LOGIC, PSYCHO-LOGIC AND OTHER
A Pragmatic Dissolution of "The Mind-Body Problem"
University of Utah
Once upon a time, an old stone cutter said to his son:
"See here, son, you know very well that your face looks
pretty much like mine and brother Charleyís. And donít forget
that whenever you see such a thing - a human face - the same
thing goes on behind it as goes on behind your little pug nose.
Thereís a person there with feelings like your own. So be nice!
"But," the child asked, "How can I know that this face
has, as you say, Ďsomething behind ití? Couldnít it be the face
of an elaborate doll? Couldnít I be dreaming?"
"Look, kid, ya want a belt in the mouth?"
And so the child left to seek after a square circle. It is
said that he ended his days with "the taste of hemlock on his
tongue" - whatever that can mean!
Which of these "methods" of inquiry led to the belief in
other minds? Whichever did so, did so very well for this
belief is unquestioned the world over with the possible
exception of such quaint places as Ithaca, New York, and Oxford,
It seems clear that the mass of mankind has learned to believe in
other minds through the fatherís method of instruction, and not
through the logical exercises of the son and his kind. Of course,
the father was guilty of that grossest of fallacies, ad bacculum.
However, as a teaching method this is nonetheless effective.
The son chose to pursue a logical analysis of the concept of other
minds, and his pursuit is honored in the history of philosophy - and
is diligently emulated by many contemporary philosophers.
Now, of course, none would argue that the existence of other
minds is a fact to be learned in philosophy classes or out of
philosophy books. The so-called "philosophical problem of other
minds" is understood by the philosophical club to be a problem of
logic or meaning - a problem, that is, of philosophical analysis. As
such, the problem is customarily abstracted from the messy business
of genetic psychology and is analyzed for the structure of its
meaning or its method of validation. A less sympathetic commentator
(e.g. myself) might look upon it as having been yanked from its
[relevant] social and psychological contexts and concocted in
artificial terminology and dissected in terms of barren and
abstract, if elegant, schemes of analysis. In this paper I will
suggest that in yanking the issue of other minds from the living,
evolving context of human society, these analysts very possibly have
carried it away from the very arena in which it has any chance of
being solved. Under their careful scrutiny, these philosophers have
failed to find answers to questions that, by their very method of
operation, they have abolished.
Much of this difficulty might have ben avoided if a greater care
had been taken (a) to distinguish issues involved in the "other
minds" question, and (b) to articulate just what was being sought in
these analyses of the problem. I would therefore propose a simple
listing of the problem (and pseudo-problems) pursued in the
philosophical examination of "other minds." It begins with a rather
commonplace distinction between "meaning" and "validation:"
A. The Question of Meaning:
(A-1) How do second and third person
psychological statements (e.g. "you are tired;" "he
has a toothache") acquired meaning? How does an
infant come to understand and use them correctly.
(A-2) Given such statements, how are we to assign
or justify cognitive meaning to them? From a logical
(non-temporal) point of view, how does one make
sense of the report of a second person that this
second person (say) has a pain?
B. The Question of Validation:
(B-1) How does one come to believe in the
existence of other minds? How does his experience
bear evidence for this belief?
(B-2) What logical justification do we
have in our belief in other minds? I.E. What is the
logical structure of our belief, and what are
the basic premises thereof? Are these premises
consistent, logically tenable, irreducibly and
A review of these four items reveals that the first and third
(A-1 and B-1) are articulated in terms of processes and are amenable
to empirical investigation. The second and fourth (A-2 and B-2) are
formulated in terms of concept analysis and logical structure.
Now of course we could carry on like this in the tradition of J.
