The topic of this essay that I will be discussing regarding whether our knowledge of other minds is based on an explanatory inference involving an implicit theory of mind is a claim that will first be discussed addressing solipsism and the problem of other minds followed by the epistemological problem, the conceptual problem, argument from analogy, theory-theory, simulation theory, the interaction theory of social cognition, the false belief test and empathy.
In philosophy solipsism is the intense and absolute form of subjective idealism that states that the human mind has no valid ground whatsoever for believing in the existence of anything but itself, only the first-person experience can be proven rationally, it is Descartes’ famous first axiom where he made the claim ‘I think, therefore I am’. The problem of other minds is a problem in philosophy dealing with the problem of legitimizing the belief that others, besides one’s own mind, occupy a mind and are indeed proficient in thinking or feeling somewhat as one does oneself.
The idea of how can we be sure if others even have minds, while we never claim to believe that we know the in-depth details of other’s inner lives, we do not doubt that they do in fact have inner lives, we do believe that they experience the physical world in the same way as we experience it and that they experience beliefs, desires, intentions, feelings and emotions the same as we would, but on what grounds can this certainty be justified?
The epistemological problem comes about through the extreme divergences between the acquirement of our own experience and the acquirement of the experience of others. We often have direct knowledge that we are in a valid and genuine mental state but we do not always have direct knowledge that we happen to be in the mental state that we are, but we are unable to know directly or have any knowledge that others are in a mental state or which one if they are, this asymmetry is what brings about the production of the epistemological problem.
The understanding of asymmetry that I garnered is that it is an asymmetry in respect of knowledge, it is not what I can observe, what I can perceive and what I can feel but the opposite being that of which I am unable to perceive, to observe and to feel. It is not enough to be able to view another’s mental states, I need to be able to observe those mental states as if I were that person experiencing those mental states. With the problem of other minds it is not knowledge that is omitted but rather it is that direct knowledge is absent. Solutions to this epistemological problem are based in an explanation of inference, this inference is in accordance with human being’s behaviour. Human being’s behaviour is seen as the most viable explanation of them having inner lives, the mental states that human beings experience and perceive can dictate their behaviour causing them to act the way that they do. The concept of inference in this problem of other minds proposes that them having minds and mental states is the most applicable explanation for their behaviour. Our knowledge of others is based on the observation of others and the perception of others, these reveal others minds either directly or provides a basis for inference through verbal and non-verbal communication.
The link between mental states and behaviour is claimed to be conceptual, this brings us to the conceptual problem. If we only have the direct knowledge of our own experiences, and only in the case of those experiences that are our own then how is it feasible for us to be able to garner the concepts of mental states that we have that belong to others instead of ourselves? The problem is not in us experiencing and observing others pain but rather that we do not observe and experience the pain as others as if we were the others. If we were to offer a solution to the conceptual problem it would seem that we would then be left with the epistemological problem, the conceptual problem comes forth albeit only when the asymmetry that is proposed is wholly accepted but then it can be disputed that once it has emerged the problem then becomes impenetrable as the alleged problem is unable to be expressed coherently.
The traditional analogical inference answer was produced by J.S Mill: the argument from analogy. This analogical inference appeals to the likeness that is between others and our self, it serves as the basis of the certainty that others have inner lives, it is the traditional solution to the problem of other minds. Others are human like me, others have the same behaviour as I do in certain scenarios and environments, they use language as I do, they look as I do with hair, skin, nails and limbs, they are compiled of the same material as I am. If I burn myself on the hand and experience pain I may react by crying, cursing or clutching my hand, if others burn themselves too and they react in the same way I do, I can infer that they are experiencing pain too. I have direct knowledge that I have beliefs, desires, intentions, feelings, emotions and sensations, I have a mind, it is therefore rational to concur that others would have one too. There are various resemblances that could be portrayed between others and I and it is on the basis of these resemblances I am able to infer that other human beings have beliefs, desires, intentions, feelings, emotions and sensations, to infer that others have as I do, an inner life.
The explanatory inference becomes the argument from analogy, so that our belief must be based on some analogy based causal inference that reduces the possibilities to minds, predominately similar to my own as the cause of their likeness behaviour. Through subjective observation such as P being a thought or feeling and Q being a bodily act or statement, whenever Q is an act of my own body, P is the cause. I observe an act of Q not in my own body but have no feeling of P, on the basis of self-observation that only P can in turn cause Q, I then infer that it is highly probable that P caused Q in the others body even though I myself could not view P. I can infer that other people’s bodies are correlated with minds, which resemble mine in proportion as their bodily behaviour resembles my own. An objection to this is what if it is outside of our experience and the solution is that if we can view P and Q as present or absent, then we find that every Q has a P which equivalates it to being a causal antecedent, it is probable that most Q’s have P’s even if observation does not enable us to know if P is present or not.
Objections and criticism of the argument from analogy from Merleau Ponty’s perspective is that there are three problems, the first problem, ‘that inference is too complex a cognitive process to account for the grasping of an-other’s inner experience’, means that inferring on the basis of one case is unreliable as we do not have direct access to another’s mind so we can never truly verify that the argument is valid. The second problem proposed by Merleau Ponty is, ‘the manner in which my body is given to me is entirely different to the manner in which the body of the other is given to me’, in other words this means that the experience that we receive of our own body is from the inside and the experience we have of another’s body is from the outside. The third problem that is given to us is that we are ‘unable to account for human understanding of the experiences of animals’. Bertrand Russel also has an objection that we never experience minds directly, that there is no absolute proof, that the mind is interior and private, we only have inferential understanding of others but we are always uncertain. For Gilbert Ryle the understanding of others rests on a conceptual mistake, that knowledge depends on social experience, how do we infer from inner to outer?


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