Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences

, Volume 12, Issue 4, pp 703–725 | Cite as

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

  • Mark PhelanEmail author
  • Adam Arico
  • Shaun Nichols


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 



Portions of this paper were presented at Brown University’s Social Cognitive Science Research Center, the European Workshop on Experimental Philosophy at Eindhoven, Netherlands, the London School of Economics’ Philosophy Department, the Metro Experimental Research Group, the Southern Society for Philosophy and Psychology, Yale University’s Experimental Philosophy Lab, Yale University’s Mind and Development Lab, and the University of Arizona’s Experimental Philosophy Lab. Audience comments helped improve this paper. The authors are also grateful to Michael Bruno, Ben Chan, Georg Kjøll, Joshua Knobe, Eric Mandelbaum, Justin Sytsma, Zoltán Gendler Szabó, Jonathan Weinberg, and three blind referees for this journal who gave valuable comments on earlier drafts.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Lawrence UniversityAppletonUSA
  2. 2.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of ArizonaTucsonUSA
  3. 3.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of ArizonaTucsonUSA

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