pp 1–20 | Cite as

In defense of pluralist theory

  • Anika FiebichEmail author
Folk Psychology: Pluralistic Approaches
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Folk Psychology: Pluralistic Approaches


In this article I defend pluralist theory against various objections. First, I argue that although traditional theories may also account for multiple ways to achieve social understanding, they still put some emphasis on one particular epistemic strategy (e.g., theory or simulation). Pluralist theory, in contrast, rejects the so-called ‘default assumption’ that there is any primary or default method in social understanding. Second, I illustrate that pluralist theory needs to be distinguished from integration theory. On one hand, integration theory faces the difficulty of trying to combine traditional theories of social understanding that have contradictory background assumptions. On the other hand, pluralist theory goes beyond integrating traditional theories by accounting for a variety of factors that may play a role in social understanding but have been (widely) neglected in such theories, including stereotype activation, social and personal relationships, contextual features, individual moods, perceptions, and so on. Third, I argue that if the default assumption is rejected, pluralist theorists need to provide another positive account of why particular cognitive processes are more likely to come into play in a specific instance of social understanding than others in order to provide a genuine alternative to traditional theories. I discuss three versions of pluralist theory that meet this challenge by pointing to normativity, fluency, and interaction.


Pluralist theory Folk psychology Social cognition Theory of mind 



Funding was provided by Università degli Studi di Milano.


