Philosophy in One Lecture

Daniel Bonevac:


In this video lecture Daniel draws two stick figures on the blackboard, representing two human bodies, and attached to each figure he draws a thought bubble, representing a mind for each body and a body for each mind. So for each distinct body there is only one distinct mind; and for each distinct mind there is only one body. Daniel draws a triangle to represent an object that is, or may be, a mind-independent attribute of reality.

If my summary of the main idea is correct, then Daniel Bonevac argues in this lecture as follows. Philosophy, at its core, is all about how does one relate the objects in one's mind to the objects one thinks exist in the minds of others and to objects one thinks exist as thought-independent or mind-independent objects of reality.

Upon introspection I find that I only know the items of recognition arising in my mind. I think that insight maps to weak forms of solipsism and/or idealism. I know that there is a human body in my mind and a human mind in my body. I know that there are memories and perceptions of other human bodies in my mind and that I recognize an automatic inference (since birth) that maps a mind to each body and a body to each mind in the human and animal social context. I map such insights to the term epistemological solipsism - I only know my own mind - and to the concept of unconscious inference described by Helmholtz - there are patters of recognition arising in my mind with no conscious source of cause. Specifically, my experience of a human mind for each human body and a human body for each human mind arises automatically with no need to generate a conscious inference.

Idealism and Distinctions

SEP - https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/idealism/#Intr

Even within philosophy, the terms “idealism” and “idealist” are used in different ways, which often makes their meaning dependent on the context. However, independently of context one can distinguish between a descriptive (or classificatory) use of these terms and a polemical one, although sometimes these different uses occur together. Their descriptive use is best documented by paying attention to the large number of different “idealisms” that appear in philosophical textbooks and encyclopedias, ranging from metaphysical idealism through epistemological and aesthetic to moral or ethical idealism. Within these idealisms one can find further distinctions, such as those between subjective, objective and absolute idealism, and even more obscure characterizations such as speculative idealism and transcendental idealism. It is also remarkable that the term “idealism”, at least within philosophy, is often used in such a way that it gets its meaning through what is taken to be its opposite: as the meaningful use of the term “outside” depends on a contrast with something considered to be inside, so the meaning of the term “idealism” is often fixed by what is taken to be its opposite. Thus, an idealist is someone who is not a realist, not a materialist, not a dogmatist, not an empiricist, and so on. Given the fact that many also want to distinguish between realism, materialism, dogmatism, and empiricism, it is obvious that thinking of the meaning of “idealism” as determined by what it is meant to be opposed to leads to further complexity and gives rise to the impression that underlying such characterizations lies some polemical intent.

The Thought - The Thinker

When I contemplate philosophical distinctions the pattern is always such distinctions arise in my mind coupled at times to expressions of conceptual thought (Example: idealism vs realism) and to perceptions of philosophical thinkers (Example: idealist vs realist).

But all the distinctions among bodies, minds, thoughts, and thinkers are maps or relations arising only in my mind. Empathy arises and exists in my mind along with the automatic or unconscious inference that empathy is also a property of other minds. I can map everything in my mind to social inference, empathy inference, distinctions, and relations among those distinctions, and none of this knowledge is independent of distinctions arising in my own mind. The concept of, or belief in, mind-independence is itself a thought arising in my mind!

  • 1
    Illusion may be better word here as hinted by Shurangama Sutra long ago: With your own mind, you grasp at your own mind. What is not illusory turns into illusion. If you don’t grasp, there is no non-illusion. If even non-illusion does not arise, How can illusory dharmas be established? This is called the Wonderful Lotus Flower, The Regal Vajra Gem of Enlightenment... Jan 24 at 4:00
  • Illusion and non-illusion are only distinctions arising in my mind when the field of awareness is populated with such distinctions! When the field of awareness is not populated with the distinction there is neither illusion nor non-illusion! The dirty secret I have learned from conversations with Zen masters, self-authorized talk therapists, or in men's peer group discussions, and which is not always recognized by each thinker, is that each thinker is discussing the items of recognition arising in their own minds like the blind men describing the elephant! My body-mind originates distinctions! Jan 25 at 21:51

1 Answer 1


Question 1 - no.

Look, just because we only directly access our own minds doesn't mean other minds cannot exist. We rely on reasoning and empirical evidence to infer the existence of other conscious beings, even if we cannot directly access their internal states. As for idealism.. While our experiences are mental, it doesn't necessarily follow that everything is simply a mental construct. Idealism in its stronger forms posits that the entire universe is mind-dependent, which is a more radical claim that requires additional arguments beyond introspection.

Question 2 - also no.

For example, distinctions like "body" and "mind" may correspond to different aspects of a single underlying reality. Even if both are ultimately "mind-dependent" in the sense of being apprehended through consciousness, they may reflect different ways of experiencing this reality. Distinctions like "red" and "green" may point to objective properties of the world that exist independently of our minds, even if our perception of these properties is subjective.

Adding more on "weak" solipsism

Weak solipsism claims that while other minds may exist, all distinctions and inferences occur within one's own mind. However, this does not explain how people are able to communicate, share ideas, and arrive at mutual understanding. If all cognition were confined to separate individual minds, shared meaning would not be possible. While weak solipsism allows for the existence of other minds, it asserts that the recognition or awareness of those other minds occurs in a mind-dependent way. This leads to an infinite regress - to recognize another mind requires the prior cognition of what constitutes a "mind", but that conceptual recognition must already rely on awareness of other minds.

If the external world has mind-independent existence, then surely the bodies and brains we observe that are associated with expressions of cognition would also have mind-independent existence. To allow existence of objects but not the associated minds seems arbitrary. The ability for multiple observers to correct each others' knowledge or faulty inferences about externally observable data suggests that the distinctions made by consciousness have some purchase on mind-independent reality. Else, there would be no basis for judging competing truth claims.

  • I use the adjective "weak" in front of solipsism and/or idealism to allow for the independent existence of other minds and of real objects outside the mind. However, the inferences and distinctions in all cases arise as mind-dependent knowledge in my own mind. Distinctions among body, mind, thoughts, thinkers, arise only in my mind and the ideas that map items of recogntion to relations among each other (sets and relations) occurs as knowledge of distinctions in my mind. I have found no mind-independent means to determine which distinctions map to other minds or to mind-independent objects. Jan 24 at 0:58
  • I added more details as I see it concerning weal solipsism. Basically it is not different from just solipsism logically, same flaws
    – user68439
    Jan 25 at 13:29
  • If all cognition were confined to separate individual minds, shared meaning would not be possible. The only attributes I recognize of so-called external reality arise in my mind! The ultimate source of such attributes is either: (A) The Great Mystery; or (B) already derived from attributes existing in my mind! I concede that The Great Mystery seems to generate multiple minds like mine (mammal minds) with capacities for social inference, empathy, and language capacities. I only infer that all mammal minds experience social modes as self-other communication because that is how my mind works! Jan 25 at 17:58

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