Presumptuous naturalism : a cautionary tale
Concentrating on their treatment of folk psychology, this paper seeks to establish that, in the form advocated by its leading proponents, the Canberra project is presumptuous in certain key respects. Crucially, it presumes (1) that our everyday practices entail the existence of implicit folk theories; (2) that naturalists ought to be interested primarily in what such theories say; and (3) that the core content of such theories is adequately characterized by establishing what everyone finds intuitively obvious about the topics in question. I argue these presumptions are a bad starting point for any naturalistic project and, more specifically, that in framing things in this way proponents of the Canberra plan have led us unnecessarily into philosophical quagmires. The fundamental error is to suppose that our conceptual investigations ought to target (A) what the folk ‘find obvious’ about a given domain (which is putatively revelatory of a shared implicit theory) instead of (B) attending to what the folk do when competently deploying their concepts in dealing with that domain. Only the latter reveals the folk commitments. Focusing on what the folk find obvious, as Canberra planners claim to do, generates a host of methodological difficulties that are best avoided. Much worse than this, trying to identify what is ‘intuitively known by all’ typically results in contaminated pictures, of the genuine commitments of the folk, hogging our attention.