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Pathics: minds and mental states

A fundamental problem in developing … a theory of rational agency is to give an account of the relationships that exist between an agent’s mental states. In particular, a complete agent theory would explain how an agent’s mental states lead it to select and perform rational actions …”

M Wooldridge, Reasoning about rational agents, 2000 (p 9).

From the earliest philosophy to the beginnings of modern experimental psychology ideas about mind have been influenced by introspection and intuition about everyday experience. This traditionally took the form of attempts to create credible narratives of experience with some appropriate vocabulary (from the ancient concepts of nepesh, ruach and leb to modern ones like memory and attention) and common-sense ideas like “beliefs”, “feelings” and “points of view”. The folk psychology of mind continues to evolve semi-independently of scientific investigation of mental processes. A concern that introspection and intuition are unreliable sources of insight into the human mind has led to some unwillingness to carry out research into mental states in the second half of the 20th century, leaving the field to philosophers, journalists and authors of fiction.

Philosophers have been the main group who have taken mental states seriously, and investigated them from within the framework of cognitive science. Daniel Dennett has influentially argued that mental states have been neglected and that serious psychology and AI must adopt an “intentional stance” if they are to understand cognitive processes (see