Philosophy of Mind
Introduction Dualism Behaviourism Identity Theory Functionalism Dennett

Other Minds :

  More Problems
  Further Reading

  The Problem of Other Minds - Introduction

Why should other minds be a problem? Well, though the problem has many aspects it mainly concerns the difficulties that arise when we consider the experiences of other people. I may say that I know my own mind better than anyone else – or at least I am in the best position to. I have what philosophers term “priveleged access”. All this means it that I have a unique relationship to the contents of my own mind and mental experience, a form of access that no one else can have (unless, possibly, they are telepathic…).

This is fine, so far. But the problem arises when I try to imagine what it is like to be someone else. The recent film, Being John Malkovich, imagined that it was possible to enter the mind of another person, to see through their eyes, feel their emotions, etc. However, in real life, it is not possible to do this, so how can we really know that other people experience the world in the same way?

Another, more radical aspect of the problem concerns the existence of minds in other people at all. This sceptical problem argues that not only is is impossible to know what another person is thinking/feeling, but also that they actually think and feel. Although few people actually intend this argument to be taken seriously – along the lines of a Hollywood horror film – it does raise important points: what do we base our knowledge of other people on? On what basis do we interpret their actions? How can we claim knowledge of what others think and feel?