Other Minds and Scientific Inference
The fashionable approach to other minds is to view them as theoretical entities. Scientific inference (hypothetic inference, the hypothetico-deductive method) is, consequently, the method used to ground belief in these (unobservable) entities. I have little hard evidence for my claim that this is indeed the fashionable approach to other minds, however. The problem of other minds is not much ventilated in the philosophical literature and when it is, it is unusual to fmd the suggestion that they are to be regarded as theoretical entities discussed never mind advocated. However, I find that the view is advanced informally, frequently, and it seems clear, anecdotely and otherwise, that the alternatives are generally out of favour. Unsatisfactory as the evidence is, it seems to support best the following options: there is no favoured solution to the problem of other minds; there is generally thought to be no answer currently to the problem; the solution is to treat other minds as theoretical entities. Of these, I am sure other minds as theoretical entities wins hands down.
Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.
Notes to Chapter Three
- 1.See Philip A. Ostien, ‘God, Other Minds and the Inference to the Best Explanation’, Canadian Journal of Philosophy, vol.4 (1974/1975) pp.149–62, Robert Pargetter, ‘The Scientific Inference to Other Minds’, Australasian Journal of Philosophy, vol.62 (1984) pp.158–63.Google Scholar
- 2.I would add to the more formal references (cited in footnote 1) the discussion by Douglas R. Hofstadter ‘The Turing Test: A Coffeehouse Conversation’ and Daniel C. Dennett’s ‘Reflections’ thereon (in their The Mind’s I (Harvester Press, 1931) pp.69–95). This is stimulating and insightful, although informal. It is probably a useful example of the indirect way in which a commitment to SI often manifests itself.Google Scholar
- 3.Nathan Stemmer, ‘The Hypothesis of Other Minds: Is it the Best Explanation?’, Philosophical Studies, vol.51 (1987) pp.109–21, elaborates the considerations that favour the purely physical hypothesis. He calls himself an Interpretative Eliminativist but he might well be, or be prepared to be, part Reductionist, part Eliminativist.Google Scholar
- 4.So Central State Materialism and Functionalist Materialism can be added to Epiphenomenalism and Eliminativism to make the case against Dualists and Reductionist Materialists being able to use SI. A wide range of positions on the Mind-Body Problem deny that what causes human behaviour are mental states as traditionally understood.Google Scholar
- 5.It should be noted explicitly that the argument outlined to other minds is a hybrid of the traditional analogical inference to other minds and a scientific inference (to the best explanation).Google Scholar