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Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences

, Volume 17, Issue 2, pp 305–324 | Cite as

The personal and the subpersonal in the theory of mind debate

  • Kristina Musholt
Article

Abstract

It is a widely accepted assumption within the philosophy of mind and psychology that our ability for complex social interaction is based on the mastery of a common folk psychology, that is to say that social cognition consists in reasoning about the mental states of others in order to predict and explain their behavior. This, in turn, requires the possession of mental-state concepts, such as the concepts belief and desire. In recent years, this standard conception of social cognition has been called into question by proponents of so-called ‘direct-perception’ approaches to social cognition (e.g., Gallagher 2001, 2005, 2007, 2012; Gallagher and Hutto 2008; Zahavi 2005, 2011) and by those who argue that the ‘received view’ implies a degree of computational complexity that is implausible (e.g., Bermúdez 2003; Apperly and Butterfill 2009). In response, it has been argued that these attacks on the classical view of social cognition have no bite at the subpersonal level of explanation, and that it is the latter which is at issue in the debate in question (e.g., Herschbach 2008; Spaulding 2010, 2015). In this paper, I critically examine this response by considering in more detail the distinction between personal and subpersonal level explanations. There are two main ways in which the distinction has been developed (Drayson 2014). I will argue that on either of these, the response proposed by defenders of the received view is unconvincing. This shows that the dispute between the standard conception and alternative approaches to mindreading is a dispute concerning personal-level explanations - what is at stake in the debate between proponents of the classical view of social cognition and their critics is how we, as persons, navigate our social world. I will conclude by proposing a pluralistic approach to social cognition, which is better able to do justice to the multi-faceted nature of our social interactions as well as being able to account for recent empirical findings regarding the social cognitive abilities of young infants.

Keywords

Social cognition Simulation theory Theory theory Interaction theory Phenomenology Mental state concepts Personal level Subpersonal level Nonconceptual content Pluralism 

Notes

Acknowledgements

Early drafts of this paper were presented at a conference on the personal and the subpersonal at the Institute of Philosophy in London, at the Philosophy Department at the LSE, at conferences of the European Society for Philosophy and Psychology and the German Society for Philosophy of Science, and at the Department of Philosophy in Leipzig. I am grateful for the feedback received from the audiences on these occasions. I am also indebted to two anonymous referees for this journal for their extraordinarily detailed and constructive criticisms which were invaluable for improving this manuscript. Sonja Priesmeyer helped with the final editing. Finally, I am grateful to the organizers of the workshop “Investigating the Social Self” in Parma, Katja Crone and Wolfgang Huemer, for providing me with the opportunity to present my work and for putting together this special issue.

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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institut für PhilosophieUniversität LeipzigLeipzigGermany

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