Other Minds

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-V022-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved April 21, 2021, from

4. Other minds as theoretical entities

This is probably, among Anglo-American philosophers, the favoured solution to the problem of other minds. The justification is in the form of a hypothetic inference. That others have mental states is hypothesized to account for how they behave. However, one proceeds purely from the outside. No evidence gathered from one’s own case is used to support this hypothesis. The one case objection thought widely to be fatal to the analogical inference is, crucially, avoided, so it is widely believed.

It is generally considered that treating other minds in this way, as theoretical entities, will succeed if one has a functionalist (or some such) view of the mind. The two seem made for each other. However, the argument in §1, that no theory of mind has an advantage over any other in supporting belief in other minds would, if successful, apply to this particular attempt to avoid dependence on one’s own case.

It has been argued, conversely, that unless one enlists the help of a functionalist (or some such) theory of the mind, treating other minds as theoretical entities will not succeed. A traditional view of mental states, allowing that they have intrinsic content – in particular, phenomenal properties, such as the hurtfulness of pain (see Qualia) – cannot be supported by this method. Treating the mental states of others as theoretical entities, it is argued, will not provide those states with the needed intrinsic properties. That content can only be filled in by an appeal to one’s own case.

Citing this article:
Hyslop, Alec. Other minds as theoretical entities. Other Minds, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-V022-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2021 Routledge.

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