Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences

, Volume 12, Issue 4, pp 703-725

First online:

Thinking things and feeling things: on an alleged discontinuity in folk metaphysics of mind

  • Mark PhelanAffiliated withLawrence University Email author 
  • , Adam AricoAffiliated withDepartment of Philosophy, University of Arizona
  • , Shaun NicholsAffiliated withDepartment of Philosophy, University of Arizona

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According to the discontinuity view, people recognize a deep discontinuity between phenomenal and intentional states, such that they refrain from attributing feelings and experiences to entities that do not have the right kind of body, though they may attribute thoughts to entities that lack a biological body, like corporations, robots, and disembodied souls. We examine some of the research that has been used to motivate the discontinuity view. Specifically, we focus on experiments that examine people's aptness judgments for various mental state ascriptions to groups. These studies seem to reveal that people are more inclined to think of groups as having intentionality than as having phenomenology. Combined with the fact that groups obviously lack a single biological body, this has been taken as evidence that people operate according to the relevant discontinuity. However, these studies support discontinuity only on the assumption that the experimental participants are interpreting the relevant group mental state ascriptions in a specific way. We present evidence that people are not interpreting these ascriptions in a way that supports discontinuity. Instead, we argue that people generally interpret group mental state ascriptions distributively, as attributions of mental states to various group members.


Phenomenal consciousness Collective intentionality Linguistic pragmatics Methodology Experimental philosophy Philosophy of sociology Group minds