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Selves and others: Phenomenological, psychological and neuroscientific perspectives

Lecturer: Anya Daly

Originally Taught: Summer School 2016

Descartes writes in his Meditations that gazing out his window at the passersby, he wondered how he could be sure that beneath the hats and cloaks were real human beings not just automatons. Even though Descartes identified this problem of other minds, he did not directly address it as such. And prior to Descartes this philosophical problem was not seen as worthy of sustained philosophical scrutiny. Descartes' early articulation of 'the problem of other minds' has, however, inspired much philosophical debate since the early 20th century. Today such debates in philosophy are being driven in significant part by the development of the domain of social neuroscience. This is a fast-expanding area of research with relevance to philosophy, psychology, anthropology, evolutionary theory, criminology and ethics. New findings are coming to light which challenge and reconfigure our understandings of humans as social beings. The relation between selves and others marks a key investigation in philosophy which principally addresses the question – how is it possible that from one subject's seemingly self-enclosed interiority, this subject may come to know that an-Other is minded in the same way as she is? That is, that this Other enjoys all the mental states that the subject enjoys – beliefs, desires, intentions, imaginations, and emotion – and that these may constitute reasons for action. This problem of epistemic access has dominated the analytic approach to other minds. For phenomenologists, however, the problem of the Other has also focused on empathy in both its cognitive and affective dimensions. The debates today are expanding to include further concerns - the mindedness of non-human animals, the possibilities of there being "zombies" or the question of the philosophical status of androids and whether we are heading for what is ominously referred to as 'the singularity' when robot intelligence will outrun human intelligence.

Readings: Where there are no online links for readings I will provide scanned readings to enrolled students before the end of 2015 and/ or hard copies at the beginning of the course. The lists below are just an indication of what you might choose to read. Read as the interest takes you!

Course Schedule

Lecture 1: An historical sketch of the problem of Other minds.

The problem of other minds in Ancient Greece; Saint Augustine; Descartes; Malebranche; Locke; Berkeley; John Stuart Mill; solipsism; the epistemological problem of other minds; the Argument from Analogy


Descartes, René. (1641) Meditations on First Philosophy, - any version is useful. Read Meditation II.

Malebranche, N. (1688) Dialogues on Metaphysics and Religion, (trans) W. Doney (1980), New York: Abaris Books

Locke, John. (1693) 'Some thoughts concerning education', in The Works of John Locke, Vol. VIII, London: C. Baldwin Printers

Mill, J.S., 1865, An Examination of Sir William Hamilton's Philosophy, London: Longmans

Lecture 2: The problem of other minds - in the analytic tradition and Theory of Mind

The conceptual problem of other minds; Wittgenstein; Strawson; Davidson; the false belief test; Theory-theory of mind; Simulation theory of mind


Baron-Cohen, S., Lombardo, M., Tager-Flusberg, H., & Cohen, D. (Eds.). (2013). Understanding Other Minds: Perspectives from developmental social neuroscience. OUP Oxford.

Chalmers, D. (2003). The Matrix as metaphysics. Science Fiction and Philosophy From Time Travel to Superintelligence, 36.

Davidson, D. (1991). Three varieties of knowledge. Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplement, 30, 153-166.

Fletcher, P. C., Happe, F., Frith, U., Baker, S. C., Dolan, R. J., Frackowiak, R. S., & Frith, C. D. (1995). Other minds in the brain: a functional imaging study of "theory of mind" in story comprehension. Cognition, 57(2), 109-128.

Gallese, Vittorio. (2010) A Neuroscientific Approach to Intersubjectivity in The Embodied Self: Dimensions, Coherence and Disorders, T.Fuchs, H.C.Sattel, P.Henningsen (Eds) Stuttgart: Scahttauer (77- 92)

Gomes, A., 2009, Other Minds and Perceived Identity, Dialectica, 63: 219–230.

–––, 2011, Is There a Problem of Other Minds? Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 111: 353–373.

