Derek Bolton and Jonathan Hill

in Mind, Meaning and Mental Disorder

Second edition

Published on behalf of Oxford University Press

Published in print March 2004 | ISBN: 9780198515609
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191754296 | DOI:

Series: International Perspectives in Philosophy & Psychiatry


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The observer-relativity in knowledge of mind and meaning and the various problems to which it gives rise, have long been recognized (Section 3.1). The issues were approached in Section 3.2 by considering the role of empathy (mental simulation), as wei as theory, in our knowledge of mind. The behaviour that signifies mental states itself has intentionality, and perception of this plausibly involves the observer's own intentional states. Mental simulations construed as thought-experiments provide a fast, easy to perform means of experimenting with the causal relations among mental states and between mental states and tendencies to behaviour, and hence, along with observation of actual cases, can be part of the empirical basis of the theory of mind. Knowledge of mind, like other forms of empirical-theoretical knowledge, is surrounded by the possibility of error. The theory of empathy seems to give priority to first-person knowledge, with knowledge of oneself being the basis for understanding the other, but this appearance is deceptive: the simulations (or thought-experiments) in question are about intentional states and their connectedness, and attribution of the states and connections to this or that subject is a further step. This attribution involves both facility with perspectives and theory, the implication being that in developmental models we do not have to chose between the child's increasing theoretical sophistication and the child's increasing facility with perspectives: both are fundamental and they are logically linked.

In Section 3.3 we approached knowledge of intentionality by way of Wittgenstein's discussion of rule-following. The notion of rule-following serves to capture the concept of order in reality and thought, as being through time, in activity, as opposed to being static, in the form of objects. The negative conclusion of Wittgenstein's analysis of rule-following is that the rule is not laid down in advance; the positive implication is that it is created in practice. The concept of agreement enters here as critical. This is not, however, because agreement is a necessary or a sufficient condition of someone's following a rule. The point is rather that one person's judgement about another that they are following a rule, is based on the observer's inclination to agree with what the other is doing. Relativity has traditionally been thought (since Plato's critique in the Theaetetus) to imply subjectivity and the collapse of objectivity. What is lost, however, is (only) the notion, of an absolute object. The object makes its appearance in many appearances, and as that which is not under the control of the observer.

In Section 3.4 it was noted that the relativity of attributions of intentionality, particularly in contrast to the objectivity in the physical sciences, seems to suggest that they describe no objective reality. On the other hand, consistent with the conclusions reached in the preceding section, it is argued that relativity pervades all the sciences, including physics. However, with increasing differeniation in phylogenesis and ontogenesis, subjectivity in the form of individual differences is increasingly evident, both in the measures and in what is measured. In the context of relativity, validity and objectivity are defined in terms of multiple measurements made from different points of view, with comparisons and contrasts between, them being dependent on invariance relations. Bio-psychological measures are sensitive to more and different aspects of reality as compared to those in the physical sciences. Contrary to what is envisaged by dogmatic philosophies such as empiricism and materialism, the implication of relativistic epistemology is that the reality we represent cannot be determined in advance, and is in its foundations interpersonal.

Chapter.  16506 words. 

Subjects: Psychiatry

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