L. Austin, but the above will about suffice for our present
purposes. I shall, in the remainder of this paper, attempt to show
that the empirical genetic approach to the meaning and validation of
second and third [person] statements is the appropriate one. On the
other hand, I will further argue, the conceptual-logical approach is
the major source of mischief in the philosophical problem of other
minds, for it leads to frantic searchings for answers to which there
are no meaningful questions -- which, of course, serves to pre-empt
much hope for meaning in the answers. How so? Well, for
example, we encounter through such analyses, such questions as (a)
What are the premises upon which the belief in other minds is
grounded? (b) How is the belief structured from these grounds? The
answer, or better response, to these questions should,
I think, be (a) there are no such assumptions and (b) there
is no "logical structuring" of the belief. It is, quite simply,
pointless to try to apply Descartesí grid of premises and
inferential structure to this question of other minds. The approach
has little to do with how we come to believe in other minds,
or why we continue believe -- and it is not the way that we assign
meaning to the psychological terms that we apply to others.
This Cartesian prejudice is so much a part of our philosophical
heritage that it might seem utterly outrageous to question it. But
if we review and contemplate some of the outlandish results of this
approach to the other-minds problem, we might then feel justified in
"questioning" our questions before we too blithely pose them and run
down the same road. I hope to show that there is a better way to
deal with the problem.
The analystsí devotion to their logical duty is well illustrated
by the following attacks on the analogy theory of the belief in
other mind: Chisolm complains that it is "weak" and "difficult." [ToK
64-5] Says Shorter, it is "inadequate, if not radically defective"
(logically speaking). [OM 6-7] And Chappell reports that "most
philosophers now agree in rejecting the analogy argument." He too
cites formal weaknesses in the argument. [PoM] Malcolm argues that
analogical reasoning is "tenuous" and "yields at best a
probability." [!] [KoM 152] The pervading complaint, herein, is that
this argument1 is logically "leaky", "imperfect," "merely
probably." This failure to meet the analystsí high logical standards
is apparently taken as grounds for dismissal, and cause to look
elsewhere in search of the solution that will meet the standards of
If one assumes the pragmatic-empirical approach, as I do, he is
liable to view this "dismissal" with a smile and a shrug. "Well, so
youíve found no proof of other minds that can display rigor and
elegance of the Pythagorean Theorem? Well, so what? How strange that
youíd bother even to look! What do you propose to do now -- refuse
to believe that "analogy" (or some other argument) supplies any
warrant whatever? Are you prepared , then, to go the whole route --
all the way to solipsism? Say, why are "you" looking at "me" that
Is it not possible that when the analysts point out the
inelegancies, circularities and other logical shortcomings of the
various arguments for other minds, they are in fact inclined to fall
into a sizeable logical trap of their own? Arenít they taking a
startling leap from the assertion:
(a) There are no logically binding reasons to believe in
other minds, (which few of the empirical-genetic approach
feel called upon to dispute or, more to the point, bother
with). To the pronouncement:
(b) There are no good reasons at all for us to believe in
Put it this baldly, and the logician will likely retreat and
retort: "I mean no such thing!" But if not, why make such a fuss
about a "merely probable", "logically defective" argument? Why the
gleeful triumph when a logical imperfection is found in empirically
convincing hypotheses? "Where are you, David Hume, now when we need
you!" Or isnít it just possible that all these logical
investigations devoted to proving assertion (a) just donít add up to
a hill of beans -- do not, that is, lend significant reason to
accept assertion (b)?
Letís look at a sample "formal" refutation of the analogy
argument. Malcolm is our analyst of record, and Hampshire is his
The reasoning that [Hampshire] presents in his version of
the analogy argument] involves the assumption that other
human figures do have thoughts and sensations: for they are
assumed to make inferences about me from observations of my
behavior. But the philosophical problem of the existence of
other minds is the problem of whether human figures other
that oneself do, among other things, make observations,
inferences, and assertions. Hampshireís supposed defense of
the argument from analogy is an Ignoratio Elenchi. [KoM
Now traditionally, if one philosopher catches another in a
circular argument, the second is supposed to say "aw shucks!" and
proceed forthwith to leave the field of combat and begin to work on
a revision. But perhaps the rule itself is due for some scrutiny and
revision, at least in some cases. The above case might just
not be one of them.
The sin of "circularity" violates a basic logical rule: you must
not, in explaining something, include the point to be explained (explicandum)
in the explanation (explicans). Clear and simple - and
formally correct! But when this rule is foisted upon our studies of
evolving and developing events and species, our investigation is in
danger of being gravely crippled. This over-reaching of the
circularity principle I call "the chicken-egg syndrome."
