Friday, January 24, 2020
Can I know what another person is thinking or feeling? If so, how? :: essays papers
Can I know what another person is thinking or feeling? If so, how? The problem of Other Minds is a true philosophical enigma. It is apt to strike children with no philosophical education whatsoever, yet remains intractable to many academics. Broadly speaking, the problem can be divided into three questions. Firstly, how do I come to believe that there are minds in the world other than my own? Secondly, how can I justify my belief that there are minds in the world other than my own? Thirdly, what can I state about the mental states of minds other than my own?. The question we are dealing with here falls largely into the third category, although of course issues relating to the other two will also be involved. Firstly, it is imperative to assert that, in looking for 'knowledge', we are not aiming for logical certainties - we are not aiming to show that any propositions about other minds can be demonstrated with absolute certainty equivalent to that of mathematical truths. Philosophy ever since Descartes has tended to be defined by scepticism: either it aims to produce sceptical theories or it aims to refute them. And sceptics tend towards extremity in their doubts. It must be stated here and now that there are not, and never can be, any theories that prove demonstratively that other minds exist, or that I know others' mental states. This is not what should be aimed at in attempting to solve the problem. As Austin puts it "To suppose that the question 'How do I know that Tom is angry?' is meant to mean 'How do I introspect Tom's feelings?' is simply barking up the wrong gum-tree." Most philosophers agree that their theories only bestow a greater or lesser amount of probability onto statements about other minds (although there are exceptions, e.g. Peter Strawson's attempt to argue transcendentally for the existence of other minds through our own self-consciousness). There have been a number of different attempts to do this. J.S. Mill, who produced the first known formulation of the Other Minds problem, used the so-called 'Argument from Analogy' both to explain how we come to believe in other minds and to justify this belief. Briefly, the argument holds that I am directly aware of mental states in myself, and I am aware of the behaviour of mine that results from and is caused by these mental states. As I can observe similar physical behaviour in others, I draw the analogy that it is caused by the same (or at least similar) mental states to my own.