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Escaping the Cartesian Cage

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Abstract:

For John Ziman, 'the essence of the human condition' is the 'two-way, interactive character' of interpersonal relationships, and he argues that '[t]he bias towards atomic individualism not only bedevils the human and social sciences: it also distorts the whole philosophy of nature.' But in spite of his recognition of the importance of 'escap[ing] from the Cartesian cage' of the 'solipsist stance', Ziman himself has not entirely escaped the influence of a residual Cartesianism. This is evident in his tendency to over-intellectualize the character of interactive relationships with talk of 'a theory of mind' and to imply that such relationships are only possible with other people like ourselves. Both of these ideas stem from the Cartesian position that knowledge starts from an introspective awareness of one's own mental states and that the mental states of others can only be inferred by analogy. Having first observed that my mental state x is accompanied by behaviour y, my observation of behaviour y in another is taken as an indication that he is experiencing mental state x. I will argue that our ability to understand the behaviour of others depends neither on a theory of mind nor on their being 'like us'.

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: c/o Imprint Academic, PO Box 200, Exeter EX5 5YX, UK .

Publication date: January 1, 2006

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