people without any input from the person that seeks to understand the other.

Thus, for Cooney (4) folk psychology only consists of predicates that help people to understand the human behavior without paying attention on how they get to conceive and process that information. The act of understanding human behavior, therefore, is placed in the mind of the people as it can only be conceived by the person, who is seeking to understand, but not the one, who seeks to understand why the other person understands.

As argued by Baron-Cohen, Tager-Flusberg, & Cohen (7), the study of folk psychology does not depend on whether the human practices are determined by the human engagement or what comes between the practices.  This is because the two are always intertwined as philosophers in folk psychology continues to invariably refer to it as to commonsense and use the similar and almost primary terms of beliefs, desires, and propositional attitudes. The challenge in this case is the lack of delimitation of the human practices that folk psychology seeks to bring to light the issue of folk psychology in the scientific terms.

Ultimately, the argument that Baron-Cohen, Tager-Flusberg, & Cohen (7) advanced is that folk psychology does not present any evidence, whether real or assumed, that can make it to qualify as a scientific study of the human behavior. However, in my opinion the conception of folk psychology as a science is inherently presented in the methods and models that have been developed and that can be subjected to analysis in order to come up with absolute observations of an analysis.

Analysis of the Text’s Argument

In relation to the above claims, it is necessary, therefore, to present the argument that shows that the reasons given for the exclusion of folk psychology as a science are only limited to the extent argued by Cooney (3).  Evidently, folk psychology presents a number of empirical and theoretical foundations that makes it more science than even some of the well established sciences known to scholars. First, folk psychology encompasses elements that can be subject to measurement and experiment. Apparently, these are the main instruments that are used to determine whether something can be explained in scientific terms or not. To claim that understanding of human behavior presents the hard question has to be myopic and limited in scope.

Several philosophers have explored ways through which human beings conceive behavior and feelings thus enabling the description of such behavior and personality in terms that can be comprehended by them. What follows is that, in order to qualify as a scientifically agreeable behavior of description and understanding, there is the element of universality that has to be accomplished before the behavior or action can be accepted. One of the main factors of the evidences that science presents is that the facts about the evidence remains constant, no matter where the evidence is present on the world.

For instance, no matter where one is standing or dwelling, the human blood will always consists of common blood elements of red cells, white blood cells, and plasma. This can be scientifically proved through experiments. There is thus the claim that it is difficult to quantify the beliefs and desires of people across the world as they vary from one society to the other. However, the one thing that seems to be universal, therefore, does not need to be subjected to the conventional scientific methods for it to be qualified as a scientific element. This is another reason why the science of folk psychology is inherently contained in the understanding and interpretation that people attach to the practice in question.

A lot of that is known to constitute folk psychology today is based on the different interpretations of folk psychology depending on the biasness of the person interpreting it. Generally, folk psychology has come to be associated with the reading of mind. This act can take place without the need to subject the process of reading or the final analysis that comes around because of the act of reading to scientific standards. The argument by Cooney (3) that folk psychology fails to meet the scientific threshold on this ground does not suffice because science, being a field of study just like sociology or art, does not set the rules itself. Therefore, as a matter of fact, folk psychology as has already been indicated presents inherent acumen that when looked objectively can go beyond the expectation of science.

The current arguments as to whether folk psychology should be abandoned in favor of more scientifically proven studies, like cognitive psychology, is founded on the multi-faceted nature of folk psychology as an area of study. To my mind, this causes the view that folk psychology is messy and cannot stand the classification and qualification that defines an area of science. Some of the confusions even by notable scholars are based on the fact that each society seems to attach different interpretation of the same human behavior and, therefore, making it difficult to measure and to qualify that behavior through scientific methods.  For instance, folk psychology is often used to refer to the cognitive capabilities even though this one is a different kind of psychology that can stand on its own.

The other misconception of folk psychology is the persistent reference of the area to a theory of human behavior that only exists in the minds of people and never accepts to be put to scrutiny as doing that also amounts to engaging in folk psychology. This has led to the area being referred to as the theory-theory, thus begging the hard question. Cooney (7) claimed that hard question is in fact the most difficult question to inquire about as it will amount to engaging in folk psychology; which itself is still being understood.

