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I believe that other people also have minds.

To believe in other minds, arguments are needed.

All arguments in favor of the existence of other minds are subject to strong criticism.

So it turns out that it is not rational to believe that other people also have minds?

For example, I used to use arguments by analogy and the argument of best explanation for my belief in the existence of other minds, but professional philosophers have criticized these arguments.

https://www.philosophytalk.org/blog/problem-other-minds

It turns out that now these arguments are considered unconvincing.

Can you explain please?

Thank you

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Oct 25, 2022 at 19:47
  • Criticism does not imply certainty. Unconvincing is not the same as false. So, yes.
    – RodolfoAP
    Dec 18, 2022 at 13:58

7 Answers 7

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You might be interested in phenomenal conservatism, which is the view that "If it seems to S that P, then, in the absence of defeaters, S thereby has at least some justification for believing that P" (Huemer 2007, p. 30). In other words, when it comes to basic, common-sense beliefs (such as that other minds exist), you don't need arguments to rationally accept them; the onus is instead on the skeptic to give you some actual reason for doubting them to be true. In the absence of such a reason, the simple fact that P seems to be true provides sufficient justification for believing it. For more info (including some reasons to think PC is true), see Michael Huemer's IEP article on the matter.

Even if PC doesn't seem right to you, you could still adopt a sort of broadly common-sense epistemology. The idea here is basically that we should be more confident in our ordinary, common-sense beliefs than we are in any of the premises of any skeptical argument which seeks to undermine them. Hence, when Zeno comes along claiming to have proven that motion is impossible, we can simply ask him to list the premises in his argument, and it's pretty much a sure bet that none of them will be as plausible as the ordinary belief that things really move. Hence, we should prefer the rejection of those premises (or one of them, at least) over the rejection of our ordinary beliefs. For a nice defense of common-sense epistemology, see Doulas and Welchance (2021).

Also, with all due respect, I would note that one of the remarks made by another contributor is incorrect: specifically, the idea that we need reasons for our beliefs does not presuppose rationalism, nor does it assume that we require certainty (you can have some reason for believing something, without thereby thinking that it is certain). I think the commentor in question may have confused the rationalist's use of "reason" (as opposed to the empiricist's focus on experience) with the more general use of the term, as in "I have good reason for believing P." Empiricists still believe that we need "reasons" in this sense; it's just that they think these reasons need to involve some kind of experience. For more on this particular issue, see the SEP article on rationalism and empiricism.

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  • So believing that other people also have minds is very reasonable and rational?
    – Johnny5454
    Oct 27, 2022 at 14:13
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    @Johnny5454 - Yes.
    – user63220
    Oct 27, 2022 at 14:43
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TL/DR

If there is only truly only one mind in existence, you are not that mind.

Longer Answer

Let's go with your premise: one's beliefs should be based on reason.

Okay. I would add to that: the credence given to a proposition should be in proportion to the evidence available to support the proposition.

Is there any evidence available to support the proposition that I am the only mind which exists? No.

Is there any evidence available to support the proposition that I am not the only mind which exists? Yes.

Is that evidence 100% ironclad and absolutely compelling and utterly unimpeachable? No. It's always possible that I could be hallucinating, I'm the only mind which exists, or that other people are different than I am in some fundamental way which makes me the sole conscious creature, etc.

There just isn't any sane or rational reason to believe that this is the case. To the best of my ability to analyze evidence, other minds exist. So one of two things is true:

  1. Other minds exist.
  2. For some reason, all of the available evidence supports a false proposition, and does so in a way so clever that there is absolutely no way to determine that this is the case.

Which is more "reasonable" to believe? That I'm a unique and magical creature, the sole operating mind in my reality, the person who is at the absolute center of all reality? Or that I'm a person much like the other people that have independent behavior and report thoughts and feelings?


Even Longer Answer

The key insight here is an understanding of what "you" are. "You" are the experience of being you. It is common to think that you "have" a subconscious mind, or that you "have" a body, but your body and your subconscious and your microbiome and your endocrine system and your experience are all different symbiotic parts of a larger system.

If it's bigger than you and it includes you, it isn't a part of you. You are part of it.

Now, let us assume that everything is some sort of hallucination. Nothing you experience is real, everything is being made up. In this hallucination, there are rules. You can't fly like superman, you can't magic coffee into existence. Whatever is setting the rules, it's outside your experience. So your experience and whatever is setting the rules of your experience are parts of a larger system.