Consider the following three cases"
(1) "The reason that Harry is a bachelor is that he is not
The reason that there are chickens is because there are
(3) "All thought presupposes a previous thought" (C. S.
Item (1) is clearly circular. You might complain: "you could have
stopped at the word Ďbachelorí, for you are telling me nothing new
by saying that he is also unmarried." To item (2), you might say,
"Ok wise guy, where did the eggs come from, if not from chickens?"
We are right back where we started! As for this fellow Pierce (3),
just let me ask what came before someoneís first thought? If there
was no thought before the first thought, then it was no
thought, and so this "second" wasnít either, nor any succeeding.
QED. "Aw, itís all a bunch of nonsense!" Maybe nonsense -- or maybe
a profoundly important insight.
Our friendís dismissal of (1) is just, for the circularity
resides in the terms of the sentence. It is merely verbal. His
dismissal of (2) is, formally speaking, correct too, but the
underlying factual matter is most significant, for chickens, eggs,
and thoughts, the issue is profoundly different than in the case of
Harryís marital status. The schoolboy puzzler "which came first the
chicken or the egg?" is a puzzle only because the second schoolboy
doesnít think to dismiss the question. He thinks it to be either the
chicken or the egg. Neither the chicken nor The egg? "Donít be
silly!" But of course, that is just the move to make! Before
chickens were chickens, they were fouls in the woods, and before
that (say a few million years) they were reptiles, and so on. Are we
then to ask "which amoeba came first?" No, we dismiss the question
by pointing out that chickens and eggs evolved concomitantly from
It is with such an analysis that Peirce refutes Descartesí
assumption that there must be "First Principles" of thought from
which our knowledge is elaborated. To this Cartesian doctrine,
Peirce counters that thoughts were preceded, with no abrupt jumps,
by habits, instincts, brute biochemical reactions -- back,
presumably, to the gleam in fatherís eye. Armed with this brilliant
insight,3 we are enabled to dismiss the analysts search
for the "first principles," "intuitions," "criteria," or what have
you, upon which our beliefs in other minds is allegedly based. The
controversy that Malcolm raises with Mill as to which came first,
criteria or analogies, in the development of the belief in other
minds, [KoM 152] is just the sort of contest that might be voided
with this critical insight.
Most significantly, we now have the license to bypass those
endless arguments as to whether our beliefs in others pre-supposed
our concept of self, of vice-versa, or whether both were presupposed
by our use of language. Why not instead suppose that in the
childhood of each individual, mind, self-concept, other-concept, and
languages evolved all together in-and-because-of a social context.
This is just what George Herbert Mead argued, and brilliantly, I
If, then, we accept the pragmatic-genetic approach of Mead, and
Peirce (and Partridge), what are we to make of the logicianís
analysis of "other-minds" -- their search for "foundations" and
"components" of this belief? From this new perspective, the
analystsí pretensions seem pointless and even comical. Instead of
following his Yellow-Brick-Road back to pristine, fundamental "first
principles", he finds that his road back loses its pavement, gets
rutted and peters out into a trail and then disappears. The
"components" of the concept-of-others are not like the components of
a toy box, to be spread out and admired. They are more like the
ingredients of a cake. ("Yes, there are two eggs in this cake. Go
"Very well, pragmatist, how do you account for other minds?"5
Briefly, I believe in you, and those others, because I canít
sincerely do otherwise (the "artificial stupidity"6 that
philosophers are wont to practice for their idle amusement just
wonít count). Of course, I can conceive of all these bipeds
being automatons, or I can imagine that a Cartesian devil derives
his kicks by manufacturing and producing an elaborate deception just
to fool the only other self-conscious being - moi. But to
believe this and to put it into a rational scheme that
accounts for the events that I encounter in my workaday life --
sorry, itís just too much! So I have a rather commonplace argument:
parsimony. If you wish to question the belief in other
minds, then be so good as to conjure up another consistent
scheme (or "language game" if you want to think young), without
presuming other minds, and yet in reasonable accord with brute facts
(including, of course, all those troublesome bipeds). I just donít
think you can pull it off. If you think you can do it, then let "me"
know. Oh, sorry, thatís inconsistent! So I suggest that you will run
out of friends long before you run across your workable solipsistic
In conclusion, I would charge the logical purist to ask himself
the following questions at least:
1) Is it possible that there just
is no logical
foundation--no set, identifiable Cartesian "First
Principle--upon which our belief in other minds is grounded.
