, Volume 71, Issue 2, pp 223–232 | Cite as

Simulation, Theory and Collapse

  • Bill WringeEmail author
Original Article


Recent philosophical discussions of our capacity to attribute mental states to other human beings, and to produce accurate predictions and informative explanations of their behavior which make reference to the content of those states have focused on two apparently contrasting ways in which we might hope to account for these abilities. The first is that of regarding our competence as being under-girded by our grasp of a tacit psychological theory. The second builds on the idea that in trying to get a grip on the mental lives of others we might be able to draw on the fact that we are ourselves subjects of mental states in order to simulate their mental processes. Call these the theory view and the simulation view. In this paper I wish to discuss an argument—which I shall call Collapse—to the effect that if our capacities can be explained in the way that the simulationist supposes then they can also be explained along lines that the advocate of the theory view favours. I am not the first person with simulationist sympathies to have addressed this argument. However, my response is somewhat less concessive than others in the literature: while they attempt to soften its force by attempting to reformulate the simulationist view in a way that evades the conclusion of the argument, I attempt to meet it head on and to show that it does not even succeed in refuting the version of simulationism which it takes as its target.


Tacit Knowledge Theory View Mixed View Explanatory Depth Mental State Ascription 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



I am grateful to Jane Heal, Adam Morton and Radu Bogdan for advice and encouragement, and to Josh Cowley, Hilmi Demir, Max de Gaynesford and Mark Ashton Smith and two referees for Erkenntnis for useful discussion and feedback.


  1. Carruthers, P. (1996). Simulation and self-knowledge: A defense of the theory theory. In P. Carruthers & P. K. Smith (Eds.), Theories of theories of mind. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Davies, M. (1987). Tacit knowledge and semantic theory: Can a five percent difference matter. Mind, 96, 441–462. doi: 10.1093/mind/XCVI.384.441.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Davies, M. (1994). The mental simulation debate. In C. Peacocke (Ed.), Objectivity, simulation and the unity of consciousness. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Davies, M., & Stone, T. (2001). Mental simulation, tacit theory and the threat of collapse. Philosophical Topics, 29, 27–173.Google Scholar
  5. Friedman, M. (1974). Explanation and scientific understanding. The Journal of Philosophy, 71, 5–19. doi: 10.2307/2024924.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Goldman, A. (2006). Simulating minds: The philosophy, psychology and neuroscience of mind-reading. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Heal, J. (1994). Simulation vs theory theory: What is at issue? In C. Peacocke (Ed.), Objectivity, simulation and the unity of consciousness. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  8. Heal, J. (1996a). Simulation, theory and content. In P. Carruthers & P. K. Smith (Eds.), Theories of theories of mind Cambridge. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  9. Heal, J. (1996b). Review: Belief, simulation and the first person: Comments on a study of concepts by Christopher Peacocke. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 56, 413–417. doi: 10.2307/2108532.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Heal, J. (1998a). Understanding other minds from the inside. In A. O’Hear (Ed.), Current issues in the philosophy of mind (pp. 83–99). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Heal, J. (1998b). Co-cognition and off-line simulation. Mind and Language, 13, 477–498. doi: 10.1111/1468-0017.00088.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Hutto, D. (2004). The limits of spectatorial folk psychology. Mind and Language, 19, 548–573. doi: 10.1111/j.0268-1064.2004.00272.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Kitcher, P. (1981). Explanatory unification. Philosophy of Science, 48, 507–531. doi: 10.1086/289019.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Morton, A. (1996). Folk psychology is not a predictive device. Mind, 105, 119–137. doi: 10.1093/mind/105.417.119.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Morton, A. (2003). The importance of being understood: Folk psychology as ethics. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  16. Nicholls, S., & Stich, S. (2003). Mindreading—An integrated account of pretence, self awareness and understanding other minds. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  17. Peacocke, C. (1992). A study of concepts. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  18. Putnam, H. (1975). Philosophy and our mental life. Mind, Language, and Reality. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  19. Ravenscroft, I. (2003). Simulation, collapse and human motivation. Mind and Language, 18(2), 162–174. doi: 10.1111/1468-0017.00219.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Wringe, B. (2003). Simulation, co-cognition and the attribution of emotional states. European Journal of Philosophy, 11, 354–373. doi: 10.1111/1468-0378.00190.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyBilkent UniversityBilkent, AnkaraTurkey

Personalised recommendations