Donnerstag, 19. April 2018, 17:00 - 18:30 iCal

Should we be eliminativists about empathy?

Talk of Riana Betzler, PhD (Konrad Lorenz Institute for Evolution and Cognition Research)

Fakultät für Psychologie, Hörsaal G, 2. Stock (linke Stiege)
Liebigasse 5, 1010 Wien


Eliminativist approaches traditionally contend that some entities, such as “belief ” or “consciousness,” do not exist. The philosopher of neuroscience Paul Churchland expresses this view well: “Eliminative materialism is the thesis that our commonsense conception of psychological phenomena constitutes a radically false theory, a theory so fundamentally defective that both the principles and the ontology of that theory will eventually be displaced, rather than smoothly reduced, by completed

neuroscience” (1981, p. 67). Traditional eliminativist views such as this one take as their target not only a particular scientific framework or concept but also the concept as it is used more widely in general discourse. In short, it advocates getting rid of concepts or frameworks that are false or empty. These traditional eliminativist views face several critiques. Some critics express general skepticism about whether it is possible or desirable to get rid of commonsense notions like “belief,” “desire,” or even “memory.” Others question the meaning of “completed neuroscience.” And others raise highly technical critiques related to the issue of reference in the philosophy of language.

Recently a more circumscribed form of eliminativism has been put forward in the philosophy of science: “scientific eliminativism.” Scientific eliminativism holds that a theoretical predicate (e.g., “concept”) should be eliminated from the theoretical vocabulary of a science (e.g., psychology) because it fails to refer to a natural kind. In other words, certain theoretical terms should be removed from our scientific discourse, but we should remain agnostic about the continued use of those terms in our everyday language. This view overcomes many of the traditional critiques of eliminativism and seems vastly more plausible. However, there remain reasons to be skeptical about the prospects of scientific eliminativism, which can be seen especially clearly by looking to the case of empathy research. In this talk, I begin by providing an introduction to the philosophical literature on eliminativism—both traditional and scientific—aimed at practicing psychologists and neuroscientists. I then consider what it might mean to be an eliminativist in the case of “empathy.” What kinds of consequences would eliminating “empathy” have for scientific research? In this section of the talk, I focus on the vastly more plausible “scientific eliminativism.” I conclude that while eliminating the concept of “empathy” might make research processes simpler and smoother, there remain several good reasons not to be eliminativists about empathy. Overall, my talk aims to bring philosophy of science into discourse with psychology and neuroscience.




Institut für Psychologische Grundlagenforschung und Forschungsmethoden (SCAN Unit)


Abla Marie-Jose Bedi
Institut für Psycholgogische Grundlagenforschung und Forschungsmethoden