So I’ve been discussing of late Plantinga’s observation that the philosophical problem of justifying the existence other minds is the same problem as that of justifying the existence of the divine mind. There is a basic logical gap between empirically discernable human bodies and their mental states, and that of nature/creation or whatever, and the divine mind.

I think it would be a matter of some interest to look at a contemporary introduction to philosophy of mind textbook which discusses the problem of other minds, and draw some rather interesting and surprising lessons for theological apologetics.

The textbook I’m using here is Tim Bayne’s Philosophy of Mind: An Introduction and the chapter I will be discussing is “Chapter 11: Other Minds”. I stress that this is pretty much a standard topic in philosophy of mind discussion and as such not an esoteric issue.

The chapter’s first main point is to discuss three different theories of “mindreading” or theories for how we come to know what other people are thinking. They are the “perceptual”, that we can “see” the pain of others or “hear” their anger, “theory-theory”, where we form a theory based on various data to explain their behaviour and postulate mental states, and finally, the “simulation” account, where we create a model of other people’s mental states within our own minds and simulate in ourselves what the other person might be feeling. Thus, we imagine, “what would it be like to be such and such person under such and such scenario” and investigate in the “laboratory” of our own mind. He discusses the strengths and weaknesses of each account which I won’t go into, but I mention them because they would become relevant to his next topic.

In the next subsection he engages “The sceptical problem of other minds”. In his own words:

We ordinarily assume that the individuals with whom we interact on a daily basis have minds, and that we know quite a bit about their mental lives. The sceptic, however, argues that these assumptions are unjustified, and that we know little (if anything) about the minds of others. Mindreading, according to the sceptic, is not a source of knowledge. Indeed, the radical sceptic argues that we don’t even have the capacity to form warranted beliefs about other minds.

The problem thus stated, what is of greater interest is his general approach to this problem:

There are two ways of engaging with the sceptical problem of other minds. The first aims to prove the sceptic wrong, and to demonstrate to the sceptic’s satisfaction that our ordinary mindreading methods deliver knowledge. In my view, this position is misguided, for it seems to me that we are justified in assuming that the sceptic is wrong. To my mind, a better way of engaging with the sceptical problem is to treat it as issuing a challenge regarding the nature of our knowledge of other minds. The aim, then, is not to prove that we have knowledge of the minds of our follow human beings, but to identify the basis of this knowledge.

This is an astonishing argument. His position and approach is directly isomorphic to the approach of the presuppositional apologists. He refuses to start from the position of agnosticism of other minds and then proceed to justify our knowledge of it. He wants to just start from the *assumption* or presupposition that they are wrong, and his task isn’t to justify the existence of other minds to the sceptic, but to simply explore what is the basis for claiming such a knowledge. In short, he simply assumes that the skeptic is wrong, and he is just going to *rationalise* his assumption after the fact.

This approach is just that of the presuppositional apologists. They simply say, we are justified in assuming that the atheist/agnostic is wrong, we approach the sceptical problem as merely a challenge to *describe*, not justify, how we come to know God, it is “not to prove that we have knowledge” of God, “but to identify the basis of this knowledge”.

Indeed if philosophers are allowed such a privilege on such a “common sense” and “fundamental” matter, that other people do have minds, why should the theologian be denied the same privilege?

The isomorphism between the two issues however does not end there. He proceeds to answer the skeptic which directly corresponds to arguments by theists. Remember our cursory look at three “mindreading” accounts. The first is “perceptual” and that we can just directly “see” or “hear” people’s feelings and emotions. *If* we assume that we can directly perceive people’s emotions (an assumption remember he does not care to justify) then clearly we have direct knowledge of other people’s minds. However this parallels the religious experience/intuition claim of the theists. Some religious believers simply claim to directly perceive God in our hearts, their minds, or via ineffable prophetic visions. Again, if we assume that people can directly perceive other people’s emotions/the divine mind, then we have no problem on knowledge of minds, human and divine, in general.

We shall move straight to the simulationist account because that’s where he concentrates the weight of his arguments. Recall that the simulationist account argues that we “read” the minds of others by imagining or constructing a model of their mind in our own minds and simulating the results. By the simulationist account, we can know the existence of other minds by *analogy* and this has passed into the philosophical literature as the “analogical account”. Thus, we infer the existence of other minds *by analogy* with our own, we argue that certain kinds of outward behaviour by other people should be associated with certain kinds of mental states because certain kinds of behaviour in *our* case are associated with certain kinds of mental states, etc. So my behaviour-mind connection should be analogous to yours. He proceeds to spend some time discussing various objections to this account and the counter arguments, etc.

However, at this stage, it should be pretty obvious that this is directly isomorphic to the “Watchmaker Analogy” argument for the divine design, that nature’s order bears the marks of intelligence analogous to the ordering of certain materials into artefacts bearing the marks of human intelligence. So, in the philosophy of mind case, *our own* ordering of behaviour and outward actions bear the marks of certain mental states and emotions, ergo, by analogy, we can infer that other people’s ordering of their actions and behaviour bears the marks of their mental states and emotion.

It is not the purpose of this post to go into the ins and outs of this topic, which would be a long discussion in itself. It is simply to point out that there is a remarkable isomorphism between the skeptical problem of other minds and the skeptical problem of the divine mind, the approach to both are directly parallel, and remarkably, so is the answer. At the end of the day we should recall the purpose of such discussions: not to justify the central claim, but simply to describe what is involved in the knowledge of both. In the end, there really isn’t a rigorous strictly deductive argument establishing either positions, but we are “entitled” to simply ignore anyone who disbelieves in either.

One thought on “Presupposing other Minds and Lessons for Presuppositional Theology”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *