Other Minds

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-V022-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved April 22, 2021, from

1. What generates the two problems of other minds?

The epistemological problem arises from two facts. We lack direct knowledge of the mental states of other people. We have such knowledge of at least some of our own mental states. Put the two claims together and we have the traditional problem of other minds. The relevant asymmetry, between our own case and that of others, turns on the question of direct knowledge, not observation. Being able to observe the mental states of others would not enable us to avoid the problem. What would be needed would be the ability to observe those mental states as the mental states of others. They would have to come labelled. The situation would only then be symmetrical. We would have the direct knowledge we lack.

The same asymmetry generates the conceptual problem. How can we have the concept of other people’s experiences given that we have direct knowledge only of our own experiences, labelled as our own? Once again, the problem is not that we cannot observe the pains of others. What would be needed would be observing such pains as, indeed, the pains of others.

There has been comparatively little discussion of the conceptual problem, and no more will be said here about the conceptual problem of other minds, other than to note that solving it would not, other than controversially at best, remove the epistemological problem. That problem will be hereinafter the one to be discussed.

Citing this article:
Hyslop, Alec. What generates the two problems of other minds?. Other Minds, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-V022-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2021 Routledge.

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