Hyslop, A., 1995, Other Minds, Dordrecht: Kluwer.

Leslie, A.M. (1987) "Pretense and representation: the origins of 'Theory of Mind'" Psychological Review, 94, pp.412-426;

Malle, B. F., & Hodges, S. D. (Eds.). (2007). Other minds: How humans bridge the divide between self and others. Guilford Press.

Morick, Harold (Editor), Wittgenstein and the Problem of Other Minds, (1967) New Jersey: Humanities Press, Sussex: Harvester Press

Nagel, T. (1999). Other minds: Critical essays 1969-1994. Oxford University Press.

Stoljar, Daniel. 2005. "Physicalism." Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Strawson, P.F. Individuals, an Essay in Descriptive Metaphysics. Methuen, 1959.

Wellman, H. (1990) The Child's Theory of Mind, Boston: MIT Press

Lecture 3: The problem of the Other - a phenomenological account

Critique of the Argument from Analogy; incarnated consciousness and conscious corporalities; subjectivity is an intersubjectivity; Merleau-Ponty's reversibility thesis; invisible imitation; the Interactive Theory of Social Cognition; the Direct Perception Thesis


Daly, Anya. 2014. "Does the Reversibility Thesis deliver all that Merleau-Ponty claims it can? ." European Journal of Philosophy. doi: DOI:10.1111/ejop.12086

Dillon, Martin. C. 1988, 1997. Merleau-Ponty's Ontology. Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press.

Fuchs, T. and Jann E. Schlimme (2009) "Embodiment and Psychopathology: A Phenomenological Perspective" Current Opinion in Psychiatry, 2009, 22:570-575

Gallagher, Shaun. 2012. Phenomenology. Edited by Vittorio Bufacchi, Philosophy Today. Basingstoke, New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Gallagher, Shaun, and Andrew Meltzoff. 1996. "The earliest sense of self and others: Merleau-Ponty and recent developmental studies." Philosophical Psychology 9 (2):211-233.

Gallagher, Shaun (2001) "The Practice of Mind: Theory, Simulation, or Interaction", Journal of Consciousness Studies 8/5-7, pp.83-108

_______ (2005) How the Body Shapes the Mind, London: Clarendon Press

Husserl, Edmund (1952) Ideas II

Husserl, Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology and to a Phenomenological Philosophy, Husserl Archives, Trans. Richard Rojcewicz and Andre Schewer, (1989), Dordrecht/ Boston/ London: Kluwer Academic Publishers

Kelly, Sean Dorrance, (2002) "Merleau-Ponty on the Body" in Ratio (new series) XV 4 December 2002, 0034-0006 Oxford: Blackwell Publishers

Meltzoff, Andrew., and Jean. Decety. 2003. "What imitation tells us about social cognition: a rapprochement between developmental psychology and cognitive neuroscience." The Royal Society 358:491-500. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2002.1261.

Meltzoff, A. N. (2005). Imitation and other minds: The "like me" hypothesis. Perspectives on imitation: From neuroscience to social science, 2, 55-77.

Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. 1962. Phenomenology of Perception Vol. 182. London, UK: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. 1964a. "The Child's Relations with Others." In The Primacy of Perception, 96-158. Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press. Original edition, Les relations avec autrui chez l'enfant (1960).

Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. 1964b. "The Philosopher and His Shadow." In Signs, p.175. Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press.

Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. 1968. The Visible and the Invisible. Translated by Alphonso Lingus. Evanston: Northwestern University Press.

Overgaard, S., 2012, "Other People", in D. Zahavi. (ed.) The Oxford Handbook of Contemporary Phenomenology, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Priest, S., 1998, Merleau-Ponty, London: Routledge. Chapter XI, "Other Minds".

Scheler, Max. 1913. The Nature of Sympathy. Translated by P (1970) Heath. Hamden, CT: Archon Books.


