Stephen Stich (born May 9, 1943) is a professor of Philosophy and Cognitive Scientist at Rutgers University, as well as an Honorary Professor in Philosophy at the University of Sheffield. Stich’s main philosophical interests are in the philosophy of mind, cognitive science, epistemology, and moral psychology. His 1983 book, From Folk Psychology to Cognitive Science: The Case Against Belief, received much attention as he argued for a form of eliminative materialism about the mind. He changed his mind, in later years, as indicated in his 1996 book Deconstructing the Mind.
1. Deconstructing a Deconstruction: A Preview of Coming Attractions
Developing and defending a philosophical position is a bit like weaving an intricate piece of fabric. When things go well each strand of the argument adds strength and support to the others, and gradually interesting patterns begin to emerge. But when things go poorly – when one of the strands breaks – it sometimes happens that the entire fabric begins to unravel. A little gap becomes a big gap and soon there is nothing left at all.
This book is about the unraveling of a philosophical position. In some of the chapters, including this one, I’ll tell the tale in the first person, since the position that came unraveled was my position, or at least one that I was seriously tempted to endorse. Though it was not mine alone, of course. Several very distinguished philosophers, including Quine, Rorty and Feyerabend, had advanced versions of the view while I was still wearing philosophical knee pants, and a number of well known philosophers continue to advocate the position with considerable passion. The doctrine in question is sometimes called eliminative materialism, though more often it’s just called eliminativism. And whatever one thinks of the merits of the view, there can be little doubt that its central thesis is provocative and flamboyant. In its strongest form, what eliminativism claims is that beliefs, desires and many of the other mental states that we allude to in predicting, explaining and describing each other do not exist. Like witches, phlogiston, and caloric fluid, or perhaps like the gods of ancient religions, these mental states are the fictional posits of a badly mistaken theory._