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Philosophy of Psychology: Folk Psychology


Admission requirements

Admission to one of the following programmes is required:

  • MA Philosophy 120 EC, specialisation Philosophy of Psychology

  • MA Philosophy 60 EC: specialisation Philosophy of Knowledge


Folk psychology is our everyday tool for describing, organizing, and communicating our states of mind: a conceptual framework on which we are collectively dependent for identifying mental processes and episodes, states and attributes, faculties and competencies. As it determines our self-image as conscious, intentional agents, folk psychology has close connections to the cognitive sciences, as well as to other fields of inquiry such as law, social sciences and humanities.

The nature of folk psychology has been debated in a number of different contexts for more than a century, starting with Wundt’s Völkerpsychologie (1900-1920) and continued after Word War II by Sellars (Myth of Jones), Rorty and Churchland (eliminative materialism), Premack and Woodruff (primatology), Baron-Cohen (developmental psychology), Dennett (intentional stance), Zawidzki (mindshaping), and many others.

In this seminar we review the main issues and stages in these debates. Topics will include the role of folk psychology in constraining cognitive science, in enabling social cognition (mindreading), metacognitive competencies (mindshaping) and social organization (regulative practice), as well as the cultural variability of folk psychology (contingency of mind).

Course objectives

This course aims to give students advanced knowledge of the development of debates about the nature of folk psychology in philosophy of mind, psychology and cognitive science from the 1960s to the present day.

Students who successfully complete the course will have a good understanding of:

  • folk psychology in the context of social cognition (mindreading);

  • folk psychology in the context of metacognitive competencies (mindshaping;

  • folk psychology in the context of social organization (regulative practice);

  • cultural bias and cultural variability of folk psychology.

Students who successfully complete the course will be able to:

  • use philosophical sources, find and digest information, and review philosophical literature;

  • give and oral and written presentation of philosophical argument;

  • write a clear argumentative essay about a topic covered in the seminar.


Visit MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminars

Class attendance is required.

Assessment method


  • Paper (50%)

  • Oral presentation (30%)

  • Class discussions (10%)

  • Paper proposal, midterm assignment (10%)


The final mark for the course is the weighted average of the several subtests (see above).


A resit is offered for the final paper (50%). It has the same form as the original paper assignment. The grades for other exam components remain in place.
Students who have obtained a satisfactory grade for the course cannot take the resit.

Inspection and feedback

Exam reviews will be offered on individual appointment.

Reading list

Required readings include:

  • Churchland, P.M. (1991), Folk psychology and the explanation of human behavior. In: J.D. Greenwood (Ed.), The Future of Folk Psychology: Intentionality and Cognitive Science. Cambridge, 1991: Cambridge University Press, pp. 37-52.

  • Henrich, J., Heine, S.J., & Norenzayan, A. (2010), The weirdest people in the world? Behavioral and Brain Sciences 33(2-3), pp. 61-83.

  • Rorty, The myth of the Antipodeans. In: Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

  • Sleutels, J. (2013), Fringe mind strategies. AVANT 4(2), pp. 59-80.

  • Strijbos, D., & de Bruin, L. (2015), Self-interpretation as first-person mindshaping: Implications for confabulation research. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 18, pp. 297-307.

  • Wilkinson, M.R. (2014), Against a normative view of folk psychology. Frontiers in Psychology / Cognitive Science 5: 598.

  • Zawidzki, T.W. (2008), Folk psychology: mind reading or mind shaping? Philosophical Explorations 11(3), pp. 193-210.

  • Further required readings will be made available through Brightspace.

Recommended readings:

  • Baron-Cohen, S., et al. (1985), Does the autistic child have a theory of mind? Cognition 21, pp. 37-46.

  • Churchland, P.M. (1979), Scientific Realism and the Plasticity of Mind. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Churchland, P.M. (1981), Eliminative materialism and the propositional attitudes. Journal of Philosophy 78(2), pp. 67-90.

  • Dennett, D.C. (1987), The Intentional Stance. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

  • Premack, D, & Woodruff, G (1978), Does the chimpanzee have a Theory of Mind? Behavioral and Brain Sciences 1(4), pp. 515-526.

  • Ryle, G. (1949), The Concept of Mind. London: Hutchinson.

  • Sellars, W. (1963), Empiricism and the philosophy of mind. In: Science, Perception and Reality. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available on the website

Students are strongly advised to register in uSis through the activity number, which can be found in the timetables for courses and exams.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


Dr. J.J.M. Sleutels


Not applicable.