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Other Minds, Problem Of

  The problem of other minds is the problem of explaining how, if at all, one possesses knowledge of minds other than one\'s own.

One possesses knowledge of one\'s own mental states by introspecting them: I know that I am in pain by introspection. But one cannot introspect the mental states of others: I cannot introspect your pains. So how can one ever know that someone else is in pain? All one can do, it seems, is infer someone else\'s mental states from their behaviour: I infer that you are in pain because you are groaning. But this inference is hardly deductive. I could be surrounded by robots who are programmed to behave as though they have minds but are in fact mindless, in which case all my inferences from their behaviour to claims about their minds will take me from truth to falsity.

Some philosophers consider that beliefs about other minds are justified by an argument from analogy. I notice that various correlations obtain in my own case, that whenever I groan, I am in pain. I then notice that other bodies behave in the same way as my own, that they groan. And I infer that when other bodies behave in similar ways to my own, other minds have mental states similar to mine, that when other bodies groan, there are minds associated with those bodies that are in pain.

Others argue that beliefs about other minds are justified by an inference to the best explanation. I notice that another body is groaning, and need to explain this phenomenon. There are various possible explanations. One is that the body is a robot programmed to behave as though it has a mind even though it is in fact mindless and, therefore, that it is not in pain. Another explanation of the groaning is that it is caused by a pain, that there is a mind associated with the body, and that its being in pain is causing the groaning. Given that the second explanation is better that its competitors, I can infer that it is true. AJ

See also behaviourism; introspection; knowledge; privacy.Further reading P. Churchland, Matter and Consciousness; , A. Plantinga, God and Other Minds.



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