Argumenta – Journal of Analytic Philosophy

Is Psychologism Unavoidable in a Phenomenologically Adequate Account of Mental Content?

Topics: Cognitive science, Epistemology, Philosophy of mind
Keywords: cognitive phenomenology, Concepts, Intentional psychologism, Mental content, objectivity, Phenomenal intentionality


In my paper I focus on psychologism in the theory of mental content and critically consider a variety of it—“intentional psychologism” (Pitt 2009)—that has recently entered the stage in the philosophy of mind literature. My aim is twofold. First, I want to provide a critical evaluation of this new variety of psychologism, considering in particular whether it is immune from (some of) the most famous classical criticisms. Secondly, I want to provide a diagnosis of what ultimately motivates the current revival of the “psychologistic attitude”. My aim in so doing is to consider whether such a motivation ought to be taken on board by any account of mental content that aspires to be phenomenologically adequate, and, in the positive case, to assess whether psychologism is ultimately the best option to adopt for this purpose. I conclude by claiming that psychologism can be resisted without compromising the phenomenological adequacy of one’s account of mental content provided one is willing to ascribe to the subjective aspects of our mental life a more prominent role than the one given to them by the traditional anti-psychologist picture.

The fight against so-called psychologism is a leitmotiv of early twentieth-century philosophy, not only within the analytic tradition, but also in the phenomenological one. Many philosophers, from Frege, Husserl, Wittgenstein (just to mention a few), condemned psychologism as a pernicious and deleterious mistake with severe and unbearable consequences in many different subject areas. The arguments that those philosophers put forward looked so devastating that the impression one would have reported in the middle of the last century was that the battle was over (score: 1 to 0 for the “anti-psychologistic team”) and that the adversaries were dead and buried. And yet such an impression proved to be wrong. Not only psychologism, like the phoenix, raised again from…


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