Version: v1, Published online: 1998
Retrieved April 21, 2021, from https://www.rep.routledge.com/articles/thematic/other-minds/v-1
3. The analogical inference to other minds
The traditional solution to the problem of other minds has been the analogical inference to other minds. Other people behave like me in similar circumstances and have the same physico-chemical composition. When I burn myself it hurts and I cry out and wince. When other people are burned they cry out and wince. I can thus infer that they are in pain too. More generally, others are very like me. I know I have beliefs, experiences and emotions. So I am entitled, given how like me they are, to infer that other people also have beliefs, experiences and emotions.
This traditional analogical inference to other minds is now generally incorporated in a hypothetic inference (scientific inference, inference to the best explanation) to other minds. That there are alternative hypotheses about others which have to be ruled out requires that the argument take the form of a hypothetic inference (see Inference to the best explanation). But the appeal to one’s own case, and to similarities, remains crucial in this analogical/hypothetic inference.
That, indeed, one’s own case is crucial, gives rise to the classical, continuing objection to the analogical inference to other minds, that it is a generalization from one case. Such generalizations are almost invariably unsound. Though there have been attempts to put the analogical inference to other minds in a form that avoids this objection, it is generally accepted that such attempts have not succeeded.
However, its supporters argue that, even so, the analogical/hypothetic inference remains a sound inference, despite its dependence on one case. More than one case is needed where what is at issue is the question of a causal link between events. Where it can be known from one case that there is such a causal link, that one case will then be enough. It is claimed that the relevant causal link, involving mental states, can be known to hold from one’s own case. Though it has traditionally been insisted that the relevant causal link is between mental states and behaviour, it has been urged that the relevant causal link needs to be between brain states and mental states if the analogical/hypothetic inference is to be defensible.
The other classical objection to the analogical inference to other minds has been that its conclusion was impossible to check, not just in fact, but in principle. This feature no longer seems to be seen as having any epistemological relevance.
Hyslop, Alec. The analogical inference to other minds. Other Minds, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-V022-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis, https://www.rep.routledge.com/articles/thematic/other-minds/v-1/sections/the-analogical-inference-to-other-minds.
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