That experience contains things that you, as you experience yourself, did not produce. It isn't that you didn't produce every pop song, it is that there are any songs, words, or ideas that you have no experience of producing. They must be produced by some system outside your experience.

What is the nature of that system? Whatever it is, it is complex enough to generate many things which, to your experience, appear to be the products of other minds. In your experience, you can also produce things that appear to be the product of a mind. So we have two parts of the system that produce things that appear to be mind-products.

We know that one of these two things also has experiences. We know that those experiences inform the nature of those products. We see that other products appear to be informed by other experiences, and therefore by other experiencers. The simplest explanation for this is that there are other parts of the system that experience things much as you do.

If there is only one mind in existence, you and I are both part of it, and both equally unaware of its true scope and true nature.

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The short answer is: ignore the professional philosophers.

It is perfectly reasonable to believe others have minds like yours simply because they have behaviors similar to your own or describe their experience of mind in ways that parallel your own experience.

Concluding someone’s emotional reactions, use of language, analytic thought and other behaviors are due to an experience of mind, much like your own, rather than some convoluted alternative (mindless robots programmed by some evil mastermind?) is also completely rational.

Every argument, no matter how commonsense or logically sound, receives criticism. Sound arguments will not convince everyone no matter how rational they ought to be - credentials are not proof of genuine rationality (unfortunately), and certainly not evidence of the capacity to be rational about all things.

I’d argue there’s no downside to believing others have a mind like yours simply because they, like you, are human. If somebody behaves in a way that suggests an absence of mind, whether they have a mind or not isn’t that important: avoiding them because of their behavior is just good sense.

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    Yes. Saying "there's no downside to believing..." is like satisficing. But he seems to want absolute proof. I don't think that was included in the ingredients for this universe, unfortunately.
    – Scott Rowe
    Oct 26, 2022 at 10:55
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    @Johnny5454 Yes, that would be very rational. It is also compassionate, and while I value rationality, I believe compassion is the jewel in the crown. I also more than agree with Scott Rowe: every apparent fact be disputed; while it may be extreme, our senses and memories are fallible and cannot be technically proven correct nor free from manipulation.
    – user62966
    Oct 26, 2022 at 12:31
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    @ScottRowe Thanks - my vocabulary is a bit thin (I've got a feed set up for Symbolic Logic questions so I can lurk on this site, but get sucked in to spaces I should not roam). I really do think, whatever technicalities may arise, commonsense is a sufficient basis to reject solipsism. We can seek further evidence, together, from there.
    – user62966
    Oct 26, 2022 at 17:46
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    So believing that other people also have minds is very reasonable and rational?
    – Johnny5454
    Oct 26, 2022 at 19:29
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    @DanielMGessel. Yep. That's all I was saying. 'Rejecting' I took to mean as denying, and I was merely pointing out that we have no reason to discount it as a possibility yet. Oct 27, 2022 at 5:49
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There is a poor assumption here

The second premise of this question is untrue. NO we do not need "reasons" for beliefs. The question presumes rationalism as the basis for knowledge -- that to have knowledge one must have certainty, and that certainty is only provided by deduction.

However, philosophy and science have established that our world is contingent. And one can never have certainty over any contingent question.

Deduction provides "certainty" given a set of assumptions, but those assumptions do not have certainty associated with them, so deduction is unable to provide the certainly that the question is looking for.

So, what IS the method to achieve knowledge about our world?

We learn about our contingent world thru induction. And induction never provides certainty. Instead, the standard one uses for accepting inductive reasoning was outlined by Karl Popper when he clarified what the process of science is:

  • IF a theory is highly USEFUL in explaining observations and data
  • AND that theory makes predictions in areas where one did not already have data,
  • AND testing the theory led to confirmed risky predictions
  • THEN it is reasonable to assume the theory actually is true about the nature of our world

How does this apply to other minds?

The theory of other minds passes these criteria, with massive success. The behavior of other humans, and of other animals, is very effectively predicted by the theory of other minds, and that behavior is almost inexplicable without this theory. "New" tests are made and passed, whenever one interacts with others, and one tries to predict their behavior based on their motives.

