Folk psychology, as theory

Daniel Hutto, Ian Ravenscroft

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Folk psychology is a name traditionally used to denote our everyday way of understanding, or rationalizing, intentional actions in mentalistic terms. This quotidian competence is known by other names in the philosophical literature: commonsense psychology; naïve psychology; Homo sapiens psychology; the person theory of humans; the intentional stance; propositional attitude psychology; belief-desire psychology (see, e.g., Churchland 1979; Dennett 1987; Goldman 2006; Bogdan 2009). As some entries on this list suggest, folk psychology can be conceived of in wider or more narrow terms, picking out different extensions accordingly.

There is great interest in folk psychology not only because of its status as a familiar way of making sense of our actions and those of others but also because it is thought to underwrite a range of moral, legal, educational, clinical, and therapeutic practices (Fodor 1987; Baker 1988). For this reason, a great deal of work in analytic philosophy has been devoted to better understanding folk psychology and its cognitive basis.

This entry reviews reasons for and against thinking that folk psychological competence entails or is best explained by having some kind of theory of mind—a view known as theory theory.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
EditorsEdward N. Zalta
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2021

Bibliographical note

First published Mon Sep 22, 1997; substantive revision Thu Jul 1, 2021.


  • Animal cognition
  • Belief
  • Folk psychology
  • Functionalism
  • Lewis, David
  • Materialism
  • Mental representation
  • Neuroscience, philosophy of
  • Sellars, Wilfrid


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