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Simulation Versus Theory-Theory: A Plea for an Epistemological Turn

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Abstract

Simulation, if used as a way of becoming aware of other people’s mental states, is the joint exercise of imagination and attribution. If A simulates B, then (1) A attributes to B the mental state in which A finds herself at the end of a process in which (2) A has imagined being in B’s situation. Although necessary, imagination and attribution are not sufficient for simulation: the latter occurs only if (3) the imagination process grounds or justifies the attribution. Depending on the notion of justification we use to make sense of the idea that an episode of imagining serves as a reason for attributing a mental state, the shape of the debate and the options it offers look very different. Reconfiguring the discussion in this way, we claim, shifts the focus of the simulation versus theory-theory debate to a question located in epistemology.

Keywords

  • Simulation
  • Theory-theory
  • Imagination
  • Attribution
  • Epistemology

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Notes

  1. 1.

    A and B can be the same person.

  2. 2.

    We sometimes imagine ourselves in counterfactual situations for the sheer pleasure of it. In this type of cases, the imaginative project is not undertaken as form of mind reading: no mental state is attributed to ourselves or to anyone else. Although the term ‘simulation’ is often used to cover the latter cases too, here we reserve the term to refer to forms of mind-reading activities—for which it was introduced.

  3. 3.

    Note that the problem we are dealing with here is not part of the global skeptical worry with regard to the existence of other minds. Our question is rather: given that others have mental states, what is the nature and the role of simulation in our becoming aware of them.

  4. 4.

    This is the subcase of imagining having someone else’s experiences that Wollheim calls ‘central imagining’. Wollheim explicitly argues that there are other cases of imagining having someone else’s experiences, namely, examples of ‘acentral imagining’. Like Wollheim, we regard both cases as imagining having someone else’s experiences (Wollheim 1987, p. 103 ff.; See also Wollheim 1974, especially pp. 179–80; Wollheim 1984, pp. 72–83). See also Gregory Currie on ‘impersonal imagination’ (Currie 1995, pp. 155–180), and Peter Goldie on ‘empathy’ (Goldie 2000, 2001).

  5. 5.

    See, for example, Smith (1995, 1997) who insists that for imagining from the inside, there must be some (though not necessarily exhaustive) similarity between the experiences of the imaginer and the person imagined from the inside.

  6. 6.

    Wollheim famously wrote that he “could not trust that phrase [the phrase ‘imagining from the inside’] so abused in philosophy” (Wollheim 1974, p. 87).

  7. 7.

    In other words, it is not required for one’s imagining having someone else’s experiences that one replicates in imagination, either fully or partially, the other person’s experiences (Currie 1995; see also Currie 1993; Levinson 1993; Lopes 1998; Morton 2006 on this question). This was also, arguably, Adam Smith’s view on sympathy (see Nanay 2010). This being said, when the goal of simulation is epistemological, then replicating faithfully the other person’s mental states become the key to a successful simulation.

  8. 8.

    We have cashed out our characterization of attribution in terms of meta-representation, for it is probably the most familiar way of interpreting attribution. It is not our view however that attribution cannot occur in creatures not capable of, or not yet capable of meta-representation. An agent may be capable of having simultaneous models of how things look for two different people without having representations of representations, and these cognitive abilities might be enough for some forms of attribution (Perner 1993, especially Chaps. 3 and 4). Nothing in this chapter depends on taking a stance on that issue.

  9. 9.

    This distinction is similar to the one Wollheim makes between central and acentral imagining (Wollheim 1984; see also Goldie 1999, 2000). It is important to note, however, that Morton’s distinction is a distinction between two kinds of simulation, whereas Wollheim’s differentiates between two kinds of imagining processes.

  10. 10.

    Even the sufficiency claim is questionable. One possible problem is that while the notion of theory is often taken to presuppose law-like generalizations, inferences can take place in the absence of these.

  11. 11.

    Note that this interdependence of simulation and theory is very similar to what Davies (1994) suggested (for different reasons) when he examined whether simulation presupposes having tacit knowledge of a psychological theory.

  12. 12.

    Reliabilism is one way in which the idea we are after can be cashed out (see, e.g. Goldman 1967, 1976; Plantinga 1993; Dretske 1981; Nozick 1981; Swain 1981; Armstrong 1973). We are not interested in adjudicating between different versions of reliabilism or to take sides with any view in epistemology or in the philosophy of perception. The role of this analogy is to point out that there are perfectly consistent and even fashionable views regarding justification that do not appeal to the application of any theory.

  13. 13.

    See Morton’s observations (Morton 2006) about the circumstances under which imagining someone else is likely to be successful.

  14. 14.

    Some are persuaded that pure simulation finds at least some confirmation by recent neuroanatomical findings (Gallese and Goldman 1998; Adams 2001, for example). The suggestion is that mirror neurons provide the physiological basis for simulation. If this suggestion is correct, then there is a way of simulating other people that does not require the use of any theory. Thus, this proposal is also a version of the ‘pure simulation’ account. It is not our aim here to evaluate this proposal, but to point out that this would count as an example of a ‘pure simulation’ view.

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Deonna, J., Nanay, B. (2014). Simulation Versus Theory-Theory: A Plea for an Epistemological Turn. In: Reboul, A. (eds) Mind, Values, and Metaphysics. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-05146-8_20

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