In This Article Other Minds

  • Introduction
  • Foundational Texts
  • Overview Articles
  • Precursors to the Contemporary Debate
  • Realism and Antirealism
  • The Emotions

Philosophy Other Minds
by
Anita Avramides
  • LAST REVIEWED: 01 February 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 June 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0083

Introduction

The problem of other minds has been a curiously neglected one in contemporary philosophy. The reasons for this are themselves a subject for investigation. It is certainly the case that the problem of other minds was at one time a standard topic in undergraduate textbooks. But in which textbooks one should look to find a discussion of this issue is an interesting question. This reflects the fact that philosophers disagree about just how to characterize the problem. There are those who characterize it as an epistemological or skeptical one: How does one know that anyone other than oneself has a mind? Others insist that the problem is a conceptual one: How does one understand the concept of mind such that it applies to oneself as well as to others? Thus one sometimes finds the problem discussed in books concerned with epistemology and sometimes in books concerned with metaphysics. Sometimes one will find a discussion of this issue in books concerned more generally with the philosophy of mind. The heyday for this topic could be said to have been the mid- to late 20th century. However, a resurgence of interest in the topic seems to have occurred in the early 21st century. The literature on this topic is not vast, and sometimes one must find references to it in discussions largely devoted to other issues (e.g., our knowledge of the external world or self-knowledge).

Foundational Texts

Few book-length treatments of this topic are available. Wisdom 1966, Locke 1969, and Plantinga 1967 were written at a time when it was essential to engage with Ludwig Wittgenstein’s critique of the arguments from analogy and induction. Hyslop 1995 provides a modern reworking of the argument from analogy in response to an epistemological problem, while Avramides 2001 argues that the problem here is fundamentally a conceptual one.

  • Avramides, Anita. Other Minds. London and New York: Routledge, 2001.

    E-mail Citation »

    This book traces the history of the problem of other minds from the ancient Greek philosophers to the present day. It suggests an answer to the question: when does the problem arise in the history of philosophy? This book takes the view that the issue that others give rise to is conceptual, not epistemological.

  • Hyslop, Alec. Other Minds. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer, 1995.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-94-015-8510-1E-mail Citation »

    Hyslop develops a position he first argued for in Hyslop and Jackson 1972 (cited under the Argument from Analogy). He holds that the problem of other minds is an epistemological one, and his response is to offer a revitalized argument from analogy.

  • Locke, Don. Myself and Others: A Study in Our Knowledge of Minds. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1969.

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    Revised edition 1971. This book contains a diagnosis of the problem as well as a critical discussion of the argument from criteria (Wittgenstein 1958, cited under Original Sources and Commentaries) and the argument from persons (Strawson 1959, cited under Further Work Related to the Conceptual Problem). Sydney Shoemaker wrote a critical study of Locke’s book, “Myself and Others: A Study in Our Knowledge of Minds,” Philosophical Quarterly 19.76 (1969): 272–279.

  • Plantinga, Alvin. God and Other Minds. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1967.

    E-mail Citation »

    Plantinga examines and reject the arguments, stemming from the writing of Wittgenstein, against the argument from analogy.

  • Wisdom, John. Other Minds. Oxford: Blackwell, 1966.

    E-mail Citation »

    A wide-ranging discussion of issues connected with our knowledge of other minds, written in a conversational tone and interwoven with comments on the nature of philosophical inquiry. This is a book very much of its time (originally published in 1952). A good response to Wisdom can be found in Austin 1979 (cited under Further Work Related to the Conceptual Problem).

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