John Stuart Mill: The existence of ‘other’ minds.

“By what evidence do I know, or by what considerations am I led to believe, that there exist other sentient creatures; that the walking and speaking figures, which I see and hear, have sensations and thoughts, or in other words, possess Minds?  . . .

first, they have bodies like me, which I know to be the antecedent condition of feelings …

secondly, they exhibit the acts and other outward signs, which in my own case I know by experience to be caused by feelings.

I am conscious in myself of a series of facts connected by a uniform sequence, of which the beginning is modifications of my body, the middle is feelings, the end is outward demeanor.   In the case of other human beings I have the evidence of my senses for the first and last links of the series, but not for the intermediate link.

I find, however, that the sequence between the first and last is as regular and constant in those other cases as it is in mine.   In my own case I know that the first link produces the last through the intermediate link, and could not produce it without.

Experience, therefore, obliges me to conclude that there must be an intermediate link; which must either be the same in others as in myself, or a different one: I must either believe them to be alive or to be automatons: and by believing them to be alive, that is, by supposing the link to be of the same nature as in the case of which I have experience, and which is in all other respects similar, I bring other human beings, as phenomena, under the same generalizations, which I know by experience to be the true theory of my own existence.”

John Stuart Mill, An Examination of Sir William Hamilton’s Philosophy, 1865.  Cited from the Introductory Quotes to the first chapter of Nicholas Humphrey, Consciousness Regained: Chapters in the Development of Mind, Oxford, 1983.


On Lists 03

Breakfast List, from the Paris Review blog. (April 7, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring)

Piepenbring offers this list made by Donald Barthelme, maker of lists.  Here’s from “The Zombies”.  A (zombie) waiter approaches a table of women and lists the breakfasts for the week:

“Monday!” he says. “Sliced oranges boiled grits fried croakers potato croquettes radishes watercress broiled spring chicken batter cakes butter syrup and café au lait!

Tuesday! Grapes hominy broiled tenderloin of tout steak French-fried potatoes celery fresh rolls butter and café au lait!

Wednesday! Iced figs Wheatena porgies with sauce tartare potato chips broiled ham scrambled eggs French toast and café au lait!

Thursday! Bananas with cream oatmeal broiled patassas fried liver with bacon poached eggs on toast waffles with syrup and café au lait!

Friday! Strawberries with cream broiled oysters on toast celery fried perch lyonnaise potatoes cornbread with syrup and café au lait!

Saturday! Musk-melon on ice grits stewed tripe herb omelette olives snipe on toast flannel cakes with syrup and café au lait!” The zombie draws a long breath.

“Sunday!” he says. “Peaches and cream cracked wheat with milk broiled Spanish mackerel with sauce maitre d’hotel creamed chicken beaten biscuits broiled woodcock on English muffin rice cakes potatoes a la duchesse eggs Benedict oysters on the half shell broiled lamb chops pound cake with syrup and café au lait! And imported champagne!” The zombies look anxiously at the women to see if this prospect is pleasing.

The list was in a continuous block paragraph. I have reparagraphed by day of week to breathe the easier during the reading. Perhaps the Zombie, in Barthelme’s mind, didn’t need to breathe like me. Group the above without breaks for the original effect.

And Piepenbring’s comments, which I value highly:

“List-making is often dismissed as sloppy writing, but in Barthelme’s hands, a list never functions as an elision or a cheap workaround; he makes marvelous profusions of nouns, testaments to the power of juxtaposition. His lists feel noetic—they capture the motion of a mind delighting in how many things there are, and how rampantly they’re proliferating, and how strangely they collide in life, when they do.”


“The list is the ideal vehicle here. It’s an efficient mechanism for comedy, yes, but it also pulls back the curtain a bit, letting the reader share in the wry wonder that I imagine Barthelme might’ve felt as he composed it: How did it come to pass that we, in our kitchens and our restaurants and our fluorescent supermarkets, developed such a sophisticated vocabulary for food, for breakfast? How is it that we eat so many things, that the human experience has come to encompass rice cakes and fried liver, to say nothing of courtship rituals centered on ingestion? I would guess that Barthelme was not so wide-eyed about these things as I am—but what his lists offer, in effect, is the working of a mind, an invitation to join him in doing the math, connecting the dots, asking the questions, and so on.”

Piepenbring connects all this to a larger issue: To what extent is writing really “more about the mind than about the external world?”, and offers this from Barthelme’s Art of Fiction Interview:


Wordsworth spoke of growing up “Fostered alike by beauty and by fear,” and he put fearful experiences first; but he also said that his primary subject was “the mind of Man.” Don’t you write more about the mind than about the external world?


In a commonsense way, you write about the impingement of one upon the other—my subjectivity bumping into other subjectivities, or into the Prime Rate. You exist for me in my perception of you (and in some rough, Raggedy Andy way, for yourself, of course). That’s what’s curious when people say, of writers, This one’s a realist, this one’s a surrealist, this one’s a super-realist, and so forth. In fact, everybody’s a realist offering true accounts of the activity of mind. There are only realists.”

Introductions to Philosophy.

