Collapse Volume II, 207–234


Demons Get Out! (Interview)


From his first significant publication in 1970 to the forthcoming Neurophilosophy at Work, Paul Churchland has established a reputation as a brilliantly iconoclastic philosopher of mind and science. Along with his wife and frequent collaborator Patricia, Churchland remains the most (in)famous proponent of ‘eliminative materialism’, whose canonical formulation opens a seminal paper from 1981:

Eliminative materialism is the thesis that our commonsense conception of psychological phenomena constitutes a radically false theory, a theory so fundamentally defective that both the principles and the ontology of that theory will eventually be displaced, rather than smoothly reduced by, completed neuroscience.

Although this radical claim has certainly tended to provoke consternation among philosophers who have sought to integrate commonsense or ‘folk’ psychology into the ambit of natural science, the stakes of the eliminativist hypothesis evidently transcend the niceties of academic philosophy, with professional philosophers of mind moved to depict the promised ‘elimination’ in apocalyptic terms (‘[it] would be, beyond comparison, the greatest intellectual catastrophe in the history of the species’). For Churchland proposes nothing short of a cultural revolution: the reconstruction of our phenomenological self-image in light of a new scientific discourse. In the following conversation Churchland reemphasises his commitment to eliminative materialism, exploring its broad consequences for science and philosophy, and remarking upon key research outcomes and philosophical problems which have influenced its development.…