Lecture 4: Empathy and Social Cognition

In contrast to the focus on knowledge of other minds, the empathy account of intersubjectivity not only gives a story of 'access' but also one of 'response' and in that way provides the groundwork for an ethics. Empathy arises when the Other is recognized as a genuine alter ego, that there is sameness, there is sentience, a face and a similar way of engaging with the world but also difference, the Other offers another perspective, a different vantage and potentially competing interests. This lecture will also examine the debates around implicit bias and in-group/ out-group dynamics.


Baron-Cohen, Simon. 2011. Zero Degrees of Empathy. London: Penguin Books

Batson, C D. 2009. "These Things Called Empathy: Eight Related but Distinct Phenomena." In The Social Neuroscience of Empathy, edited by J & Ickes Decety, W, 3-15. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Cheng, Y., A. Hung, and J. Decety. 2012. "Dissociation between affective sharing and emotion understanding in juvenile psychopaths." Developmental Psychopathology 24:623-636.

Decety, J. . 2013. "An fMRI study of affective perspective taking in individuals with psychopathy: imagining another in pain does not evoke empathy." Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 7.

Fecteau, S., and A. Pascual-Leone. 2008. "Psychopathy and the mirror-neuron system: preliminary findings from a non-psychiatric sample." Psychiatry Research 160:137-144.

Frith, Chris., and Mattia. Gallotti. 2013. "Social cognition in the we-mode." Trends in Cognitive Science 17 (4):160-165.

Gallese, Vittorio, ed. 2010. A Neuroscientific Approach to Intersubjectivity. Edited by H.C. Sattel T. Fuchs, P. Henningsen (Eds), The Embodied Self: Dimensions, Coherence and Disorders. Stuttgart: Schattauer.

Nick., Haslam., and B. Bastian. 2010. "Excluded from humanity: the dehumanizing effects of social ostracism." Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 46:107-113.

Kaplan, J. T., & Iacoboni, M. (2006). Getting a grip on other minds: Mirror neurons, intention understanding, and cognitive empathy. Social neuroscience, 1(3-4), 175-183.

Povinelli, D. J., Bering, J. M., & Giambrone, S. (2000). Toward a science of other minds: Escaping the argument by analogy. Cognitive science, 24(3), 509-541.

Reddy, V. 2008. How Infants Know Minds. Cambridge, MA; London: Harvard University Press.

Scheler, Max. 1913. The Nature of Sympathy. Translated by P (1970) Heath. Hamden, CT: Archon Books.

Stein, Edith. 1964. On the Problem of Empathy. Translated by Waltraut Stein. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff.

Steuber, K.A. 2006. Rediscovering Empathy: Agency, Folk-Psychology and the Human Sciences. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Trevarthen, Colwyn. 1998. The concept and foundations of infant intersubjectivity. Edited by S. Braten (Ed), Intersubjective Communication and Emotion in Early Ontogeny. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Zahavi, Dan. 2014. "Empathy and Other-directed Intentionality." TOPOI 33 (1):129-142. doi: 10.1007/s11245-013-9197-4.


Lecture 5: Selves, Others and Worlds : An enactivist account

The enactive approach to cognition "underscores the importance of two interrelated points: (1) that perception consists of perceptually guided action; and (2) that cognitive structures emerge from the recurrent sensorimotor patterns that enable action to be perceptually guided… what counts as a relevant world is inseparable from the structure of the perceiver" (Varela 1992).


de Jaegher, Hanne & Ezequiel Di Paolo. 2007. "Participatory Sense-making: An enactive approach to social cognition." Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 6 (4):485-507.

de Jaegher, Hanne & Ezequiel Di Paolo & Shaun Gallagher. 2010. "Can social interaction constitute social cognition?" Trends in Cognitive Science 14 (10):441-447.

Hutto, Dan & Erik Myin. 2012. Radicalizing Enactivism: Basic Minds Without Content. Boston, MA: MIT Press.

Sober, E., 2000, "Evolution and the Problem of Other Minds", Journal of Philosophy, 97: 365–387.

Varela, F. J., Thompson, E. and Rosch, E. (1991) The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience. Cambridge: MIT Press.