Of Introductions to Philosophy there are many.

I am smitten by Samuelson, Scott  (2014)  The Deepest Human Life: An Introduction to Philosophy for Everyone, Chicago: University of ChicagoHe’s a teacher, a word that in this context should be in Bold Caps. More on that later.

Here’s my ‘plug’ for the book :  I’d like to see everyone give this book a chance.

In fact I want to take Samuelson’s book as a guide for structuring the next many remarks I make, all aiming – in the end – as  always – at raising some questions about the minds of others.

The many ‘Introductions to Philosophy’ include those recommended by Samuelson pp. 199-200. I add two to the list, in part to illustrate their variety :  Chrisman, M. and Pritchard, D. (eds)  (2014)  Philosophy for Everyone, New York : Routledge and  Glymour, C. (2015)  Thinking Things Through, Cambridge MA: The MIT Press. The first grew out of a MOOC offered by the University of Edinburgh, and introduces philosophy through the history of philosophy; the second introduces philosophy through (under the MIT imprint – who would have guessed?) logic and mathematical style reasoning.  Neither is anywhere near as comfortably familiar as Samuelson.



Because my neighborhood theatre is doing Hamlet, we’ll make a few random observations about Hamlet in the next few weeks.

If you have not ever run up against the story of the melancholy Dane or need a refresher, here’s the setting for the first act.

Hamlet, King of Denmark and father of our hero Hamlet, has suddenly (and somewhat mysteriously) died while taking his customary afternoon nap in the orchard. His wife Gertrude so quickly marries the dead king’s brother, Claudius, that young Hamlet can complain – no doubt with some exaggeration – that the meats served at the funeral dinner could be served up cold at the marriage feast. “Thrift,” says Hamlet to his visiting friend Horatio.

Young Hamlet is more than ordinarily distressed by the sudden death of the father he loved and revered; he is outraged by his mother’s remarriage, an act he considers shamefully sudden, grossly disrespectful, and vaguely incestuous. (To what extent young Hamlet feels dispossessed of his rightful inheritance by a mother who should have spent the rest of her days in a respectful and reserved celibacy, you’ll have to work out yourself by reading the play – something which is a serious undertaking … My vote – I cannot resist – is that Hamlet doesn’t care at all about his own personal advancement. Although…)

The above-mentioned Horatio, a fellow student of Hamlet’s at the University in Wittenberg, has occupied himself meeting people at court, including some night watchmen who tell him that they have seen a ghost, the very picture of the dead King Hamlet. Horatio, himself the very modern and skeptical  late fourteenth century student, dismisses their story, but agrees to come see for himself.

Now in act 1 scene1 between lines 20 and 80 Horatio does something very ordinary: he changes his mind. Watch the simplicity with Shakespeare carries this off.  I’ll set off in bold red the lines that track the change, in blue italics the comments of others about Horatio.

Horatio and the guard Marcellus meet Barnardo who has been on watch. Here’s the text:

20    BARNARDO      Welcome Horatio, welcome good Marcellus.

MARCELLUS    What, has this thing appeared again tonight?

BARNARDO      I have seen nothing.

MARCELLUS    Horatio says ’tis but our fantasy,

And will not let belief take hold of him

Touching this dreaded sight, twice seen of us.

Therefore I have entreated him along

With us to watch the minutes of this night,

That if again this apparition come

 He may approve our eyes, and speak to it.

HORATIO         Tush, tush, ’twill not appear.

30     BARNARDO     Sit down awhile,

And let us once again assail your ears,

That are so fortified against our story,

What we two nights have seen.

HORATIO         Well, sit we down,

And let us hear Barnardo speak of this.

BARNARDO     Last night of all,

When yon same star that’s westward from the pole

Had made his course t’illumine that part of heaven

Where now it burns, Marcellus and myself,

The bell then beating one –


MARCELLUS   Peace, break thee off. Look where it comes again.

BARNARDO    In the same figure like the king that’s dead.

MARCELLUS   Thou art a scholar, speak to it, Horatio.

BARNARDO    Looks it not like the King? Mark it, Horatio.

HORATIO        Most like. It harrows me with fear and wonder.

BARNARDO    It would be spoke to.

MARCELLUS                                          Question it, Horatio.

HORATIO       What art thou that ursurp’st this time of night,

Together with that fair and warlike form

In which the majesty of buried Denmark

Did sometimes march? By heaven, I charge thee, speak.

MARCELLUS    It is offended

50      BARNARDO     See, it stalks away.

HORATIO         Stay, Speak, Speak. I charge thee speak.


MARCELLUS   Tis gone and will not answer.

BARNARDO     How now Horatio? You tremble and look pale.

Is not this something more than fantasy?

What think you on’t?

HORATIO  Before my God, I might not this believe

Without sensible and true avouch

Of mine own eyes.

MARCELLUS    Is it not like the king?

59     HORATIO  As thou art to thyself …

65 MARCELLUS  Thus twice before, and jump at this dead hour,

With martial stalk hath he gone by our watch.

HORATIO   In what particular thought to work I know not,

But in the gross and scope of mine opinion

This bodes some strange eruption to our state…