Sample Essay

The problem of the other mind is that if I can only observe others behavior, then how can I be sure that they have a mind and are not doing their work automatically? This problem is precipitated by the dualist view that the mind is private, irreducible, and only contingently associated with physical things. The problem of the other mind is a critique of mind body dualism because dualism assumes that we cannot know what other people have in mind. On the other hand, the problem of the other mind assumes that we can ascertain what is in the mind of other people. Therefore to be consistent, the dualist assumptions must be rejected (Wilson, 1972).

The problem of the other mind is often used to support rival theories such as behaviorism. Behaviorists hold that to ascribe a mental state to someone is only to say something about that person’s actual or hypothetical behavior.  To be in pain is just to behave, or at least be disposed to behave, in the ways we stereotypically associate with pain—crying out, wincing, favoring the injured part, etc. Behaviorism begins by denying everything that the dualist holds dear: There are no non-physical minds, but there are thinking people. So each person is the very same thing as his or her body, and exists only so long as the body continues to function (Carnap, 2002) (Ryle, 1992) (Putnam, 2002).

Some behaviorists focus on the language used in describing mental states and behaviors. Since mind can only mean ‘your experience of the world’ or ‘what it is like to be me’, it is a distortion of language to make it mean a distinct mental substance. According to them, Descartes was looking for some special entity separate from the body and forms of behavior called a ‘mind’; the mind body problem is stemming from a misinterpretation of common terms (Ryle, 1992).

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