The personal and the subpersonal in the theory of mind debate

Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 17 (2):305-324 (2018)
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It is a widely accepted assumption within the philosophy of mind and psychology that our ability for complex social interaction is based on the mastery of a common folk psychology, that is to say that social cognition consists in reasoning about the mental states of others in order to predict and explain their behavior. This, in turn, requires the possession of mental-state concepts, such as the concepts belief and desire. In recent years, this standard conception of social cognition has been called into question by proponents of so-called ‘direct-perception’ approaches to social cognition and by those who argue that the ‘received view’ implies a degree of computational complexity that is implausible. In response, it has been argued that these attacks on the classical view of social cognition have no bite at the subpersonal level of explanation, and that it is the latter which is at issue in the debate in question. In this paper, I critically examine this response by considering in more detail the distinction between personal and subpersonal level explanations. There are two main ways in which the distinction has been developed. I will argue that on either of these, the response proposed by defenders of the received view is unconvincing. This shows that the dispute between the standard conception and alternative approaches to mindreading is a dispute concerning personal-level explanations - what is at stake in the debate between proponents of the classical view of social cognition and their critics is how we, as persons, navigate our social world. I will conclude by proposing a pluralistic approach to social cognition, which is better able to do justice to the multi-faceted nature of our social interactions as well as being able to account for recent empirical findings regarding the social cognitive abilities of young infants.



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Kristina Musholt
Universität Leipzig

References found in this work

The Varieties of Reference.Gareth Evans - 1982 - Oxford: Oxford University Press.
How the Body Shapes the Mind.Shaun Gallagher - 2005 - Oxford University Press UK.
Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind.Wilfrid S. Sellars - 1956 - Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science 1:253-329.

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