  1. Andrews, K. (2008). It’s in your nature. A pluralistic folk psychology. Synthese,165(1), 13–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Andrews, K. (2012). Do apes read minds?. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Andrews, K. (2015a). The folk psychological spiral: Explanation, regulation, and language. The Southern Journal of Philosophy,53(Spindel Supplement), 50–67.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Andrews, K. (2015b). Pluralistic folk psychology and varieties of self-knowledge: An exploration. Philosophical Explorations,18(2), 280–294.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Andrews, K. (2017). Pluralistic folk psychology in humans and other apes. In J. Kiverstein (Ed.), The routledge handbook o the social mind (pp. 117–138). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  6. Apperly, I. (2008). Beyond simulation-theory and theory–theory: Why social neuroscience should use its own concepts to study “theory of mind”. Cognition,107, 266–283.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Barlassina, L., & Gordon, R. M. (2017). Folk psychology as mental simulation. In E. N. Zalta (Ed.), Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  8. Bohl, V. (2015a). We read minds to shape relationships. Philosophical Psychology,28(5), 674–694.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bohl, V. (2015b). Continuing debates on direct social perception: Some notes on Gallagher’s analysis of “the new hybrids”. Consciousness and Cognition,36, 466–471.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Bohl, V., & van den Bos, W. (2012). Toward an integrative account of social cognition: Marrying theory of mind and interactionism to study the interplay of type 1 and type 2 processes. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience,6, 274. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Borg, E. (2007). If mirror neurons are the answer, what was the question? Journal of Consciousness Studies,14, 5–19.Google Scholar
  12. Buckner, C. (2014). The semantic problem(s) with research on animal mind-reading. Mind and Language,29(5), 566–589.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Butterfill, S. (2012). Interacting mindreaders. Philosophical Studies,165(3), 841–863.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Carpendale, J. I. M., & Lewis, C. (2004). Constructing an understanding of mind: The development of children’s social understanding within social interaction. Behavioral and Brain Sciences,27, 79–151.Google Scholar
  15. Carruthers, P. (1996). Simulation and self-knowledg: A defence of theory–theory. In P. Carruthers & P. K. Smith (Eds.), Theories of theories of mind (pp. 22–28). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Carruthers, P. (2016). Two systems for mindreading? Review of Philosophy and Psychology, 7, 141–162.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Cogsdill, E. J., Todorov, A., Spelke, E. S., & Banaji, M. R. (2014). Inferring character from faces: A developmental study. Psychological Science,25(5), 1132–1139.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. de Bruin, L., & Kaestner, L. (2012). Dynamic embodied cognition. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences,11(4), 541–563.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. De Jaegher, H., Di Paolo, E., & Gallagher, S. (2010). Does social interaction constitute social cognition? Trends in Cognitive Sciences,14(10), 441–447.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Drayson, Z. (2012). The uses and abuses of the personal/subpersonal distinction. Philosophical Perspectives,26(1), 1–18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Fabricius, W. V., Boyer, T., Weimer, A. A., & Carroll, K. (2010). True or false: Do five-year-olds understand belief? Developmental Psychology,46, 1402–1416.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Fiebich, A. (2014). Mindreading with ease? Fluence and belief-reasoning in 4- to 5-year-olds. Synthese,191(5), 929–9244.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Fiebich, A. (2015). Varieties of social understanding. Paderborn: Mentis Verlag GmbH.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Fiebich, A. (2017). Pluralism, social cognition, and interaction in autism. Philosophical Psychology,30(1–2), 161–184.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Fiebich, A., & Coltheart, M. (2015). Various ways to understand other minds: Towards a pluralistic approach to the explanation of social understanding. Mind and Language,30(3), 235–258.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Fiebich, A., Gallagher, S., & Hutto, D. D. (2017). Pluralism, interaction, and the ontogeny of social cognition. In J. Kiverstein (Ed.), The routledge handbook o the social mind (pp. 208–221). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  27. Froese, T., & di Paolo, E. (2011). The enactive approach: Theoretical sketches from cell to society. Pragmatics & Cognition,19(1), 1–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Gallagher, S. (2001). The practice of mind: Theory, simulation, or primary interaction? Journal of Consciousness Studies,8(5–7), 83–107.Google Scholar
  29. Gallagher, S. (2008). Direct perception in the intersubjective context. Consciousness and Cognition,17, 535–543.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Gallagher, S. (2015). The new hybrids: Continuing debates on social perception. Consciousness and Cognition,36, 452–465.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Gallagher, S. (2017a). Enactivist interventions: Rethinking the mind. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Gallagher, S. (2017b). The significance and meaning of others. In C. Durt, T. Fuchs, & C. Tewes (Eds.), Embodiment, enaction, and culture (pp. 217–227). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  33. Gallagher, S., & Fiebich, A. (2019). Being pluralist about understanding others: Contexts and communicative practices. In A. Avramides & M. Parrott (Eds.), Knowing and understanding other minds (pp. 63–78). Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Gallagher, S., & Hutto, D. D. (2008). Understanding others through primary interaction and narrative practice. In J. Zlatev, T. Racine, C. Sinha, & E. Itkonen (Eds.), The shared mind: Perspectives on intersubjectivity (pp. 17–38). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Gallese, V., & Sinigaglia, C. (2011). What is so special about embodied simulation? Trends in Cognitive Science,15(11), 512–519.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Godfrey-Smith, P. (2005). Folk psychology as a model. Philosophers’ Imprint,5, 1–16.Google Scholar
  37. Goldman, A. (2002). Simulation theory and mental concepts. In J. Dokic & J. Proust (Eds.), Simulation and knowledge of action (pp. 1–19). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.Google Scholar
