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"Other Minds" and Solipsism

mind n. & v. - n. 1 a the seat of consciousness, thought, volition, and feeling. b attention, concentration (my mind keeps wandering). 2 the intellect; intellectual powers. 3 remembrance, memory (it went out of my mind; I can’t call it to mind). 4 one’s opinion (we’re of the same mind). 5 a way of thinking or feeling (shocking to the Victorian mind). 6 the focus of one’s thoughts or desires (put one’s mind to it). 7 the state of normal mental functioning (to lose one’s mind; in one’s right mind). 8 a person as embodying mental faculties (a great mind).
(Concise Oxford Dictionary 1992.)

When I use the word “mind” I will be using it in a manner that is covered by none of the above dictionary definitions in any strict sense, though some of those uses do hint at it. My use of the word “mind” will be synonymous with my use of the phrase “field of experience” as described above.

Language is a mode of behaviour that serves in permitting people to influence (and to be influenced by) the behaviour of other people, principally between two or more people residing within the same linguistic community since language use is communally inculcated. It has been argued that language can pertain only to the constituents of the objective world and can gain no purchase upon the constituents of the subjective world (this is an interpretation of Wittgenstein’s argument against the possibility of a “private language”). But it is often the case that a specific subjective experience is consistently associated with a corresponding objective experience to the extent that certain modes of behaviour exhibited by another person (other people being objective constituents of the field of experience) are accepted as evidence by association of the corresponding subjective constituents. So when another person exhibits e.g. pain behaviour (as an objective experience), pain (as a subjective experience) is commonly imputed to them. In this manner words like “pain” acquire a kind of double-meaning, permitting subjective experiences to be spoken of (albeit with a certain ambiguity). This propensity to impute subjective experiences to other people is instinctive in humans, and we call this propensity empathy.

The field of experience, then, includes the native conviction that every other person is associated with subjective experiences, and it would follow from this conviction that every other person would be associated with a field of experience that similarly divides into an objective world and a subjective world. To put it another way, just as the field of experience encompasses the conviction that it is associated with a unique conceived person inhabiting the objective world, so all perceived people inhabiting the objective world are, by extension, conceived to be associated with fields of experience. It is, as it were, an inductive inference based on a single sample, and so it is possible to call this default assumption into question, and this is known as the “problem of other minds”. The first consideration, then, must be the question of whether or not the field of experience is “all there is” - i.e. whether or not there is a domain “beyond” the field, so to speak. To assume no such domain would conflict with the instinctive conviction of the existence of other fields of experience (or “other minds”) - i.e. since the fields of experience associated with other people do not appear as constituents of the field of experience associated with the self-as-person, and since the assumption above would deny them any existence “beyond” the field of experience associated with the self-as-person, then how could they exist at all? In accepting the instinctive conviction of the existence of other fields of experience I am rejecting the view known as metaphysical solipsism, and I hereby declare my prejudice against that view.

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