The third view about folk psychology is based on the assumption that the psychological theory that defines folk psychology hinges on the platitudes about the ordinary people; meaning that what is conceived in folk psychology is something ordinary which does not guarantee any scientific analysis. The argument by Stich (19), therefore, shows that something that is ordinary and common within a society does not necessarily need to be subjected to analysis to ascertain whether it is true or not. A agree with Stich (20), who further argues that the fact that interpretations and meanings to human behavior have been around for ages and have not changed over a long period shows that folk psychology is built with blocks that can withstand the test of time.

Constancy of facts is important in understanding how science continues to revolutionalize the world. For instance, no matter how many years are going to pass, it is expected that Einstein’s famous energy formula is going to remain the same because it will not be affected by the passing of time.  The same thing can be said about human behavior and practices in which folk psychology is interested. The act of believing and desiring, for example, will remain a part of human behavior as long as man continues to exist and there can be no time when it can be said that man has abandoned belief or desire.

Further, I argue that folk psychology constitutes a number of positions that has precipitated the current debate on whether it qualifies as a scientific study worth looking at or not. Generally, the sub-branches of folk psychology themselves like physics, biology, and more recently cognitive psychology have found their stand in the area of science and are proving each day more scientifically oriented that the traditional areas of study in science. The catch here is to prove whether those sub-branches are actually sub-branches of folk psychology. There are a number of challenges that may come about when trying to prove that cognitive psychology is a branch of folk psychology but not the other way round.

On this issue I personally believe that there is need to approach the subject in an open manner with a view of grasping the difference between the two but not from a point that seeks to show that, in fact, the two are not the same and do not relate. This will be a bipartisan approach as the analyst will be doing the analysis with an already premeditated answer in mind. Ultimately, this is going to influence the way things are going to not only be interpreted but also assigned meaning through folk psychology. This, therefore, means that any attempt to vindicate folk psychology as a science has to be done objectively and avoid any form of biased and prejudicial judgments.

Nevertheless, I am aware of the limitations of folk psychology for its continued instance on the unquantifiable elements that informs its foundations and continued reliance of such elements like belief and desire. The critics of my approach of defending folk psychology may argue that after all is analyzed and brought to conclusion, folk psychology fails to produce the final evidence that someone is believing or desiring something in his/her mind. The only answer to such claims might be that science has no premise to continue insisting on the empirical evidences for an area which play field is in the mind of a human being.

While the play ground for a number of the sub-branches have been moving towards the laboratory, folk psychology continues to insist on remaining in the mind arguing that that is the only place where it can be objectively studied. Still, this construction does fail to produce enough evidence to warrant the declaration of folk psychology as a scientifically sound area of study that also deserves to be applied in the everyday solution to human challenges. However, it is among the mostly practiced areas in a human life as each activity is predicated by the foundations of folk psychology in the one form or the other.


The argument is the above analysis that is claimed by some philosophers in the area of psychology that have called to abandonment of folk psychology because it is not scientifically sound and has been overtaken by other similar areas, like cognitive psychology. The analysis provided emphasizes that folk psychology is a growing area of psychology that inherently constitutes scientific proofs that defines the way someone interprets and assigns means to different human behaviors and practices. The analysis of the text has revealed that folk psychology is, in fact, the large umbrella for the more recent psychologies that claim to be more scientifically proven than folk psychology. An interesting argument in this case is that if the more recent psychologies are, in fact, sub-branches of folk psychology, then it follows that folk psychology is more scientifically proven through its sub-branches, thus making it one of the most significant and scientifically proven area of study in psychology.

However, this claim goes to the extent that the supporters of scientific evidence as a condition for scientific study are willing to abandon this claim since the end of the day, folk psychology is still in the mind and trying to understand that it also amounts to engaging in folk psychology again. This realization, therefore, makes my argument for the contribution and significance of folk psychology as a science to be limited as it fails to produce concrete evidence to quantify and qualify it as a scientifically sound area of study. Generally, the defense of folk psychology as a science only needs to take an objective angle if important and constructive advances are to be deduced to promote the development of folk psychology by psychologists.