What Is The Problem?

Part of the Synthese Library book series (SYLI, volume 246)


What generates the problem of other minds? Is it that we live and die alone? Some would think that a surprising thought given the number of death-bed scenes in literature. One of the things that might be more plausibly meant by dying alone is that no one else can, by dying with me, share my death. To be less poignant, no one else can share my toothache. But no one else can share my smile, my cover drive, my pitching, my swimming. There is, however, a problem of other toothaches but no problem of other smiles. So living and dying alone, so understood, whether or not a problem, is a different problem.


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Notes To Chapter One

  1. 1.
    Tom Nagel, The View from Nowhere (OUP, 1986) p. 20.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
  3. 3.
    Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations (Blackwell, 1953) section 302.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Op. cit., p. 20.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Colin McGinn, ‘What is the Problem of Other Minds?’, Aristotelian Society. Proceedings, Supplementary Volume No. 58 (1984) pp. 119–37. This is the second part of a symposium ‘Consciousness and other minds’.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Ibid.. p. 136.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Christopher Peacocke, ‘No Resting Place: A critical notice of The View from Nowhere’, Philosophical Review, 98 (1989). See pp. 75–6.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    Alvin Plantinga, God and Other Minds (Cornell, 1967) pp. 1939.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    It is worth pointing out that the quotation from Proust at the beginning of my Introduction talks of our lack of direct knowledge (of others) (the revised translation in Penguin Classics uses the same phrase). However the French phrase is ‘connaissance directe’. I am sure from the surrounding text that the notion involved is direct observation (knowledge of) rather than the specific sense of direct knowledge invoked in my account (however tempting it is to think that one has been anticipated by Proust). Wisdom himself thought the ‘peculiarity of the soul is not that it is visible to none but that it is visible only to one’ (see my comments on him in chapter Four). The Proust passage is from The Guermantes Way, Part One (page 84 in the English translation (Chatto and Windus, 1966) and p. 132 in the Flammarion edition of 1987).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1995

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.La Trobe UniversityMelbourneAustralia

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