Problem of other minds

The problem of other minds is a philosophical problem traditionally stated as the following epistemological challenge raised by the skeptic: Given that I can only observe the behavior of others, how can I know that others have minds?[1] It is a central issue of the philosophical idea known as solipsism: the notion that for any person only one's own mind is known to exist. Solipsism maintains that no matter how sophisticated someone's behavior is, behavior on its own does not guarantee the presence of mentality.

See also


  1. ^ Hyslop, Alec (14 January 2014). Zalta, Edward N.; Nodelman, Uri, eds. "Other minds". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Metaphysics Research Lab, Center for the Study of Language and Information, Stanford University. ISSN 1095-5054. Retrieved May 26, 2015.

Further reading

External links

Animal consciousness

Animal consciousness, or animal awareness, is the quality or state of self-awareness within an animal, or of being aware of an external object or something within itself. In humans, consciousness has been defined as: sentience, awareness, subjectivity, qualia, the ability to experience or to feel, wakefulness, having a sense of self, and the executive control system of the mind. Despite the difficulty in definition, many philosophers believe there is a broadly shared underlying intuition about what consciousness is.The topic of animal consciousness is beset with a number of difficulties. It poses the problem of other minds in an especially severe form because animals, lacking the ability to use human language, cannot tell us about their experiences. Also, it is difficult to reason objectively about the question, because a denial that an animal is conscious is often taken to imply that it does not feel, its life has no value, and that harming it is not morally wrong. The 17th-century French philosopher René Descartes, for example, has sometimes been blamed for mistreatment of animals because he argued that only humans are conscious.Philosophers who consider subjective experience the essence of consciousness also generally believe, as a correlate, that the existence and nature of animal consciousness can never rigorously be known. The American philosopher Thomas Nagel spelled out this point of view in an influential essay titled What Is it Like to Be a Bat?. He said that an organism is conscious "if and only if there is something that it is like to be that organism—something it is like for the organism"; and he argued that no matter how much we know about an animal's brain and behavior, we can never really put ourselves into the mind of the animal and experience its world in the way it does itself. Other thinkers, such as the cognitive scientist Douglas Hofstadter, dismiss this argument as incoherent. Several psychologists and ethologists have argued for the existence of animal consciousness by describing a range of behaviors that appear to show animals holding beliefs about things they cannot directly perceive—Donald Griffin's 2001 book Animal Minds reviews a substantial portion of the evidence.Animal consciousness has been actively researched for over one hundred years. In 1927 the American functional psychologist Harvey Carr argued that any valid measure or understanding of awareness in animals depends on "an accurate and complete knowledge of its essential conditions in man". A more recent review concluded in 1985 that "the best approach is to use experiment (especially psychophysics) and observation to trace the dawning and ontogeny of self-consciousness, perception, communication, intention, beliefs, and reflection in normal human fetuses, infants, and children". In 2012, a group of neuroscientists signed the Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness, which "unequivocally" asserted that "humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness. Non-human animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, also possess these neural substrates."


Consciousness is the state or quality of awareness or of being aware of an external object or something within oneself. It has been defined variously in terms of sentience, awareness, qualia, subjectivity, the ability to experience or to feel, wakefulness, having a sense of selfhood or soul, the fact that there is something "that it is like" to "have" or "be" it, and the executive control system of the mind. Despite the difficulty in definition, many philosophers believe that there is a broadly shared underlying intuition about what consciousness is. As Max Velmans and Susan Schneider wrote in The Blackwell Companion to Consciousness: "Anything that we are aware of at a given moment forms part of our consciousness, making conscious experience at once the most familiar and most mysterious aspect of our lives."Western philosophers, since the time of Descartes and Locke, have struggled to comprehend the nature of consciousness and identify its essential properties. Issues of concern in the philosophy of consciousness include whether the concept is fundamentally coherent; whether consciousness can ever be explained mechanistically; whether non-human consciousness exists and if so how it can be recognized; how consciousness relates to language; whether consciousness can be understood in a way that does not require a dualistic distinction between mental and physical states or properties; and whether it may ever be possible for computing machines like computers or robots to be conscious, a topic studied in the field of artificial intelligence.

Thanks to developments in technology over the past few decades, consciousness has become a significant topic of interdisciplinary research in cognitive science, with significant contributions from fields such as psychology, anthropology, neuropsychology and neuroscience. The primary focus is on understanding what it means biologically and psychologically for information to be present in consciousness—that is, on determining the neural and psychological correlates of consciousness. The majority of experimental studies assess consciousness in humans by asking subjects for a verbal report of their experiences (e.g., "tell me if you notice anything when I do this"). Issues of interest include phenomena such as subliminal perception, blindsight, denial of impairment, and altered states of consciousness produced by alcohol and other drugs, or spiritual or meditative techniques.

