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Ernest Partridge, Ph.D

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A Pragmatic Dissolution of "The Mind-Body Problem"


Ernest Partridge

University of Utah

April 1968

A Parable:

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, England.


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 incorrigible?

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 the club.

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 way?"

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 other minds.

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 target:2

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 153]

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 married."

(2) " The reason that there are chickens is because there are eggs."

(3) "All thought presupposes a previous thought" (C. S. Peirce).

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 primitive origins.

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 believe.4

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 find them!)

"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 Weltanschauung.

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 Inquiry 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"

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 derived from public language?

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 Chicago).

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 expression. Capital!

7.    Most of these are reviewed by Anthony Quinton in his paper, "The Foundations of Knowledge," reprinted in British Analytical Philosophy, Williams and Montefiore, eds.

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. 58.




PoM (Chappell, V. C. ed) The Philosophy of Mind. Introduction" Prentice Hall, 1962.

ToK Chisholm, Roderick Theory of Knowledge Prentice Hall 1966

KoM Malcolm, Norman. "Knowledge of Other Minds" (In Chappell, above).

Mead, George H.. Mind, Self and Society. University of Chicago

Peirce, Charles S. Collected Papers, Vol. 5. Harvard Univ. Press, 1967. Vol 6, p.7



Dr. Ernest Partridge is a consultant, writer and lecturer in the field of Environmental Ethics and Public Policy. He has taught Philosophy at the University of California, and in Utah, Colorado and Wisconsin. He publishes the website, "The Online Gadfly" (www.igc.org/gadfly) and co-edits the progressive website, "The Crisis Papers" (www.crisispapers.org).  Dr. Partridge can be contacted at: gadfly@igc.org .