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Descartes, Other Minds and Impossible Human Bodies

Manning, Gideon (2012) Descartes, Other Minds and Impossible Human Bodies. Philosophers' Imprint, 12 (16). pp. 1-24. ISSN 1533-628X.

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For nearly a century, skepticism about other minds (SOM) has been a standard problem in epistemology. In recent accounts of social cognition, however, the success of simulation theory and theory-theory have moved philosophical discussion about other minds away from SOM.1 Precedent for this move can be found in an unlikely place, namely in René Descartes’ philosophy, for Descartes so diminished the role of the senses in gaining knowledge that SOM is precluded from becoming a self-standing skeptical challenge. At most, SOM is just one more incarnation of skepticism about the external world. Further, Descartes rejected the natural possibility of a human body existing without a mind. We are all familiar with the real distinction between body and mind, which, at first blush, speaks against this claim, but while a body in general can exist without a mind, a uniquely human body cannot. Descartes indicated all this in a number of places and especially in his correspondence with the Cambridge Platonist Henry More, who asked how we know infants have minds. Descartes replied by citing genetic facts—natural facts—about the origin of a human body which assure us that where we find a human body we necessarily find a human mind. We can therefore reconstruct an answer to SOM on Descartes’ behalf that fundamentally rejects skeptical doubts unique to our knowledge of other minds. And, as a consequence, we can further unsettle the common presumption that the human body is a straightforward object of physical study. To the contrary, it looks to be a unique object that, in its entirety, belongs neither to the metaphysician nor to the physicist.

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Additional Information:© 2012 Gideon Manning This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 3.0 License.
Issue or Number:16
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20131017-083852701
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Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:41964
Deposited By: Tony Diaz
Deposited On:04 Nov 2013 21:10
Last Modified:03 Oct 2019 05:53

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