Theory of mind and the unobservability of other minds

Philosophical Explorations 17 (2):203-222 (2014)
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Abstract

The theory of mind (ToM) framework has been criticised by emerging alternative accounts. Each alternative begins with the accusation that ToM's validity as a research paradigm rests on the assumption of the ‘unobservability’ of other minds. We argue that the critics' discussion of the unobservability assumption (UA) targets a straw man. We discuss metaphysical, phenomenological, epistemological, and psychological readings of UA and demonstrate that it is not the case that ToM assumes the metaphysical, phenomenological, or epistemological claims. However, ToM supports the psychological UA as a claim about cognitive processes responsible for mindreading. The latter can be interpreted as a claim that (a) neither the other's ‘mindedness’ in general nor the other's particular mental states are observable (i.e. apprehended perceptually); (b) particular mental states are unobservable, whereas some aspects indicative of ‘mindedness’ are observable; (c) some mental states are unobservable but some are also observable. Whereas the critics tend to attribute (a) to ToM, most ToM accounts actually take positions (b) or (c). We conclude that the allegations against ToM for positing UA are seriously misdirected. We further bring out an important stipulation of any account of observability of mental states: mental states are not observable in the same way as the sensory properties of physical objects.

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References found in this work

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.Thomas S. Kuhn - 1962 - Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. Edited by Ian Hacking.
The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.Thomas Samuel Kuhn - 1962 - Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Edited by Otto Neurath.
The Phenomenological Mind.Shaun Gallagher & Dan Zahavi - 2008 - New York, NY: Routledge. Edited by Dan Zahavi.

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