In medicine, consciousness is assessed by observing a patient's arousal and responsiveness, and can be seen as a continuum of states ranging from full alertness and comprehension, through disorientation, delirium, loss of meaningful communication, and finally loss of movement in response to painful stimuli. Issues of practical concern include how the presence of consciousness can be assessed in severely ill, comatose, or anesthetized people, and how to treat conditions in which consciousness is impaired or disrupted. The degree of consciousness is measured by standardized behavior observation scales such as the Glasgow Coma Scale.

Descriptive knowledge

Descriptive knowledge, also declarative knowledge, propositional knowledge, or constative knowledge, is the type of knowledge that is, by its very nature, expressed in declarative sentences or indicative propositions. This distinguishes descriptive knowledge from what is commonly known as "knowing-how", or procedural knowledge (the knowledge of how, and especially how best, to perform some task), and "knowing of", or knowledge by acquaintance (the non-propositional knowledge of something through direct awareness of it). Descriptive knowledge is also identified as "knowing-that" or knowledge of fact, embodying concepts, principles, ideas, schemas, and theories. The entire descriptive knowledge of an individual constitute his understanding of the world and more specifically how it or a part of it works.The distinction between knowing-how and knowing-that was introduced in epistemology by Gilbert Ryle. For Ryle, the former differs in its emphasis and purpose since it is primarily practical knowledge whereas the latter focuses on indicative or explanatory knowledge.

Epistemological idealism

Epistemological idealism is a subjectivist position in epistemology that holds that what one knows about an object exists only in one's mind. It is opposed to epistemological realism.

Evolutionary epistemology

Evolutionary epistemology refers to three distinct topics: (1) the biological evolution of cognitive mechanisms in animals and humans, (2) a theory that knowledge itself evolves by natural selection, and (3) the study of the historical discovery of new abstract entities such as abstract number or abstract value that necessarily precede the individual acquisition and usage of such abstractions.


Broadly speaking, fallibilism (from Medieval Latin: fallibilis, "liable to err") is the philosophical claim that no belief can have justification which guarantees the truth of the belief. However, not all fallibilists believe that fallibilism extends to all domains of knowledge.

God and Other Minds

God and Other Minds is a 1967 book by the American philosopher of religion Alvin Plantinga which re-kindled philosophical debate on the existence of God in Anglo-American philosophical circles by arguing that belief in God was like belief in other minds: although neither could be demonstrated conclusively against a determined sceptic both were fundamentally rational. Though Plantinga later modified some of his views, particularly on the soundness of the ontological argument and on the nature of epistemic rationality, he still stands by the basic theses of the book.

Hierarchical epistemology

Hierarchical epistemology is a theory of knowledge which posits that beings have different access to reality depending on their ontological rank.

Index of philosophy of mind articles

This is a list of philosophy of mind articles.

Alan Turing

Alexius Meinong

Anomalous monism

Anthony Kenny

Arnold Geulincx

Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness

Australian materialism

Baruch Spinoza

Biological naturalism

Brain in a vat

C. D. Broad

Chinese room



Consciousness Explained

Critical realism (philosophy of perception)

Daniel Dennett

David Hartley (philosopher)

David Kellogg Lewis

David Malet Armstrong

Direct realism

Direction of fit

Disquisitions relating to Matter and Spirit

Donald Davidson (philosopher)

Dream argument

Dualism (philosophy of mind)

Duration (Bergson)

Edmund Husserl

Eliminative materialism

Embodied philosophy

Emergent materialism

Evil demon

Exclusion principle (philosophy)

Frank Cameron Jackson

Fred Dretske

Functionalism (philosophy of mind)

G. E. M. Anscombe

Georg Henrik von Wright

George Edward Moore

Gilbert Harman

Gilbert Ryle

Gottfried Leibniz

Hard problem of consciousness

Henri Bergson

Hilary Putnam



Indefinite monism


Internalism and externalism

Intuition pump

J. J. C. Smart

Jaegwon Kim

Jerry Fodor

John Perry (philosopher)

John Searle

Karl Popper

Kendall Walton

Kenneth Allen Taylor

Ludwig Wittgenstein

Mad pain and Martian pain

Mental property

Methodological solipsism

Michael Tye (philosopher)


Mind-body dichotomy


Multiple Drafts Model

Multiple realizability

Naming and Necessity

Naïve realism


Neutral monism

Noam Chomsky

Parallelism (philosophy)

Personal identity


Philosophy of artificial intelligence

Philosophy of mind

Philosophy of perception


Pluralism (philosophy)

Privileged access

Problem of other minds

Property dualism

Psychological nominalism


Reflexive monism

René Descartes

Representational theory of mind

Richard Rorty

Ron McClamrock

Self (philosophy)

Society of Mind


Stephen Stich

Subjective idealism


Sydney Shoemaker

Tad Schmaltz

The Concept of Mind

The Meaning of Meaning

Thomas Nagel

Turing test

Type physicalism

Unconscious mind

Wilfrid Sellars

William Hirstein

William James


Intersubjectivity, in philosophy, psychology, sociology, and anthropology, is the psychological relation between people. It is usually used in contrast to solipsistic individual experience, emphasizing our inherently social being.

