CFP: Pluralistic Approaches to Folk Psychology

Special Issue of Synthese: “Folk Psychology: Pluralistic Approaches”

Volume editors: Evan Westra (Toronto), Kristin Andrews (York), and Shannon Spaulding (Oklahoma State).

Deadline: May 15th, 2019.

Traditionally, ‘folk psychology’ has been understood to mean the ordinary practice of predicting, explaining, and interpreting behavior through attributions of beliefs, desires, and other propositional attitudes. This “belief-desire” model of folk psychology has dominated philosophers’ and cognitive scientists’ thinking about social cognition for decades, most notably in the debate about the theory-theory and simulation theory of mindreading, and the decades-long dispute about how to interpret children’s performance on the false-belief task. However, a growing number of philosophers (e.g. Andrews 2012, Zawidzki 2013, Spaulding 2018) have argued that the traditional model needs to be revised, and that there is much more to our folk understanding of other agents and their actions than is contained within traditional belief-desire models. This “pluralistic” approach to folk psychology can be broken down into two key claims:

1)    There is more to the predicting and explaining behavior than propositional attitude attribution. People invoke a wide range of representations and concepts to predict and explain behavior, in addition to belief-desire reasoning. These include situation schemas and scripts, teleological states, behavioral generalizations, factive mental states, narratives, stereotypes, and character trait attributions, to name just a few (Andrews 2012, Nagel 2017, Maibom 2007). Some authors working in the pluralist tradition have argued that such strategies support the majority of our behavioral predictions, and that attributions of beliefs and desires play only a minimal role in our everyday social understanding (Bermudez 2003). Others have argued that these pluralistic strategies complement belief-desire reasoning, but still hold that the latter plays a central role in everyday social cognition (Spaulding 2018; Westra 2018). Thus, it is a matter of some disagreement whether pluralism represents an extension of the traditional model, or a radical departure from it.

2)    There is more to propositional attitude attribution than prediction and explanation. Attributions of propositional attitudes are not just about describing the causal forces inside a person’s head. They also support systems of rational and moral norms that allow human beings to collectively regulate each other’s actions (McGeer 2007). According to this “regulative” or “mindshaping” hypothesis (Zawidzki 2013), people use mental-state attributions to generate normative standards for how people ought to behave. Citing a person’s attitudes allows us to situate them in a normative framework in which they can be praised and blamed, and in which they can provide rational justifications for their actions. This framework ultimately pressures people to behave in normatively appropriate ways, which in turn causes them to become more predictable. The extent of these mindshaping practices, how they are applied in different contexts, and how they integrate with other folk-psychological strategies, are all ripe topics for further exploration.

The aim of this special issue is to bring together a collection of new proposals about folk psychology that fall under the pluralistic umbrella, and to encourage critical engagement with the pluralist approach. We invite submissions on the following topics

·      Novel proposals about alternative folk psychological strategies and concepts for predicting and interpreting behavior

·      The relationship between pluralist and belief-desire-based strategies for behavioral prediction and explanation

·      Pluralism in developmental and comparative models of social cognition

·      Pluralistic and regulative models of metacognition

·      Cultural differences in folk psychological concepts and practices

·      Critical engagement with existing pluralist proposals

·      The normative and regulative functions of folk psychological attributions

Empirically oriented articles are welcome, but are expected to substantially engage with philosophical topics.

For further information, please contact the leading guest editor Evan Westra:

Papers should be submitted via the editorial manager at by the deadline of May 15th.

When the system asks you to “Choose Article Type”, please scroll down in the pull-down menu to “S.I. Folk Psychology: Pluralistic Approaches”.

Before submitting your paper, be sure to carefully read the journal’s ‘Instructions for Authors’ page at

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