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Basic social cognition without mindreading: minding minds without attributing contents

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“Think left and think right and think low and think high. Oh, the things you can think up if only you try!”

Dr. Seuss.

Abstract

This paper argues that mind-reading hypotheses (MRHs), of any kind, are not needed to best describe or best explain basic acts of social cognition. It considers the two most popular MRHs: one-ToM and two-ToM theories. These MRHs face competition in the form of complementary behaviour reading hypotheses (CBRHs). Following Buckner (Mind Lang 29:566–589, 2014), it is argued that the best strategy for putting CBRHs out of play is to appeal to theoretical considerations about the psychosemantics of basic acts of social cognition. In particular, need-based accounts that satisfy a teleological criterion have the ability to put CBRHs out of play. Yet, against this backdrop, a new competitor for MRHs is revealed: mind minding hypothesis (MMHs). MMHs are capable of explaining all the known facts about basic forms of social cognition and they also satisfy the teleological criterion. In conclusion, some objections concerning the theoretical tenability of MMHs are addressed and prospects for further research are canvassed.

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Notes

  1. Carruthers (2015) has argued that the concepts and principles MinToM employs are not up to empirical scratch—that they don’t adequately explain all of the infant data easily. Even if this is so, an obvious way of addressing these concerns would be to update and augment MinToM in certain key respects, while still ensuring that differed in relevant ways from MaxToM that enables the ascription of propositional attitudes. Butterfill and Apperly (2013) make clear that they are prepared for some revisions: “Registration has been defined as a relation between agents, objects and locations. This definition could be extended to include other types of property as relata in addition to locations” (Butterfill and Apperly 2013, p. 620).

  2. Lurz (2009) coined this term.

  3. Lurz (2009, 2011) has tried harder than most to settle the on-going debates about whether some animals mindread by devising cunning new experimental designs. For full details see (Buckner 2014).

  4. As committed explanatory naturalists, Carruthers, Fodor and other classical cognitivists, are meant to provide explanatory theories that are empirically substantial—thus risky and provisional. Such theories are to be assessed in the light of the full range of available empirical evidence as well as their fit with “surrounding theories of cognitive science” (Carruthers 2011, p. xiii). All the same, reminiscent of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Captain of the Pinafore, Carruthers (2011) tells us of his book the Opacity of Mind that “hardly any of it its claims are intended to be a priori” (Carruthers 2011, p. xiii, emphasis added). It may be suspected that unless they are given further substantive backing and justification the main working assumptions of classical cognitivism (e.g. about the need to posit structured conceptual representations) fall into the class of a priori framework assumptions that are taken to be true without argument.

  5. Pressing for thoroughgoing non-representationalism also protects the MMH against the sort of objections Carruthers raises against the two-ToMH: “if we assume, as we surely should, that infants are capable of propositional thought s such as THE RED BALL IS IN THE BOX, and if we allow that infants at least possess a concept like REGISTERS, then all the infant needs to do is embed that very representation into the scope of an attribution, thinking, THE AGENT REGISTERS: THE RED BALL IS IN THE BOX. The result is that the infant has attributed a propositional content to the agent” (Carruthers 2015, p. 17, emphasis added).

  6. As Price (2013) observes, we should not be tricked by the fact that the label ‘representation’ is used when talking both about ways of responding to covariant information and those that involve truth-conditional content. Rather, “these two notions of representation should properly be kept apart, not clumsily pushed together. It takes some effort to see that the two notions of representation might float free of one another, but I think it is an effort worth making. ... Once the distinction between these two notions of representation is on the table, it is open to us to regard the two notions as having different applications, for various theoretical purposes” (Price 2013, p. 37).

  7. De Bruin and Kästner (2012) propose a way of developing this idea that retains some role for minimal representations. But see Ciaunica (2014) for a radically enactive reply that attempts to show why such conversativism is unnecessary and unhelpful.

  8. For example, Lavelle (2012) is right when it comes to understanding social cognition focusing on “Innate sensitivities alone do not seem up to the explanatory task” (p. 468). As Buckner (2014) recommends theories of social cognition need to focus more on learning and integration. That suggestion is, however, wholly compatible with radically enactive MMHs. Lavelle (2012) is also right that a very simple natural signs account is limited in important respects when it comes to understanding human social cognition. The point is well taken. But MMHs can be augmented and extended, see for example Medina’s (2013) discussion of how natural signs might be traded for expressive natural signs in an enactivist-friendly way, in line with Bar-On’s (2013a, b) proposals.

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Hutto, D.D. Basic social cognition without mindreading: minding minds without attributing contents. Synthese 194, 827–846 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11229-015-0831-0

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