Paul Bloom on the Psychology of Philosophy

Thanks for the interesting comments on my post on the psychology of philosophy, in which I asked whether some philosophers’ resistance to naturalism might be due to extra-rational psychological factors.

In addition to those who posted, Blake Myers emailed me pointing out that much of
Paul Bloom’s work (the Yale psychologist) recent work is relevant here.  Bloom argues on empirical grounds that we are all natural born dualists, and because of this, we are naturally inclined to resist materialism.  A short, popular essay on this by Bloom is here.  A list of relevant publications, with links to the articles, is here.

Also, two clarifications:

1. The issues of whether universals exist or whether Platonism in mathematics is true (which were raised in the comments) are orthogonal to what I was talking about.  What I had in mind was the question of whether science can understand and explain the mind.  Many philosophers resist this conclusion, and it seems to me that they often do so without good reasons and without seriously considering what psychologists and neuroscientists do.

2. I didn’t mean to presuppose that naturalism or materialism are true.  The question is whether attitudes towards them correlate with, and might be partily explained by, extra-rational psychological factors.  Bloom, for one, argues that they do (though for reasons different than the one I was considering).  That being said, I am personally bothered by biases against naturalism and materialism, of which I have encountered plenty.


  1. noname

    S0, what about the biases towards philosophical positions that do not endorse materialism? Not all of them are crazy and infantile. Furthermore, it isn’t exactly clear to me what materialism entails (i.e., is materialism theoretically equivalent to physicalism? Does physicalism necessarily exclude phenomenal/ mental/ psychological properties as irreducible properties or does it merely hold that the ontology is to be determined by a completed physics which may or may not include phenomenal/ mental/ psychological properties as irreducible properties?) Also, It seems that naturalism is often treated as on par with and enatiling a materialist metaphysics- why is this the case? There doesn’t seem to be anything inherently non-naturalistic about various panpsychist, property dualist, or plain old substance dualist positions. This isn’t to suggest that all positiosn stand on equal ground, but it seems that the bias within the philosophical community runs counter to the biases of the folk, which are, no doubt, influenced by factors that Bloom discusses.

  2. Ken

    Incidentally, Bloom will be the President’s Invited Speaker at the Southern Society for Philosophy and Psychology in April 2009. I’m the Pres and Gualtiero is program chair for this meeting.

  3. Professor Benoit Hardy-Valle has an entry in his blog (Natural Rationality) about the influence of cultural factors on cogntive styles and rpocesess that show resemblance to the psychology of philosophy approach.

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