I've asked a question about the criteria for existence, but here I want to focus on a particular aspect. What does it mean If I say: Bob has a mind - Bob's mind exists - Bob is not a philosophical zombie.

I'm assuming that these three are equivalent, asserting the existence of something that is undetectable and cannot have any effect on the world as I know it. How to make sense of "existence" in this case?

  • Why did you say that "Bob has a mind - Bob's mind exists - Bob is not a philosophical zombie" and that these three assert the existence of something that is undetectable and cannot have any effect on the world? If the mind is undetectable and doesn't have any effect on the world, there wouldn't be the word "mind" and the discussion about it in this world, including this question! So, please clarify why you think so.
    – user287279
    Commented Aug 10, 2019 at 18:10
  • Existence of a chair when you, and everybody else, turn your back to it, is also something undetectable. Claims of existence, like other claims, involve plausible interpolations and extrapolations, and only have meaning within a system of beliefs that sanctions them. In this case, Bob's physiology and behavior is sufficiently similar to yours to extrapolate that he plausibly has a "mind", like yours, as well. If this extrapolation proves to be predictive of his behavior that is enough for practical purposes. Could he be a philosophical zombie? Sure. But then the chairs could be vanishing too.
    – Conifold
    Commented Aug 10, 2019 at 19:43
  • @conifold You are misusing the term 'undetectable'.
    – asmani
    Commented Aug 12, 2019 at 17:28
  • You'd have to elaborate what "undetectable" means to you, your post was put on hold because that is unclear. In the usual use, "mind" has plenty of effect on the world, as it affects behavior.
    – Conifold
    Commented Aug 13, 2019 at 0:37
  • You're right, and I'm planning to make a new thread asking clearly about the relationship between existence and detectablity. Anyhow, detection doesn't happen if you turn off or misdirect your detector.
    – asmani
    Commented Aug 13, 2019 at 15:23

1 Answer 1


Strawson has worked extensively on this problem of existence of others' minds. He first lays down his criteria of existence:

Strawson lays down the principle that one can ascribe experiences to oneself only if one is prepared to ascribe them to others. This is because a subject can meet this requirement only if they are able to pick out other subjects, and, Strawson holds, one cannot pick out non-spatial subjects.

Based on this criteria, he

concludes that when we self-refer we refer to an entity which has two sides or aspects, the physical and the mental, and not to a thing which possesses only the mental sort of feature, something else having the physical features

This clearly means that independent existence of the mental is not possible. But how do we even detect its dependent existence?

Since we can self-ascribe we must be able to other-ascribe, and that means that our methods for doing so must be adequate. As Strawson puts it, the criteria we employ for psychological ascription to others must be ‘logically adequate’.

There cannot, therefore, be a genuine problem of other minds.


  • Thanks. I don't quite understand the first paragraph. What does he mean by 'subject'?
    – asmani
    Commented Aug 12, 2019 at 17:25

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