  38. Goldman, A. I. (2006). Simulating minds: The philosophy, psychology, and neuroscience of mind-reading. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Goldman, A. I. (2012). Theory of mind. In E. Margolis, R. Samuels, & S. P. Stich (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of philosophy of cognitive science (pp. 402–424). Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Gopnik, A. (1998). The scientist as child. In A. Gopnik & A. Meltzoff (Eds.), Words, thoughts, and theories (pp. 13–47). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  41. Gopnik, A., & Wellman, H. M. (2012). Reconstructing constructivism: Causal models, Bayesian learning mechanisms and the theory theory. Psychological Bulletin,138(6), 1085–1108.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Gordon, R. M. (1986). Folk psychology as simulation. Mind and Language,1(2), 158–171.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Gray, C. (2000). Writing social stories with Carol Grey. Arlington, TX: Future Horizons.Google Scholar
  44. Heal, J. (2003). Mind, reason and imagination: Selected essays in philosophy of mind and language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Heal, J. (2013). Social anti-individualism, co-cognitivism, and second person authority. Mind,122, 339–371.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Herschbach, M. (2008). Folk psychological and phenomenological accounts of social perception. Philosophical Explorations,11(3), 223–235.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Hirsch, E. D. (1965). Truth and method in interpretation. Review of Metaphysics,18(3), 488–507.Google Scholar
  48. Hurley, S. (2008). Understanding simulation. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research,77(3), 755–774.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Hutto, D. D. (2008). Folk psychological narratives: The sociocultural basis of understanding reasons. Cambridge, MA: Bradford Books MIT Press.Google Scholar
  50. Hutto, D. D., & Myin, E. (2017). Evolving enactivism. Basic minds meet content. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, fast and slow. London: Penguin Books.Google Scholar
  52. Krueger, J. (2012). Seeing mind in action. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences,11, 149–173.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Lavelle, J. S. (2012). Theory–theory and the direct perception of mental states. Review of Philosophy and Psychology,3(2), 213–230.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Leslie, A. M. (1987). Children’s understanding of the mental world. In R. L. Gregory (Ed.), The Oxford companion to the mind (pp. 139–142). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  55. Leslie, A. M., Friedman, O., & German, T. P. (2004). Core mechanisms in ‘theory of mind’. Trends in Cognitive Sciences,8(12), 528–533.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Macrae, C. N., Bodenhausen, G. V., & Milne, A. B. (1995). The dissection of selection in person perception: Inhibitory processes in social stereotyping. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,69, 397–407.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Maibom, H. L. (2003). The mindreader and the scientist. Mind and Language,20, 237–257.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Malafouris, L. (2013). How things shape the mind. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. McGeer, V. (2007). The regulative dimension of folk psychology. In D. D. Hutto & M. M. Ratcliffe (Eds.), Folk psychology re-assessed (pp. 137–156). New York: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Michael, H., Christensen, W., & Overgaard, S. (2014). Mindreading as social expertise. Synthese,191, 817–840.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Moore, R. (2016). Meaning and ostension in great ape gestural communication. Animal Cognition,19(1), 223–231.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Newen, A. (2015a). Understanding others—The person model theory. In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds.), Open mind: 26(T) (pp. 1–28). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. Scholar
  63. Newen, A. (2015b). A multiplicity view for social cognition: Defending a coherent framework—A reply to Lisa Quadt. In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds.), Open mind: 26(R) (pp. 1–7). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. Scholar
  64. Newen, A., & Schlicht, T. (2009). Understanding other minds. A criticism of Goldman’s simulation theory and an outline of the person model theory. Grazer Philosophische Studien,79(1), 209–242.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Nichols, S., & Stich, S. (2003). Mindreading: An integrated account of pretence, self-awareness, and understanding other minds. Oxford Cognitive Science Series. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Oppenheimer, D. M. (2008). The secret life of fluency. Trends in Cognitive Sciences,12(6), 237–241.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Overgaard, S. (2017). The unobservability thesis. Synthese,194, 743–760.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Quadt, L. (2015). Multiplicity needs coherence—Towards a unifying framework for social understanding—a commentary on Albert Newen. In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds.), Open mind 26(C) (pp. 1–18). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. Scholar
  69. Spaulding, S. (2018a). Mindreading beyond belief: A more comprehensive conception of how we understand others. Philosophy Compass,13(11), e12526.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Spaulding, S. (2018b). Do you see what I see? How social differences influence mindreading, Synthese,195(9), 4009–4030.Google Scholar
  71. Stapelton, M., & Ward, D. (2012). Es are good. Cognition as enacted, embodied, embedded, affective and extended. In F. Paglieri (Ed.), Consciousness in interaction: the role of the natural and social context in shaping consciousness (pp. 89–104). Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company.Google Scholar
  72. Trevarthen, C. B. (1979). Communication and cooperation in early infancy: A description of primary intersubjectivity. In M. Bullowa (Ed.), Before speech (pp. 321–348). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  73. Westra, E. (2018). Character and theory of mind: An integrative approach. Philosophical Studies,175, 1217–1241.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Zawidzki, T. (2013). Mindshaping: A new framework for understanding human social cognition. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Philosophy, Centre for the Study of Social ActionUniversity of MilanMilanItaly

Personalised recommendations