Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences

, Volume 18, Issue 3, pp 533–549 | Cite as

The complementarity of mindshaping and mindreading

  • Uwe PetersEmail author


Why do we engage in folk psychology, that is, why do we think about and ascribe propositional attitudes (beliefs, desires, intentions etc.) to people? On the standard view, folk psychology is primarily for mindreading, for detecting mental states and explaining and/or predicting people’s behaviour in terms of them. In contrast, McGeer (1996, 2007, 2015), and Zawidzki (2008, 2013) maintain that folk psychology is not primarily for mindreading but for mindshaping, that is, for moulding people’s behaviour and minds (e.g., via the imposition of social norms) so that coordination becomes easier. Mindreading is derived from and only as effective as it is because of mindshaping, not vice versa. I critically assess McGeer’s, and Zawidzki’s proposal and contend that three common motivations for the mindshaping view do not provide sufficient support for their particular version of it. I argue furthermore that their proposal underestimates the role that epistemic processing plays for mindshaping. And I provide reasons for favouring an alternative according to which in social cognition involving ascriptions of propositional attitudes, neither mindshaping nor mindreading is primary but both are complementary in that effective mindshaping depends as much on mindreading as effective mindreading depends on mindshaping.


Mindshaping Mindreading Propositional attitudes Function 


  1. Andrews, K. (2017). More stereotypes, please! The limits of ‘theory of mind’ and the need for further studies on the complexity of real world social interactions. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 40, 20–22.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Anthony, L. (2016). Bias: friend or foe? Reflections of Saulish skepticism. In M Brownstein & J. Saul (Eds.), Implicit Bias and Philosophy, Volume 1: Metaphysics and Epistemology. Oxford: OUP.Google Scholar
  3. Baron-Cohen, S. (1995). Mindblindness: An essay on autism and theory of mind. Cambridge: MIT Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bohl, V. (2015). We read minds to shape relationships, Philosophical Psychology, 28(5), 674–694.Google Scholar
  5. Booth, A. (2007). Doxastic voluntarism and self-deception. Disputatio: International. Journal of Philosophy, 2(22), 115–130.Google Scholar
  6. Brownstein, M. (2015). Implicit bias. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Zalta, E. (ed.). <>.
  7. Brownstein, M., & Saul, J. (2016). Introduction. In M. Brownstein & J. Saul (Eds.), Implicit Bias and Philosophy, Volume 1: Metaphysics and Epistemology (pp. 1–20). Oxford: OUP.Google Scholar
  8. Buckareff, A. (2014). Deciding to Believe Redux. In J. Matheson & R. Vitz (Eds.), The ethics of belief: Individual and social (pp. 33–50). Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Carruthers, P. (2011). The opacity of mind. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  10. De Bruin, L. (2016). First-person Folk Psychology: Mindreading or Mindshaping? Studia Philosophica Estonica, 170–183.Google Scholar
  11. Epley, N., & Gilovich, T. (2016). The mechanics of motivated reasoning. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 30(3), 133–140.Google Scholar
  12. Gallagher, S. (2012). In defense of phenomenological approaches to social cognition: Interacting with the critics. Review of Philosophy and Psychology, 3(2), 187–212.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Galef, B. G., Wigmore, S. W., & Kennett, D. J. (1983). A failure to find socially mediated taste aversion learning in Norway rats (R. norvegicus). Journal of Comparative Psychology, 97(4), 358–363.Google Scholar
  14. Gendler, T. S. (2011). On the epistemic costs of implicit bias. Philosophical Studies 156, 33–63.Google Scholar
