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Rethinking Other Minds: Wittgenstein and Levinas on Expression

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One reason why the problem of other minds keeps cropping up in modern philosophy is that we seem to have conflicting intuitions about our access to the mental lives of others. On the one hand, we are inclined to think that it is wrong to claim, like Cartesian dualists must, that the minds of others are essentially inaccessible to direct experience. But on the other hand we feel that it is equally wrong to claim, like the behaviorists, that the mental lives of others are completely accessible to an outside spectator. This paper attempts to address the problem of the accessibility of other minds while staying faithful to both these intuitions. Central to this undertaking is the idea that we express our mental lives in our bodily behavior. With a firm grasp of the notion of expression, as it is developed in the writings of Wittgenstein and Levinas, we can understand how other minds can be directly perceivable and yet retain a certain inaccessibility. The key is to emphasize the difference between the expressive appearance of a human being and the way an object appears in perception.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Copenhagen, Denmark

Publication date: 2005-06-01

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