First saying, then believing: the social roots of folk psychology

SpeakerGeurts, Bart
Affiliaton(s) Radboud University, Nijmegen
Workshop SPAGAD-Projekt Meeting
Date 24.10.2019, 11-13 Uhr
Time 11:00 o'clock
Venue4th floor, room 403 (Seminarraum)

There are two social practices that, in our species, have reached an exceptionally high level of sophistication: communication and folk psychology. On the one hand, we are adept at getting things done and across by talking to each other, while on the other hand, we attribute all manner of mental states to one another and ourselves.  It is commonly agreed that these practices are linked, and the currently received view is that the former builds on the latter. However, this view raises hairy issues concerning the development and evolution of human communication, and therefore I would like to consider the possibility that people get much of their communicative business done without attributing mental states to each other. Based on Geurts (2019a,b) and empirical work in linguistic typology (Pascual 2014, chapter 4), I present a model that explains how the folk-psychological practice of attributing intentions and beliefs may have emerged out of relatively basic discursive practices. The central idea is that, once our ancestors started speaking about speech, speaking about intentions and beliefs wasn't far away. 


  • Geurts, B. (2019a). Communication as commitment sharing: speech acts, implicatures, common ground. Theoretical linguistics 45: 1–30.
  • Geurts, B. (2019b). Commitment continued. Theoretical linguistics 45: 111–125.
  • Pascual, E. (2014). Fictive interaction: the conversation frame in thought, language, and discourse. Benjamins.