  15. Gilbert, D., Tafarodi, R., & Malone, P. (1993). You can’t not believe everything you read. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 65, 221–233.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Goldman, A. (2006). Simulating minds. Oxford: OUP.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. von Hippel, W., & Trivers, R. (2011). The evolution and psychology of self-deception. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 34(1), 1–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Huebner, B. (2016). Implicit bias, reinforcement learning, and scaffolded moral cognition. In M. Brownstein & J. Saul (Eds.), Implicit bias & philosophy: Volume I, metaphysics and epistemology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  19. Hutto, D. (2008). Folk psychological narratives: The sociocultural basis of understanding reasons. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  20. Jussim, L. (1986). Self-fulfilling prophecies: A theoretical integrative review. Psychological Review, 93, 429–445.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Jussim, L. (2012). Social perception and social reality. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Jussim, L. (2017). Précis of social perception and social reality: Why accuracy dominates bias and self-fulfilling prophecy. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 40, 1–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Kunda, Z. (1990). The case for motivated reasoning. Psychological Bulletin, 108(3), 480–498.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Mameli, M. (2001). Mindreading, mindshaping, and evolution. Biology and Philosophy, 16, 597–628.Google Scholar
  25. McGeer, V. (1996). Is ‘self-knowledge’ an empirical problem? Renegotiating the space of philosophical explanation. Journal of Philosophy, 93, 483–515.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. McGeer, V. (2007). The regulative dimension of folk psychology. In D. Hutto & M. Ratcliffe (Eds.), Folk psychology re-assessed (pp. 138–156). Dordrecht: Springer.Google Scholar
  27. McGeer, V. (2008). The moral development of first-person authority. European Journal of Philosophy, 16(1), 81–108.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. McGeer, V. (2015). Mind-making practices: The social infrastructure of self-knowing agency and responsibility. Philosophical Explorations, 18(2), 259–281.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Miller, R.L., Brickman, P. and Bolen, D. (1975). Attribution Versus Persuasion as a Means for Modifying Behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 31, 430–441.Google Scholar
  30. Morton, A. (1996). Folk psychology is not a predictive device. Mind, 105(417), 119–137.Google Scholar
  31. Nichols, S., & Stich, S. (2003). Mindreading. Oxford: OUP.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Peters, U. (2016). Human thinking, shared intentionality, and egocentric biases. Biology and Philosophy, 30(6), 1–16.Google Scholar
  33. Peters, U. (2017). On the Automaticity and Ethics of Belief. In: Ethics, law, and cognitive science, (eds.) Mario De Caro and Massimo Marraffa, 99–115. Available on:
  34. Peters, U. (2018). Implicit bias, ideological bias, and epistemic risks in philosophy. Mind & Language, 1–27.
  35. Shepherd, J. (2012). Action, mindreading and embodied social cognition. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, 11(4), 507–518.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Sperber, D., Clement, F., Heintz, C., Mascaro, O., Mercier, H., Origgi, G. et al. (2010). Epistemic vigilance. Mind & Language, 25(4), 359–393.Google Scholar
  37. Strijbos, D., & de Bruin, L. (2015). Self-interpretation as first-person mindshaping: Implications for confabulation research. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice, 18(2), 297–307.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Swann, W., & Ely, R. (1984). A battle of wills: Self-verification versus behavioral confirmation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 46, 1287–1302.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Velleman, D. (2000). From Self Psychology to Moral Philosophy. In J. Tomberlin (Eds.), Philosophical Perspectives 14: Action and Freedom, Blackwell, Oxford.Google Scholar
  40. Zawidzki, T. (2008). The function of folk psychology: Mind reading or mind shaping? Philosophical Explorations, 11(3), 193–210.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Zawidzki, T. (2013). Mindshaping: A new framework for understanding human social cognition. Cambridge: MIT Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Zawidzki, T. (2016). Mindshaping and Self-Interpretation. In J. Kieverstein (Ed.), The routledge handbook of philosophy of the social mind routledge. NY: Routledge.Google Scholar
  43. Zawidzki, T. (forthcoming). Mindshaping. In A. Newen, L. De Bruin, & S. Gallagher (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of 4e cognition. Oxford: OUP. Preprint retrieved from Accessed 24/01/2018

Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Logic and Philosophy of ScienceKU LeuvenLeuvenBelgium
  2. 2.Department of EconomicsUniversity College LondonLondonUK

Personalised recommendations