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Centrum för kognitiv semiotik (CCS)

Humanistiska och teologiska fakulteterna | Lunds universitet

2013-04-11

Other Minds and the Argument from Presence

Søren Overgaard

One version of the philosophical problem of other minds concerns whether – and if so how – we can know that other people are angry, in pain, or worried. Among those who think that we can know such things, some advocate a perceptual model of the knowledge in question, while others endorse inferential models. According to the former, one of the ways I can know that another person is angry is by seeing (or hearing) that she is. According to the latter, my knowledge of such things must be based on inference (for example, analogical inference or inference to the best explanation). While advocates of the perceptual model need not be – and typically are not – committed to the view that we cannot also know that others are angry by means of inference, defenders of inferential models usually reject the perceptual model altogether. Since we cannot see that another is angry, our knowledge that she is, if indeed we have such knowledge, must be inferential – so it is thought.

In this paper, I discuss some of the reasons one might have for thinking that it is not possible to see that another person is angry. I am, then, not directly concerned with the question of how, or whether, we can know that others are angry: my topic is whether or not this is something that we can see. I discuss three apparent obstacles to our seeing that another is angry and suggest that only one of them – which I call ‘the argument from pretence’ – poses a serious challenge to the perceptual model. The argument draws attention to the fact that genuine and fake behaviour can be indiscriminable from the point of view of an onlooker, in order to conclude that all we can ever see is mere behaviour compatible with the person’s not being angry. I argue that those who believe that we can see that others are angry can only meet the challenge posed by this argument by adopting what I call ‘disjunctivism about behaviour’. Disjunctivism about behaviour is roughly the view that a person’s behaviour when she is genuinely expressing anger is not of the same kind as her behaviour when she is merely pretending to be angry. I conclude by offering some reasons for thinking that disjunctivism about behaviour is an independently plausible view.