Analytic Philosophy

Ordinary Language Philosophy

What is the other minds problem in philosophy?

To the philosophically innocent, this question sounds ridiculous: “Do other people have minds?” The ordinary answer is something like, “Of course they do!” However, the philosophical problem is the theoretical one of explaining how we know that other people have minds in accord with other philosophical commitments. Thus, an intuitionist might say that we know or feel the mind of another directly. A logical positivist would have to base our knowledge of other minds on what we perceive of the physical behavior of others and justified inferences that we can make based on those perceptions. This approach generates the interesting question of whether it would matter to us if someone close to us turned out to be a robot. Insofar as language usage does not cover interactions with robots that are sophisticated enough to perfectly mimic human behavior, it’s difficult to see how an ordinary language approach could solve this problem.

You may think it’s obvious that other people have minds just as you do, but for philosophers this notion is not so easily proven (iStock).

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