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Type identity physicalism says mental states are identical with brain states. Eliminativism on the other hand states that mental states don't exist at all.

Isn't this just a word game? Does it really matter whether we say "Super-Man is identical to Clark Kent" or whether we say "Super-Man doesn't really exist, only Clark Kent does"?

In particular why does it make an operational difference at all for someone trying to answer mind-body questions?

Even if all mental states reduced completely to brain states, it is still very useful to speak of them as a higher level of description, in the way chemistry is still very useful even though it reduces to physics. Isn't Eliminativists dismissal of mental states and psychology kind of dogmatic?

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    Technically it's Clark Kent that would be nonexistent. Superman is his true identity. – Era Feb 2 '16 at 20:04
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    @Era well if you insist on going down that epistemic path, then the only one that exists is Kal-El. – Alexander S King Feb 2 '16 at 21:03
  • wouldn't we, in eliminating superman / the mind, end up not saying that what we claimed superman did actually didn't happen at all? that it wasn't in fact clark that saved the drowning puppy, no-one did. i'm just asking, i dunno – user6917 Feb 3 '16 at 16:59
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    @MATHEMETICIAN The Superman example is just an analogy. – Era Feb 4 '16 at 4:50
  • @Era i have no idea what your point is – user6917 Feb 4 '16 at 4:52
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Eliminativism (in particular, Eliminative materialsm) proposes that the theory of 'mental states' ('folk psychology', hereafter FP) is a theory. This is part of a wider position known as Theory-theory, as @Era points out. Moreover, it states that this theory is false and should be completely replaced (by neuroscience or something similar). Churchland describes the belief in mental states as follows:

The problematic conviction that another individual is the subject of certain mental states is not inferred deductively from his behavior, nor is it inferred by inductive analogy from the perilously isolated instance of one's own case. Rather, that conviction is a singular explanatory hypothesis of a perfectly straightforward kind. Its function, in conjunction with the background laws of folk psychology, is to provide explanations/predictions/understanding of the individual's continuing behavior, and it is credible to the degree that it is successful in this regard over competing hypotheses.

Your point about the usefulness of 'higher level' descriptions is one addresed by Paul Churchland very early on in the history of Eliminative Materialism, and constitutes a position known as functionalism, the origins of which probably lie with Wilfrid Sellars:

Perfect theories, perhaps, have no need to evolve. But FP is profoundly imperfect. Its failure to develop its resources and extend its range of succ ess is therefore darkly curious, and one must query the integrity of its basic categories. To use Imre Lakatos' terms, FP is a stagnant or degenerating research program, and has been for millennia.

In other words, Churchland would say you are wrong in claiming that mental states are 'useful'. He points out that there are many limitations and flaws to the theory, that from a scientific perspective render it not very useful.

Churchland calls this approach 'functionalism', and compares it to those who argued that Alchemy was a useful abstraction and not an ontological theory, and so it shouldn't be replaced by chemistry.

He summarizes:

In summary, when confronted with the explanatory impotence, stagnant history, and systematic isolation of the intentional idioms of FP, it is not an adequate or responsive defense to insist that those idioms are abstract, functional, and irreducible in character. For one thing, this same defense could have been mounted with comparable plausibility no matter what haywire network of internal states our folklore had ascribed to us.

The quotes are taken from this paper:

Elimanitve Materialism and the Propositional Attitudes

By Paul Churchland. I recommend reading that for a more satisfying answer to your question.

To answer the question directly, you ask:

Type identity physicalism says mental states are identical with brain states. Eliminativism on the other hand states that mental states don't exist at all.

Isn't this just a word game? Does it really matter whether we say "Super-Man is identical to Clark Kent" or whether we say "Super-Man doesn't really exist, only Clark Kent does"?

You describe with dazzling precision the exact difference between the two positions. And so you ask a further question (I take it to be the real question): Isn't this a word game?. I suppose that it is, in the same way that the statements "the Earth is round" and "the Earth is flat" differ only as part of a mere 'word-game', if that refers simply to the fact that 'round' and 'flat' are words.

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    More generally, the idea that folk psychology is a theory is called the Theory-theory. – Era Feb 3 '16 at 15:26
  • hi i have a question on this: why should fp be treated as a science? because otherwise we're not naturalists ? – user6917 Feb 3 '16 at 17:08
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    @MATHEMETICIAN See section 1 of the paper I referenced, entitled "Why folk psychology is a theory". FP is a theory, but not a science. It is a theory within the science of psychology. Churchland shows how FP parallels other conceptual frameworks which are obviously theories, for example physics. – M. le Fou Feb 3 '16 at 23:50
  • @MATHEMETICIAN The gist of it is: FP is used to explain and predict phenomenon. These explanations presuppose laws. It is also very possible false. All these things we can reasonably take to constitute a theory – M. le Fou Feb 3 '16 at 23:54
  • @Era good point. I'll add it to the answer – M. le Fou Feb 3 '16 at 23:56

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