PHIL 355
Other Minds Spring 2025
Division II

Class Details

We will discuss, in this course, several different kinds of problems concerning other minds. Our starting point will be the traditional philosophical problem of solipsism – the skeptical challenge to our belief in the existence of other minds. Since I cannot have direct access to anyone else’s experiences, how do I know that I am not the only being in the world that has experiences? What gives me the idea that there are others like me? What justifies my application of the same psychological concepts (such as sad, curious, intends, fears) to myself and to others? How do I check whether the application is correct? Is self-knowledge a different kind of knowledge than knowledge of other minds? After considering these philosophical questions and various answers that have been given to them, we will turn our attention to natural, everyday questions about others. How do we manage to understand each other? Do we directly observe each other’s psychological lives? Or do we make inferences, or form theories? To what extent can we really know one another, and can we refine and deepen our understanding? Is knowledge of other minds crucial for our ethical practices? Are there people who lack the capacity for such knowledge? If so, are they exempt from at least some of our ethical expectations? Finally, how far can our understanding of others go? For example, how do we understand ‘inner lives’ of infants, of people with dementia, of people with schizophrenia, or of people without any empathy whatsoever? How do we understand mental lives of non-human animals? For that matter, how do non-human animals understand us? Is it true that other minds will always remain unknown and inscrutable to a considerable degree? The literature on other minds is vast and heterogeneous. In addition to a number of philosophical texts, we will be reading in a wide area of contemporary scientific research: on ‘mindreading’, social cognition, empathy, and on so-called psychopathology. Time permitting, we will also consider the role of narrative fiction (in literature and film) in expanding and deepening our knowledge of other minds.
The Class: Format: seminar
Limit: 12
Expected: 12
Class#: 3825
Grading: no pass/fail option, yes fifth course option
Requirements/Evaluation: Class attendance, preparedness and participation; Additional small group meetings, and rotating reports from these meetings; Weekly short assignments, oral or written. Some of these will be tutorial-style presentations, followed by comments by another student. A midterm paper, 5-6 pages long; A final paper, 7-8 pages long
Prerequisites: Declared Philosophy major or 4 Philosophy courses (one of which should be a Writing Skills course) or (exceptionally) consent of the instructor
Enrollment Preferences: Philosophy majors
Distributions: Division II
Attributes: PHIL Contemp Metaphysics + Epistemology Courses

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