The locked-in syndrome and the behaviorist epistemology of other minds

Theoretical Medicine 12 (March):69-79 (1991)
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Abstract

In this paper, the problem of correct ascriptions of consciousness to patients in neurological intensive care medicine is explored as a special case of the general philosophical other minds problem. It is argued that although clinical ascriptions of consciousness and coma are mostly based on behavioral evidence, a behaviorist epistemology of other minds is not likely to succeed. To illustrate this, the so-called total locked-in syndrome, in which preserved consciousness is combined with a total loss of motor abilities due to a lower ventral brain stem lesion, is presented as a touchstone for behaviorism. It is argued that this example of consciousness without behavioral expression does not disprove behaviorism specifically, but rather illustrates the need for a non-verificationist theory of other minds. It is further argued that a folk version of such a theory already underlies our factual ascriptions of consciousness in clinical contexts. Finally, a non-behaviorist theory of other minds for patients with total locked-in syndrome is outlined

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