Foundations Of Cognitive Science

Eliminative Materialism

In his analysis that led to dualism, Descartes (1637, 1641) could imagine the separation of mind and body, and the existence of the mind independent of the body.  Materialism, a position held by most modern cognitive sciences, agrees that there is a difference between mind and body – in the sense that, for example, a cognitive or computational vocabulary can capture generalizations that are not captured by the physical (e.g. Marr, 1982; Pylyshyn, 1984) – but conclude (against dualism) that the body (the brain) causes the mind.  Eliminative materialism, most frequently associated with the work of philosopher Paul Churchland (e.g. 1985, 1988, 1992) is a radical alternative to both dualism and the materialism of cognitive science.  According to eliminative materialism, the mind is not separate from the body, nor is it caused by the body.  Instead, it is a language that we use to predict the behavior of others because we don’t know enough details about underlying physical causes.  That is, the mind is a convenient fiction.  As we learn enough about the true cause of behavior – neural processing – we will replace our folk psychology with a biological vocabulary.  Mental state terms – such as those found in semantic, computational, and cognitive vocabularies – will be completely eliminated from cognitive science.


  1. Churchland, P. M. (1985). Reduction, qualia, and the direct introspection of brain states. The Journal of Philosophy, LXXXII, 8-28.
  2. Churchland, P. M. (1988). Matter and consciousness, Revised edition. Cambridge, MA: MIT press.
  3. Churchland, P. M. (1992). A neurocomputational perspective:  The nature of mind and the structure of science. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  4. Descartes, R. (1637/1960). Discourse On Method And Meditations. Indianapolis, IN: Bobbs-Merrill.
  5. Descartes, R. (1641/1996). Meditations On First Philosophy (Rev. ed.). New York: Cambridge University Press.
  6. Marr, D. (1982). Vision. San Francisco, Ca.: W.H. Freeman.
  7. Pylyshyn, Z. W. (1984). Computation And Cognition. Cambridge, MA.: MIT Press.

(Added September 2010)