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  • What about the best explanation argument for the existence of other minds? Is it still considered the best and I can use it to justify my belief that other people also have minds? Or has this argument been criticized and is invalid?
    – Johnny5454
    Oct 25, 2022 at 16:10
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    @Johnny5454 You keep asking the same question over and over, and have been paying no attention to any answers provided
    – Dcleve
    Oct 25, 2022 at 16:12
  • I keep asking: What about the best explanation argument for the existence of other minds? Is it still considered the best and I can use it to justify my belief that other people also have minds? Or has this argument been criticized and is invalid? But they don't give me answers.
    – Johnny5454
    Oct 25, 2022 at 16:14
  • That's all I want to know. plato.stanford.edu/entries/other-minds/#BestExpl What about the best explanation argument for the existence of other minds? Is it still the best argument for the existence of other minds? Can it be used? Is this argument still valid and good? How to use it? By itself or in combination with other arguments? This argument is open to criticism, does that make it false and invalid?
    – Johnny5454
    Oct 25, 2022 at 16:26
  • @Johnny5454 -- you have been given answers that tell you that many of your going in assumptions need to be rethought. You are not doing that rethinking, and just keep asking the same poorly grounded question over and over.
    – Dcleve
    Oct 25, 2022 at 16:28
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Given the number of similar related questions you've asked, it is clear this question is important to you, and it's perhaps not difficult to understand why, given that it relates to such a fundamental aspect of existence.

It is also easy to understand why you have not seemed to find any of the answers to date very satisfying. This is not a comment on the quality of responses to date - most of which (although I disagree on some fundamental points) betray considerable thought, effort and experience; more than I will be providing here - but on the nature of the problem with which you're engaging.

You have likely identified the fundamental issue at play here, and it's one you're unlikely to resolve:

All of the 'evidence for other minds' can be accounted for by the idea of solipsism.

In other words, if solipsism is true, it explains the experiences and phenomena to which we would usually turn to prove the counter-proposition that other minds exist.

I will draw from three of the previous answers to more fully explain my claim.

Philosodad's answer states:

Is there any evidence available to support the proposition that I am the only mind which exists? No.

Is there any evidence available to support the proposition that I am not the only mind which exists? Yes.

As Philosodad partially explains, if we analyse these claims, we quickly see that, if solipsism is true, any 'evidence' which ostensibly supports 'the proposition that I am not the only mind which exists' can be attributed to the solipsistic experience. Sensation, interaction, science, math, logic; all are theoretically producible by a single mental entity.

Whilst we typically turn to experience and observation for evidence - especially when there is a dearth of anything else - the very notion of solipsism calls into question the reliability of these ordinarily powerful evidentiary sources.

This is not a problem limited to the solipsistic debate, but to the debate about free will. For example, if determinism (whether diluted by randomness or not) is true, it calls into question the very 'observation' that we are in control of our decision-making. It calls into question the very experience to which we would ordinarily turn to for evidence; the experience which at root is the very means by which we perceive and process evidence.

User63220's reference to phenomenal conservatism certainly provides an indication that it is plausible to believe in the existence of other minds (which answers your question), but if you want to ground all of your beliefs (or merely this one) with evidence or proof, phenomenal conservatism will not help you.

Dcleve turns to Popper:

IF a theory is highly USEFUL in explaining observations and data

AND that theory makes predictions in areas where one did not already have data,

AND testing the theory led to confirmed risky predictions

THEN it is reasonable to assume the theory actually is true about the nature of our world

Dcleve points out that "The theory of other minds passes these criteria, with massive success.". But of course, solipsistic theory explains (if only in a very trivial sense) any experience of observation and data and predication to which Popper refers, so Popper doesn't really get you anywhere here if proof is what you're after. And, if all you're after is plausibility, it does nothing to diminish the plausibility of solipsism, for much the same reasons.

If plausible means something like, "Seeming reasonable or possible", then notions of what is plausible and what is not will likely vary widely. Only you can decide what seems plausible to you.

If plausibility for you requires something close to definitive proof, then you are unlikely to be satisfied by any of the arguments for or against other minds or solipsism, for we don't appear to have any means at present with which to delve any further into the question other than the very minds which are being called into question, which renders any resort to them rather unhelpful.

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The article you cited contains an important sentence, namely...

One thing is clear, this is not a practical problem. No sane person doubts that others have minds.

So, yes, it is plausible to believe in the existence of other minds, even though the arguments can be debated. In the same way, it is plausible to suppose there are not any giant pink rabbits hiding in a cave on the Moon, even though you cannot prove it.

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It is reasonable to infer that other minds exist from behaviour. The burden of proof lies with arguments against other minds. To argue that other minds do not exist is similar to Russell's Teapot. There is no obligation to disprove such a notion. The burden of proof lies with the proposer. The world is not my idea, nor yours.

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