2) If there are no such "incorrigible first principles" ,
then does it really matter? Or did you, in fact, await the
sunrise with apprehension the night you first read Humeís
treatment of "causation" in part VII of the
Concerning Human Understanding.
3) Is it not just possible that our belief is other minds
is in fact founded on analogical and psychological evidence,
and a very compelling call for parsimony--and that all this
adds up to non-logical reason enough to place the
matter far beyond any rational doubt.
4) Having considered all this, is there really any point
to all the trouble that you are putting yourself to?
If, despite all this our analyst persists, in his pursuits, let
us leave him with this challenge: "If you really think that there is
any point in logically conceiving that there are no other minds: If
you think that solipsism can make any sense at all to a man having
any sort of commerce with his environment--well then, just try to
spend one working day, outside your house, acting and thinking
consistently with this hypothesis.
The following comments just didnít seem to fit smoothly into the
body of my paper, but it could be of some use in probing discussion.
It is a list of five other fundamental difficulties raised by
critics of the "Foundations of Knowledge Doctrine"7
a) Just how are material object statements derived from
sense data statements without employing material
abject statements to do so. (E.g. "There is a table in the
next room? This floor is supported by beams?)8
b) How can a set of hypothetical statements (which, it is
alleged by some critics, sense data statements must
be) add up to categorical statements about material objects.
c) How can knowledge intrinsically private be translated
into knowledge of public objects?
d) Isnít "private language" in fact
e) Even more, isnít such a thing as a "private language"
impossible and incomprehensible (Wittgenstein
and Malcolm are the most noteworthy advocates of this view)
If, upon examination, we find that these challenges (and mine)
are substantial, we might then wonder "How did anyone ever come to
believe in incorrigible sense data statements in the first place? It
would seem that many were drawn astray by a dread of an "infinite
regress" Hard core "basic statements" or "basic meanings" were taken
as panacea against this trap. Quinton summarizes the argument:
The traditional form of the doctrine of foundation holds
that there must be some intuitive beliefs if any beliefs are
to be justified at all. By an intuitive belief is meant one
which does not own its truth or credibility to some other
belief or beliefs from which it can be inferred. For a
belief to be justified it is not enough for it to be
accepted, let alone merely entertained. There must also be
good reason for accepting it. Certainly some beliefs are
justifiable by reference to others, but only if these other
beliefs are themselves established or well confirmed. If
every belief was dependent on others for its justification,
no belief would be justified at all, for in this case to
justify any belief would require the justification of an
infinite series of beliefs. So if any belief is to be
justified, there must be a class of basic, non-inferential
beliefs to bring the regress of justification to a halt.9
1. Which, by the way, I am
not defending at the moment.
2. I will not include
Hampshireís argument in this excerpt. The point at issue is Malcolmís
means of criticizing it.
3. As it surely was in 1868
when Peirce published it in his article "Questions Concerning
Certain Faculties Claimed for Man." (Collected Papers 5:213-263)
4. Because of space
requirements, I will spare the reader a summary of Meadís theory of
the emergence of mind, self and language in social action. This is
spelled out in his book Mind, Self and Society , (Univ. of
5. At least for the run of this
paper, I am a pragmatist. Actually, at this stage in my education, I
tend to be a philosophical Chameleonist.
6. Bertrand Russellís
7. Most of these are reviewed
by Anthony Quinton in his paper, "The Foundations of Knowledge,"
reprinted in British Analytical Philosophy, Williams and
8. These points are carefully
argued by R. J. Hirst in his book, The Problems of Perception,
(Allen and Unwin), Ch. 2 & 3.
9. Quinton, op cit., p.