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Other minds, problem of

Page history last edited by philosophyofsocialcognition 13 years, 3 months ago

The Problem of Other Minds



This philosophical problem began with the difficulties in epistemology to justify the possibility of one person knowing anything about another that is not observable in the external world. Most people are almost always certain that any other being like us has a mind like our own- with the exception of philosophical sceptics. Although we do not claim to know exactly what the inner most thoughts of another person are, we still claim that they have them, there-in lays the main concern of the problem of other minds. How do we know that others think and feel? Just because they behave in the external world to the same degree that we do does not quite mean that they have minds such as our own. Regardless as to the complexity of another person’s behaviour, physical actions are not sufficient proof that the other person has mentality and are not just automata. This also raises a spatial problem in justifying that others have a mind at all because it is in no way possible for us to enter the mind of another person to see if they think, feel or experience the world. With these two impossibilities, one no longer can claim to know to what degree others think and feel or even simply that others think and feel.



Since we are such social beings philosophers are unable to agree on the foundations of what the most basic human beliefs are. This being the case they generally agreed that the problem of other minds has become concerned with what entitles us to have the basic belief that others have minds, rather than what each specific mind is able to experience. Not only is there the epistemological problem of other minds, concerning the difference between our personal ability in accessing as well as directly knowing our own experiences verses the lack of our ability to access or know the experiences of other beings. There is also the conceptual problem of other minds. This theory concerns how we obtain the concepts of mental states brought about by experiences in contrast with our inability to claim that our mental conceptions of experiences is or can be the same in others as in ourselves. Theoretically everyone experiences things differently which enables us to create different mental conceptions of each experience.



The conventional justification for belief in other minds was formed by John Stuart Mill that became considered the argument from analogy.  Mill claimed that since my body as well as my behaviour in the external world are similar to that of others, I can justify by analogy believing that others have feelings like mine and are not just automatons. This theory was later criticized by many philosophers including Ludwig Wittenstein and Jean-Paul Sartre who took t he existentialist perspective of the problem of other minds. The metaphysical and conceptual issues of the argument have been approached by type physicalism and behaviourism.



Two main ways philosophers deal with the problem of other minds is either by denying such as Eliminativism, Solipsism, have or by accepting it the way Functionalism, Reductionalist View have. There are also many more theories and ways in which philosophers try to deal with this problem, but it is important to note that no theories developed thus far can claim to have majority support in solving this complex problem of other minds.


- Jennifer Pinto, University of Toronto

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