This short expose will look at Shaun Nichols’ article, ‘Mindreading and the Philosophy of Mind’ in Jesse Prinz (ed) The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Psychology. The main point of the article is that there are two major pitfalls in the philosophy of psychology, both of which are ‘window dressings’: using psychology as a window dressing on an exercise that is a priori philosophy and using philosophy as a window dressing on what is a review of the scientific literature. The paper is discussing these attributes in relation to what is referred to as ‘mindreading’, or the everyday capacity to attribute mental states, and how to avoid these pitfalls when working on the philosophy of the mind.
The author appears to be mainly concerned that the afore-mentioned pitfalls when discussing mindreading can prove dangerous, because there is so much good work, scientifically speaking, on the topic that will get overlooked. With this opinion in mind, the article is written to examine the possibilities of psychological work helping with these pitfalls. The type of psychology specifically in question has to do with egocentric attributions, specifically in child-models, and is arguing that if properly examined and not just used as a ‘window dressing’, that the science behind this and other psychology theories could be used to further philosophy’s understanding of the mind and mental states.
The child-model is used to showcase a mind or mental state that has yet to be tainted by years of experience or conditioning to illicit certain responses or draw certain conclusions. To illustrate this, the example of a person watching another person get pricked by a pin was used. Most people draw the conclusion that the person that they watched get pricked felt pain, and for the majority of people, this would be correct. However, the point was made that there are people that have a condition that precludes them from experiencing pain, and thus if it had been one of these people that had been priced, the observers would be incorrect that pain was felt. On the other hand, if a non-pain feeler had watched someone else get priced, then they (as a child) would assume that there was no pain, as they think everyone is the same as themselves. This is highlighting the psychology that states that people draw their conclusions about other people, events, and circumstances from their own experiences and extrapolate to reach a conclusion.
This position and opinion regarding the appropriateness and validity of using scientific psychology work in the application of understanding and furthering the developments in philosophy appear to be substantiated. The model of drawing on ones own experiences to then be able to understand anothers perspective or mindset is quite valid and functional. The logic is substantiated. It is from this point that there could be further research done into how many other aspects of this type of psychological modelling reflects mind- and brain-states, what substantiates the philosophical standpoints regarding ‘mindreading’, and the correlation between these studies to further develop and flesh-out a more full critical discussion on this article by Nichols.