Skepticism about Other Minds essay


Skepticismabout Other Minds

Skepticismabout Other Minds

Skepticismwas one of the major steps taken by man towards knowledge. Man didnot only believe in what was happening around but also developed aquestioning attitude towards the opinions that had earlier on beenseen as facts not open to questioning. He started raising doubtsabout claims that had been taken for granted by individuals. Systematic steps were taken by philosophers, scientists, andreligious scholars to ascertain certain notions, principles, andbeliefs. Philosophers raised questions on the belief that absolutelycertain knowledge is possible. They raised queries about the worldand other minds. In my essay, I will side with the fact of theskepticism about other minds it is impossible to accept that we knowin detail what is going on in the mind of other people. We can onlyspeculate from what we are experiencing or formation of mentalconcepts other than our own. We should, therefore, inquire theconditions we and others are in this has been the source of the‘problem of other minds’.

Inalmost all the time, with the exception of skeptical philosophers andthose experiencing mental disorders, men have always believed thatothers are similar to them (Locke, 1968). The experiences in thephysical world like being happy, suffering, being emotional,conforming to certain beliefs, and thinking about a certain thing atcertain times is the same as we always do. It is, however, clear thatfrom the skeptical point of view that nothing concrete justifiesthese basic beliefs among men. Based on the social nature of men,this aspect has raised debates among philosophers. Their contestationhas affected greatly how people think of themselves as beings and thestates they are in relation to others. There are two problems(discussed below) about other minds that have raised contestationsglobally.

Problemsof other minds

Problemsof other minds bring out clearly how man is always in a tussle in anattempt to link the inner happenings in his life and relate it towhat could be happening in others’ lives.

Oneof the problems is the epistemological problem this problem isconcerned with the justification of other beliefs other than our ownmental states (Pargetter, 1984). The problem is a result of ourdeep-seated differences when one tries to access his own experiences,and also when such an individual try to access the experiences ofothers. At a time, it is clear that we are in a given mental statefor instance, we could tell the smell of something, the sight of agiven object like a table, and tell the month of the year likeDecember. Pargetter (1984) further argues that this process isunconscious and at times we do not directly realize that we are insuch a mental state. It is on this basis that it becomes complex tohave knowledge of the mental state that other beings are in. Indeed,it is impossible to tell from observation, speculation, or feelingsabout others’ state of minds.

Nevertheless,in case men had the ability to observe the mental states they couldstill not be contented. The dire need of man is the ability toobserve the mental state of those individuals’ observation of theirstates. They yearn to experience the mental states as the person doesit. This experience should have an epistemological label guaranteeattached to it to make the situation be like it would have been inhis case. However, this is impossible even to those who are blessedwith the gift of telepathy (Overall, 1988). Though they tend to havethe powers to access direct knowledge to some of the mentalhappenings of other people, it is not obvious that they will not tellif the others have an innermost life at all. Like if they can tellthat someone is experiencing pain, how guaranteed are they thatindeed the person is experiencing the pain? A good case is when somewomen are whipped to arouse sexual feeling. The person may deducethat the woman is feeling pain while in the inner life it’s theopposite.

Theonly solution to this problem is analogical inference, whichjustifies the inner life certainty of all human beings by turning tothe similarities that hold the human race together. These are generalsimilarities like since I can, think, belief, feel, and sense so isit among other beings in the human race. According to Locke (1968),this analogical inference guarantees one that he has the same innerlife like others. However, I believe that the mental state and theinner life of individuals is not a universal trait. This is atraditional approach which neglects the diversity of the human race.Another guiding principle within this scope is the inference thathuman beings behavior portrays the picture of their mental states(Overgaard, 2012). For example, the state of itching leads toscratching. However, this evidence is indirect and offers only anoutward state. Although feelings can be visible, there is adifference between genuine ones and pretense which at times need notbe shown in behavior (Locke, 1968). However, the criterial solutionhas opposed this view as it asserts that the relation betweenbehavior and mental states is not the best solution since it moreconceptual.

Anotherproblem that arises is the conceptual problem, which also takes asimilar path as the epistemological problem does. It raises the urge,among individuals, to have direct experience of others and acquirethe concepts of mental states belonging to others (Pargetter, 1984).This is almost impossible and the only solution remains theobservation of such experiences as they unfold.

Italso takes a totally different path whereby, the problem tries toextend the concepts of particular individuals beyond their ownexperiences (Pargetter, 1984). One tries to enquire if truly theothers undergo the same level of difficulty when faced with anexperience, like of pain, the same way as it happens to me. Further,one tries to generalize situations and will use statements like “Yousurely know what going through this experience surely means”(Overgaard, 2012). It is, therefore, necessary for the experience tohave a self-owner for one to move to that of others the conceptualproblem solutions will always result in an epistemological problem.


Inconclusion, it is evident from the above discussion that is almostimpossible to have the clear picture one`s inner life. The concept ofdrilling into other minds has been controversial giving room forcontestations among the skeptical philosophers. This has been theroot cause of the debates on the problems of other minds. I havecritically looked at the two problems, which are the epistemologicalproblem and the conceptual problem while at the same time outliningtheir concerns and critique. Epistemological problem arise when thereis a radical variation between how an individual access his or herown experience and how he or she access to the experiences of otherindividuals in the society. On the other hand, conceptual problemoccur when an individual develop the urge to access knowledge ofothers’ mental states. For one to know the mental states of others,then he or she needs to observe, and experience any pains that suchindividuals may be undergoing. Basing on these problems, skepticismis justified in order to find logical solutions about other minds.


Locke,D. (1968). Myselfand Others.Oxford: Oxford University press

Overall,C., 1988, “Feminism, Ontology, and Other Minds”, in L. Code, etal. (eds.), FeministPerspectives,Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Overgaard,S. (2012), “Other People”, in D. Zahakis. (Ed.) TheOxford Handbook of Contemporary Phenomenology,Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Pargetter,R. (1984) “The Scientific Inference to Other Minds”, AustralasianJournal of Philosophy,62,158–63.