UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Other minds and the employment of language Anderson, James Joseph


According to H. H. Price in "Our Evidence for the Existence of Other Minds", the belief in the existence of other minds is not one that can be strictly proven. The most that can be obtained in support of the belief is good reasons for holding it. Price suggests that the best evidence derives from one's understanding of language. An exposition of, and a commentary on, Price's paper are given. Price argues that if I can verify a sentence which I hear and which I did not utter but which states something I was not in a position to know, or did not at the moment of hearing believe—then the utterance stands as good evidence for the existence of an other mind. From analogy he argues that since he uses symbols to refer to objects in the world, the foreign use of the same symbols must have occurred as a result of perceiving and thinking on the part of the other user. If the foreign utterance gave old information or was a platitude I already believed, then it is not impossible that the hearer was unconsciously the cause of the symbolic noises coming from the other body. There are, according to Price, factual examples of intrusions of words and sentences from one's own 'unconscious'. In the commentary, criticism is directed at Price's belief that he learns that symbols mean by introspecting how he uses them. Also, the need, for the purposes of his argument, to verify alleged foreign utterances is challenged. This raises a discussion of Price's use of a theory of 'unconscious believings'. It is concluded that Price was barking up the wrong tree in replacing solipsism by the possibility of one's unconscious animation of other bodies. The suggestion is put forward that reference to the understanding of language as a means of settling the other minds problem is inadequate if it does not take into account the scheme of personal pronouns, particularly the pronoun 'I', since the rules governing their use are like rules for the separating of things, similar to the distinguishing of things in the world in order to make up a game. As an attempt to make up for the inadequacy mentioned, a study of aspects of the concept of speech is made in part III. It emerges that the existence of a plurality of speakers is a presupposition of saying that someone says something, or even that propositions say something. Reference is made to the common grammar of 'I'. Relevant passages regarding 'I' in Wittgenstein's The Blue and Brown Books and Ryle1s The Concept of Mind are examined. It is concluded that the primary sense of 'I* refers to, or, indicates the speaker, and that philosophically important senses of ‘I’ derive from that original sense. The speaker is claimed to be outside the mind-body problem as well as the other minds problem. Consequently, though it is possible for a speaker to refer to himself in the solipsis-tic manner, or to entertain doubts about the reality of other people's feelings, it makes no sense for him to imagine that his role as a speaker in a community of speakers thereby vanishes.

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