The Problems of Other Minds. Lecture Course by Tim Bayne

17 December, 2022

Moscow Center for Consciousness Studies presents a course of lectures by Timothy Bayne, a British-Australian philosopher specializing in the philosophy of mind and cognitive science. The course was held at the Philosophy Faculty of Lomonosov Moscow State University in 2022.

The aim of this series of lectures is to introduce you to some of the many problems (and possible solutions) associated with our knowledge of other minds.

We begin with the traditional ‘problem of other minds’, which is concerned with our knowledge of the experiences and mental states of ordinary human beings. In these cases, we ordinarily assume that knowledge is within our reach, and the main question is whether that assumption can be justified and if so how.

We then turn to cases in which our access to the conscious states of other creatures is insecure and problematic. When it comes to contested cases, it’s arguably that we don’t really know what kinds of conscious states (if any) the individual has. One set of contested cases involves infants and individuals who are nonresponsive due to serious brain damage; another set of contested cases concerns non-human animals; and a third set of contested cases concerns AI systems and neural organoids. Some argue that we should take an axiomatic approach to these cases, while others argue that we can extrapolate from ordinary forms of consciousness in a theory-free manner. Bayne suggests that both of those approaches are problematic, and defends instead a natural kind approach to contested case.
We finish by focusing on questions about the contents of consciousness, and the issue of whether we can identify what it might be like to be a certain kind of creature.

Content of lectures:

  1. The aim of the first lecture is to present the various problems related to our knowledge of other minds. Tim Bayne distinguishes four versions of ‘the problem of other minds’: the psychological problem of other minds; the sceptical problem of other minds; the scientific problem of other minds; and the conceptual problem of other minds.
  2. The second lecture focuses on the two standard responses to the problem of other minds: the argument from analogy and the inference to the best explanation.
  3. The third lecture explores the question of how far we can get with contested cases by applying our pretheoretical measures for ascribing consciousness, such as verbal report and voluntary behavioural control.
  4. The fourth lecture examines theory-based attempts to address the problem of other minds. 
  5. The fifth lecture develops a natural-kind approach to other minds, and consider a number of objections to it.
  6. In the final lecture, we focus on debates relating to the phenomenal character of consciousness. In particular, we address the question of whether representationalist accounts of consciousness might enable us to identify what it’s like to be a particular kind of creature.