List of epistemologists

This is a list of epistemologists, that is, people who theorize about the nature of knowledge, belief formation and the nature of justification.


Neuroepistemology is an empirical approach to epistemology—the study of knowledge in a general, philosophical sense—which is informed by modern neuroscience, especially the study of the structure and operation of the brain involving neural networks and neuronal epistemology. Philosopher Patricia Churchland has written about the topic and, in her book Brain-Wise, characterised the problem as "how meat knows". Georg Northoff, in his Philosophy of the Brain, wrote that it "focuses on direct linkage between the brain on one hand and epistemic abilities and inabilities on the other."

Other Minds

Other Minds may mean:

Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness, a 2016 book on octopus intelligence by Peter Godfrey-Smith

Other Minds (organization), a not-for-profit based in San FranciscoSee also:

Context as Other Minds, a 2005 book on human linguistic communication by John Benjamins

God and Other Minds, a 1967 book on the rationality of religious belief by Alvin Plantinga

Problem of other minds, a traditional question in philosophy

Pain (philosophy)

Philosophy of pain may be about suffering in general or more specifically about physical pain. The experience of pain is, due to its seeming universality, a very good portal through which to view various aspects of human life. Discussions in philosophy of mind concerning qualia has given rise to a body of knowledge called philosophy of pain, which is about pain in the narrow sense of physical pain, and which must be distinguished from philosophical works concerning pain in the broad sense of suffering. This article covers both topics.

Philosophical zombie

The philosophical zombie or p-zombie argument is a thought experiment in philosophy of mind and philosophy of perception that imagines a being that, if it could conceivably exist, logically disproves the idea that physical stuff is all that is required to explain consciousness. Such a zombie would be indistinguishable from a normal human being but lack conscious experience, qualia, or sentience. For example, if a philosophical zombie were poked with a sharp object it would not feel any pain sensation, yet would behave exactly as if it did feel pain. The argument sometimes takes the form of hypothesizing a zombie world, indistinguishable from our world, but lacking first person experiences in any of the beings of that world.

Philosophical zombie arguments are used in support of mind-body dualism against forms of physicalism such as materialism, behaviorism and functionalism. It's an argument against the idea that the "hard problem of consciousness" (accounting for subjective, intrinsic, first person, what-it's-like-ness) could be answered by purely physical means. Proponents of the argument, such as Australian philosopher David Chalmers, argue that since a zombie is defined as physiologically indistinguishable from human beings, even its logical possibility would be a sound refutation of physicalism, because it would establish the existence of conscious experience as a further fact. However, physicalists like Daniel Dennett counter that philosophical zombies are logically incoherent and thus impossible.

Privileged access

In the fields of epistemology and philosophy of mind, a person (the subject, the self) has privileged access to their own thoughts. This implies the subject has access to, and knows, their own thoughts (has self-knowledge) in such a way that others do not. Privileged access can be characterized in two ways:

Positive characterization: privileged access comes through introspection.

Negative characterization: knowledge derived from privileged access is not based upon evidences.


Solipsism ( (listen); from Latin solus, meaning 'alone', and ipse, meaning 'self') is the philosophical idea that only one's own mind is sure to exist. As an epistemological position, solipsism holds that knowledge of anything outside one's own mind is unsure; the external world and other minds cannot be known and might not exist outside the mind. As a metaphysical position, solipsism goes further to the conclusion that the world and other minds do not exist. This extreme position is claimed to be irrefutable, as the solipsist believes themself to be the only true authority, all others being creations of their own mind.

Speculative reason

Speculative reason, sometimes called theoretical reason or pure reason, is theoretical (or logical, deductive) thought, as opposed to practical (active, willing) thought. The distinction between the two goes at least as far back as the ancient Greek philosophers, such as Plato and Aristotle, who distinguished between theory (theoria, or a wide, bird's eye view of a topic, or clear vision of its structure) and practice (praxis), as well as techne.

Speculative reason is contemplative, detached, and certain, whereas practical reason is engaged, involved, active, and dependent upon the specifics of the situation. Speculative reason provides the universal, necessary principles of logic, such as the principle of non-contradiction, which must apply everywhere, regardless of the specifics of the situation.

On the other hand, practical reason is the power of the mind engaged in deciding what to do. It is also referred to as moral reason, because it involves action, decision, and particulars. Though many other thinkers have erected systems based on the distinction, two important later thinkers who have done so are Aquinas (who follows Aristotle in many respects) and Immanuel Kant.

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