Can I know what another person is thinking or feeling? If so, how?

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Can I know what another person is thinking or feeling? If so, how?

The problem of Other Minds is a true philosophical enigma. It is apt to strike children with no philosophical education whatsoever, yet remains intractable to many academics.

Broadly speaking, the problem can be divided into three questions. Firstly, how do

I come to believe that there are minds in the world other than my own?

Secondly, how can I justify my belief that there are minds in the world

other than my own? Thirdly, what can I state about the mental states of

minds other than my own?. The question we are dealing with here falls

largely into the third category, although of course issues relating to the

other two will also be involved.

Firstly, it is imperative to assert that, in looking for 'knowledge', we

are not aiming for logical certainties - we are not aiming to show that

any propositions about other minds can be demonstrated with absolute

certainty equivalent to that of mathematical truths. Philosophy ever

since Descartes has tended to be defined by scepticism: either it aims to

produce sceptical theories or it aims to refute them. And sceptics tend

towards extremity in their doubts. It must be stated here and now that

there are not, and never can be, any theories that prove demonstratively

that other minds exist, or that I know others' mental states. This is not

what should be aimed at in attempting to solve the problem. As Austin puts

it "To suppose that the question 'How do I know that Tom is angry?' is

meant to mean 'How do I introspect Tom's feelings?' is simply barking up

the wrong gum-tree."

Most philosophers agree that their theories only bestow a greater or

lesser amount of probability onto statements about other minds (although

there are exceptions, e.g. Peter Strawson's attempt to argue

transcendentally for the existence of other minds through our own

self-consciousness). There have been a number of different attempts to do

this. J.S. Mill, who produced the first known formulation of the Other

Minds problem, used the so-called 'Argument from Analogy' both to explain

how we come to believe in other minds and to justify this belief. Briefly,

the argument holds that I am directly aware of mental states in myself,

and I am aware of the behaviour of mine that results from and is caused by

these mental states. As I can observe similar physical behaviour in

others, I draw the analogy that it is caused by the same (or at least

similar) mental states to my own.

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